As America's highest ranking reconnaissance ace, Clyde East's flying career spans World War II, Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Southeast Asia. Too young for the US Army Air Corps, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and, after mastering the Tiger Moth and Harvard, earned his wings and commission in 1942. He was soon ordered to England and began flying interdiction and harassment missions into France, Belgium, and Holland. East transferred to the USAAFs 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in 1944 where he flew Spitfires and later, the reconnaissance version of the famed P-51 (F-6C/D) Mustang .
He helped pave the way for the Normandy invasion by providing General Eisenhower and his staff with reconnaissance photographs of enemy troop concentrations and interdiction targets in Europe. East achieved his first victory on the day of the invasion, downing an FW-190. Then, he flew sorties in support of General Pattons dash across France and continued in action throughout the final campaigns of the war. By VE Day, he had amassed over 350 combat hours and chalked up 12 aerial victories. Remaining in tactical reconnaissance, he flew two combat tours in Korea in RF-80s and RF-51s. In 1951, he participated in the first combat missions to utilize air refueling, using KB-29 tankers that enabled the unarmed Shooting Stars to reach sensitive targets on the extreme northern borders of North Korea.
Lieutenant Colonel East continued to serve in reconnaissance assignments after Korea and helped form the fledgling doctrine and tactics of the modern day reconnaissance mission. From 1954 to 1957, he served as a tactical advisor to an Italian Air Force reconnaissance wing as it converted to the RF-84F Thunderflash. He later commanded the 20th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron and flew missions over Cuba which verified the presence of Soviet missiles. Two years later he commanded a crisis force of RF-101s that deployed to Southeast Asia following the Tonkin Gulf Incident. East retired from the Air Force in 1965, marking the end of a distinguished flying career. His decorations include the Silver Star, the DFC with 3 oak leaf clusters, and the Air Medal with 41 oak leaf clusters. Recently, he has worked with the Rand Corporation where he has participated in numerous studies for the USAF and Department of Defense.
In October 1962, Americans watched as a crisis unfolded which put them "eyeball to eyeball" with the Soviet Union. Lieutenant Colonel East, commanding the 20th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, was ordered to TAC Headquarters and directed to begin planning a series of penetration flights over Cuba. After returning to Shaw, his unit deployed to MacDill AFB, Florida, on the night of the 21st and was on alert by dawn. Flying in pairs below 500 feet to avoid radar detection, the sleek RF-101 Voodoos raced toward the Cuban landmass. East was targeted against Soviet-manned missile sites, port facilities, and airfields. The detailed photographs he brought back confirmed the presence, and later removal, of the Russian missiles.