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John Wheelihan, Ellendale, North Dakota
John Wheelihan, Ellendale, North Dakota

John Wheelihan, Ellendale, North Dakota.

This is a campaign photograph of my wife Clara May Develing Wheelihan when she was running for Secretary of State for North Dakota in 1968. Bill Guy was running for Governor then. She didn’t make it because she was a Democrat and North Dakota generally votes about seventy percent Republican. We had forty-nine wonderful years together. More than I had with any other woman that’s for sure. We raised three kids. We raised a farm. Went through many stages. When I had Wheelihan Realty, I was the broker and she was the salesperson.

We had many good years together. Had some good parties together. I remember one night I was wondering, what the hell are all these people doing around here, how many is there, I counted thirty-nine. She was really-popular. Oh! yes, she had one of the biggest darn funerals in the community when she died. I think it was only topped by my son Jim. He had a tremendous funeral when he died. He was only twenty-five. He died in 1980. Clara passed away in 1999 after fighting an inherited tremor she got from her family, the French side of her family. And they couldn’t do anything to prevent her hands from shaking. She fought it for twenty-five years. She was seventy-seven when she died.

She was from Washington DC. I met her at the Pentagon. When I came back from Ascension Island I was an operations officer with a P-47 outfit in Millville, New Jersey. And then in their wisdom, because I had some B-25 time on Ascension Island, they shipped me out to Fresno to be test pilot on B-25’s. So, I was test pilot there until I had a dead one over the mountains and had to land in Denver. That was the second one I landed without breaks I guess. Then one motor quit. I couldn’t restart it. It was a long runway so it didn’t matter. They towed us in and we spent the night in Denver. Flew back the next day.

Went in to work the next morning, the secretary said, “Captain Wheelihan, you’re going to Leavenworth”. And for me Leavenworth means prison. I wasn’t too well acquainted with the military system, but the general staff and command school, Leavenworth, well it was the top school for military in the nation, up there with West Point as far as prestige. So, I found out where it was. I had a day to sell my car, clear the damn post and get on a train for Leavenworth, Kansas. And got there and went through a two-year course. There was two or three hundred of us in the class, and I think probably it was a clerical error, but I got in the top part of the class and I got to Air Force school. That was Wright Paterson in Orlando for tactical. Laurinburg–Maxton for gliders. Then the last thirty-day in the Pentagon.

But that’s where I met Clara you see. She was a secretary for the navy in the Pentagon. And they had to wear badges with their name and all that stuff on it. She was ahead of me in the line at the cafeteria. I said, “do you mind if I sit with you”. She snapped at me, and snarled, “it’s a free country”. She’d had a bad morning with the navy. So anyway, we had lunch together. I got her name and address and phone number. We had two or three dates and then I shipped overseas to join the 15th Air Force in Italy. This was in 1943. So, I always teased her that she chased me for seven-years before we got married in 1950. She had a different story. I still talk to her through the séance. Last time we were on, she was on. I think I asked her one time, how long before we got married did you decide you would marry me. I think she said two-years. I think I was dead meat. She had a really-good sense of humor. Anyway, we still got in over forty-nine years. Forty-nine awful good years. I sure miss her.