When I proposed marriage to Connor Cleckley Dyess 59 years ago, little did I know I was joining such a special family.
I would soon learn that Connor’s father was Jimmie Dyess, her stepfather was Charlie Goodrich and her uncle was Hervey Cleckley.
Since Charlie Goodrich is the least well-known of the three, let’s examine his story first. At the end of this article, recent activities will be highlighted that will help preserve the legacy of Dyess and of Cleckley.
Charlie Goodrich was born in Augusta in 1906. As a teenager he was sent off to a well-known military prep school in Alabama: Marion Institute. At Marion he learned many of the skills that would serve him well at his next stop, the United States Military Academy. At West Point, he was distinguished by his red hair, his quick wit, and his fine voice. A member of Cadet Choir, he also competed on the West Point fencing team.
After graduating in the West Point Class of 1928, second lieutenant Goodrich chose the Army Air Corps. He soon found himself at Randolph Field in Texas where he earned his pilot wings in 1929.
Those were days of bi-wing, open-cockpit airplanes when aviators were bold and brave adventurers. Throughout the 1930s, he flew pursuit planes, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. For a time, he even flew the U.S. mail.
Soon after the Pearl Harbor attack, Goodrich was promoted to colonel and given command of a B-25 Group. He was in his early 30s when he led his unit as these bombers flew to Brazil, across the Atlantic and Africa. Flying out of Egypt, his mission was supporting the British who were fighting Rommel and his Africa Corps.
On his sixth combat mission on 14 Sept. 14, 1942, Goodrich was shot down over Western Egypt. Badly injured, he spent many months in a German hospital.
His next stop was a German prisoner of war camp, Stalag Luft 3. This large camp was reserved strictly for aviators. Col. “Rojo” Goodrich was the senior American officer in the camp. To quote from his obituary:
“Commonly held perceptions of life in prisoner-of-war camps tend to reflect a demoralized, apathetic crowd of men waiting for war’s end. This was not the case in Rojo’s camps. Escape activity, intelligence collecting, and constant demands on the Germans to meet the terms of the Geneva Accords were the order of the day. Discipline inside the wire was similar to any Air Corps organization. A broad scope of camp activities maintained high morale and physical and mental health. These efforts were crucially important for the well-being of the several thousand prisoners under Rojo’s authority.”
Together with British, South African and Canadian prisoners, the Americans devised an ingenious escape plan. Goodrich was deeply involved in planning what became known as The Great Escape.
Again, to quote from his obituary,
“On 27 January 1945, the Germans on short notice forced the evacuation of Stalag Luft III in the face of the Russian advance. Thanks to Rojo’s foresight, his camp was well prepared for the exceedingly difficult forced march in severe winter conditions. His leadership and control set an example for the several other groups in this extremely difficult evacuation.
“After the war the men from Rojo’s camp never lost contact. They were indeed a band of brothers and many a happy night has been spent at reunions with Rojo and his guitar, recapturing the high points of the more than two years spent together under the stress and uncertainties of war.”
In the summer of 1945 Goodrich returned to Augusta. He met a lovely young widow, Connor Dyess, and in 1946 they married. Upon retirement from the Air Force in 1955, Charlie Goodrich settled in Augusta. After receiving fine care at the uptown VA hospital, he died on Nov. 28, 1987.
Let’s now focus on Dr. Hervey Cleckley. Mark Albertin, Augusta’s premier videographer, is continuing his work on the Cleckley DVD. Through his research, Mark rediscovered the impact that Cleckley’s books, The Mask of Sanity and The Three Faces of Eve, have on the fields of psychiatry, psychology and human relations.
Also, Cleckley’s insights have contributed to two popular TV series: Criminal Minds and Mindhunter.
Please note: Mark needs help as he completes the Hervey Cleckley video. Those of you who knew Cleckley and have stories to tell, please contact him at email@example.com.
Finally, preserving the legacy of Jimmie Dyess.
This Thursday, Jan. 11, at 5 p.m. at the Augusta Museum of History, the 8th annual Jimmie Dyess Symposium will be held. To be honored for their support of many worthy causes will be Vince and Barbara Dooley and Medal of Honor recipient Roger Donlon. Please come; the event is free, and lasts only an hour.
Major General Perry Smith, US Air Force (ret.) serves on the board of the Augusta Museum of History. His website is genpsmith.com.