Doug Clewell: Honorary grand marshal is 'a true Renaissance man'

“A shock,” Doug Clewell said of his reaction to being named honorary grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade. “But I’m grateful for them considering me.”

American Legion Commander George Besse described Clewell as an “Air Force veteran and a true Renaissance man.” A member of Ridgefield’s American Legion Post 78 for some 24 years, Clewell cooks at Legion functions, and took a major part in extensive repairs to American Legion Hall off North Salem Road.

“Our building was built in 1761, and without Doug’s ability to fix anything and everything, along with his partner in crime Fred Whipple, the building would not be in the great shape it is in today,” Besse said. “When it comes to serving his fellow veterans, he does it with a great meal every Legion meeting, feeding up to 40 Legionnaires or more.”

“I started off with Fred Whipple and Andy Montanari, helping them cook,” Clewell said. “I’ve been cooking for them for about 10 years. I enjoy it.”

He is also American Legion Post 78’s finance officer, and a member of the military honors detail.

Clewell is an active member of Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, serving for many years as an usher and working with church ministries to help the needy. A member and former chairman of the town Graveyard Committee, he also belongs to the Ridgefield Men’s Club and Founders Hall, and is a past member of the Kiwanis Club.

Clewell grew up in Wilkes Barre, Pa. He joined the National Guard in 1952, and then the Air Force in 1954. After basic training in Geneva, N.Y., he learned the craft of airframe repair at Selfridge Air Force Base in Mt. Clemens, Mich.

“The body, any metal parts, we’d fix,” he said.

“The toughest job was repairing the afterburner on F-15s. They had titanium seals inside of the afterburner, with about 40 steel rivets. They were like an inch apart.”

Riveting was a two-man job.

“To flatten the rivet on an open side you had to have a bucking bar, which is a piece of steel, kind of heavy,” he said. “You put the rivet in the hole, he puts his rivet gun on it, on the outside, and you put the bucking bar on it, on the inside. And the hammer keeps pounding like a jackhammer — like sticking your head in a 50-gallon barrel, and somebody hitting it with a sledgehammer. …

“That was the one job I didn’t like. The other jobs were fun.”

Cold War era

Clewell spent six years in the North American Defense Command — NORAD —  repairing planes that patrolled the northern skies during the Cold War.

“They flew the DEW Line,” he said. That’s the Distant Early Warning Line in arctic Canada and Alaska, where radar-equipped planes were on guard against a potential Soviet attack from the north.

After six years of repair work at three different Air Force bases — Selfridge and Willow Run, both in Michigan, and Niagara Falls Air Force Base in New York, he advanced to an administrative role.

“A master sergeant came down to the shop one time and asked if anybody knew how to type, and I stuck up my hand,” he recalled.

He was with a field maintenance unit in Korea, and briefly in Thailand. He left the Air Force in 1962 after eight years’ service.

‘Not a townie’

Clewell had a long career in the printing and advertising industry. He and his wife, Grace, moved to Ridgefield some 46 years ago.

“I’m not a townie,” he said.

He was working in New York and Grace was working for General Electric.

“They were building the plant in Fairfield and they called her and asked her if she wanted to  move. Her boss told her to come up to Ridgefield and said, ‘You’ll like Ridgefield, it’s a small town.’ We took a drive up here one day, and that was it,” Clewell said.

“My story’s the same as everyone else’s: We came onto Main Street and my wife said, ‘This is where I want to live.’ I said, ‘I’m not commuting to New York from here!’ You know who won out,” he said.

“I’ve been here since 1971. I’ve lived here longer than anyplace else in my life. We’re not about to leave.”