LAWRENCE, Kan. - His Lakota name was Lone Ghost, but to his family and
friends Homer Claymore was known as "Smokey" because of his dancing gray
eyes and dark skin. His grandmother, Martha Claymore seemed to know what
his fate would be when she first held him after he was born on Armistice
Day (Nov. 17), 1918. "Another soldier is born," she said solemnly as she
looked at the newborn. It turned out she was right.
Martha Claymore's prophecy played out as the young boy grew to manhood.
There was something different about him, the elders in the family
remembered. Martha's daughter, Emma Kesler remembered young Smokey as a
child who used to play around her house. In a conversation before her death
she spoke of him and as she gazed into the distant past the little boy on
the Cheyenne River Reservation came to life.
"He was so handsome, even as a young boy," she remembered. "But he was
different too, much older than his years. He used to come up with the
darnedest things. Sometimes I would just watch him and smile. He used to be
playing out there and then he would always say 'The rich get richer and the
poor get poorer.' I never asked him why he said it or where it came from
but he said it a lot. It seemed strange for such a small boy to say that,
but he did. It is funny that mother would have said 'Oh, another little
soldier', and that we would lose him like we did."
His maturity and kindness made his sister Ina idolize him. Her handsome
older brother always had time to spend with her even though there was a big
age difference between them. When she found out her brother had been killed
in World War II she was devastated and as she has grown older the
realization of what Homer Claymore could have been still haunts her.
Homer Claymore became the true embodiment of a Lakota warrior as he battled
the enemy during World War II as the pilot of a B-17. Many compared him to
Crazy Horse as he fought the air battle against the Germans. He would
eventually be inducted into the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame, but as
the young Smokey played on the prairies so long ago, no one, other than
perhaps his grandmother Martha, knew his fate.
Homer was the son of George and Olive Williams-Claymore and grew up on the
Cheyenne River Reservation. After the death of Homer's father, the small
family came upon hard times as his mother struggled to make a living. Homer
and his brother Luther went away to boarding school. Olive and Ina first
went to live with relatives and later Olive was able to get a job at the
old Cheyenne Agency.
Time together for the small family was very special, especially for young
Ina who only saw her brothers for short periods of time; a Christmas visit
or a summertime get together.
Homer eventually moved to Lawrence, Kan. to attend Haskell Institute when
he was old enough for high school. Cooking became a favorite pastime and
after his graduation he stayed on at Haskell's vocational school and took
up the trade of baking.
Ina's memories are those of a little girl who loved it when her big brother
came home for a visit and fixed macaroni and cheese. Others who knew Homer
knew he enjoyed skiing and was always ready to play cards with friends.
It was while he attended the vocational school at Haskell that the legacy
his grandmother had foretold began as Homer joined a cavalry unit of the
Kansas National Guard based out of Fort Riley, Kan.
By the spring of 1942, Homer had been drafted and was now in the U.S. Army.
The cavalry hadn't been phased out yet and Homer soon found himself back in
South Dakota training at Fort Meade, once a large cavalry base. But as
horses were left in the past another twist of fate awaited Smokey.
The past of the Lakota people was about to play itself out again. As the
horses were taken away, Homer was not going to find himself delegated as
his ancestors had been to simply be put aside and forgotten; he was going
to continue to be a warrior somehow. His chance came when he was offered a
choice by the army, become a baker or join the U.S. Army Air Corps. For the
young Lakota warrior who had excelled at math and science the choice was
simple. Soon his pilot training began; his war pony would now ride among
the clouds with Lone Ghost guiding it.
After earning his commission Homer was assigned to the 305th Bomb Group and
the Squadron Flight Leader of the 366th Bombardment Squadron. Homer flew 35
combat missions over Germany. He and his crew, flying the B-17 Flying
Fortress Crazy Horse were among the first bombers to lead raids over
Captain Homer Claymore lost his first beloved Crazy Horse after a bombing
raid in which the plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Homer was wounded in
the arm, but managed to get his crippled plane back to their base in
Chelveston, England. With his crew intact, Homer chaffed at his inactivity.
He had done the nose art on the first Crazy Horse and so he got to work
painting his second plane, named Chief Crazy Horse II.
In an era where soldiers had only the comfort of letters from home, Olive
Claymore wrote to her son every day, sending him care packages when she
could. Homer was true to his culture as a Lakota warrior in caring for his
family and respecting them. His last letter to his mother, carefully
preserved by his family for more than 60 years shows that.
Well here I am late as usual. Note my new address, I've moved again. I'm
back in my old squad again.
My arm is all healed up now so I've been flying a few practice missions.
The whether sure has been swell lately nice and cool sunnie days. It never
gets very warm here. If it did it sure would be bad because it's so damp
all the time.
I got Ina's letter and pictures this eve and also Forrest's Graduation
announcement. I'll have to answer them in a few days.
Another of my crew finished the bombardier level in his name makes two
If he goes home he said he would stop in and look Luther up or at least
call him. So I hope he gets to go home.
I received your last package with oysters and the Indians at work. The
oysters sure were good we got some canned milk and made stew. We sure
I'll make this another request for a package so if you have anything you
can send it don't feel that you have to send something every time I request
That's all for now. Love, Homer
On June 18, 1944 while flying a strategic raid over Hamburg, Germany his
plane was shot down. Only the bombardier who spent the next year in a
German prison camp survived. But the fate of Captain Homer Claymore and the
rest of his crew would remain a mystery for the next two years.
"My mother was told that Homer was missing in action," Ina Claymore-Palmer
remembered sadly. "But we didn't know anything until 1946 when they finally
told us he had been killed."
Homer had been buried in a mass grave in Europe and the place is still
unknown to the family. His body and those of his crew were eventually
returned many years later and buried near Saint Louis, Mo. The handsome
young man with so much promise would never again touch the soil of the
prairie he so dearly loved or be allowed to lay near the ancestors he had
respected so much.
A fire in the archives at St. Louis left details of Homer's military
service a mystery even to his family. All of his military records were lost
in that fire and now little other than stories and memories are left of the
young Lakota warrior who was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Air
Medal with three Oak Leave Clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Homer has become a part of the Lakota oral tradition as stories are now
passed from one generation to the next telling of the dark young man from
Cheyenne River with the light-colored eyes. With the passing of his Aunt
Emma Kesler, the last of the generation that heard Martha Claymore's words
to Homer shortly after his birth and watched him play as a young boy are
gone. "He was another soldier," she remembered near the end of her life.
"Mother's prophecy came true."