Vet receives praise for his military service
B-17 pilot, war hero, mechanical engineer, husband and father.
For many who knew him, retired U.S. Air Force Capt. Cecil Quinley was all of those and more. For his sons, he was father.
Quinley, who fought in World War II and whose plane was shot down by the Germans, died in his sleep on March 14. A memorial mass to remember the 100-year-old military veteran took place Saturday at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
“You couldn’t ask for a better example to look up to,” said Dan Quinley, one of three sons.
Quinley learned much about his father as a child from rummaging through containers looking at medals and letters written during the war to his wife Margaret. He said his father never wanted to talk about the war.
In his adult life, Dan Quinley took the letters and wrote a book that came out in 2014 — “Forever: A true story of love and war” — which revealed a love affair that began with a blind date in 1936, continued through World War II and into their later years to Fallon.
“People wanted to see controversy of rise and fall, but I could not write that. It never happened,” he said.
Quinley said others will never find a better love story that bridged the faith between two people.
Cecil Quinley graduated as a single-engine pilot, but the need for bomber pilots beckoned him to England where he learned to fly the B-17.
On the crews’ 14th mission, German anti-aircraft guns shot down their B-17 near Bremen on Oct. 8, 1943.
The crew bailed out, but Quinley and mot of his crew were captured and taken to a German prisoner of war camp about 100 miles southeast of Berlin in what is now Poland. After the war ended, Quinley and thousands of POWs were released. Patton’s Third U.S. Army’s 14th Armored Division rolled into Stalag 7A and liberated the POWs on April 29, 1945. Quinley said he met the four-star general and received two Purple Heart medals and several campaign and flying medals.
Dan Quinley said his father, even in his golden years and living at an assisted living facility in Fallon, was called Houdini by the staff. Cecil Quinley was a mechanical engineer in Chico, Calif., after the war ended.
Even though he was in his 90s, Dan Quinley said his father could disable alarms or find a way to pick the lock covering the thermostat and then turn the heat up.
Quinley characterized his father as having a snidely laugh and mischievous grin.
“He was a kind, gentle man,” Dan Quinley said. “He never lost his temper … maybe once or twice in his life …and once was at me.”
For the last two years before Cecil Quinley passed away, his son learned of additional tales from the WWII aviator.
“I was pleased to have him in my house the last two years,” he recalled. “I heard more stories when I took him to the Veterans Administration and back (in Reno).
Glenna Smith, outreach coordinator for Sen. Dean Heller’s office in Reno, said she thoroughly enjoyed very month of knowing and being around Cecil Quinley. She considers him to be the true epitome to the “Greatest Generation, descried by TV newscaster Tom Brokaw as the generation that drew up during the Great Depression and later served during World War II.
“The first time I met Cecil and Margaret was around one of their wedding anniversaries,” Smith said. “They were so cute.”
At the time she presented them a certificate from Heller.
“I always think about his attitude in life, and he was so happy,” she said, despite the ordeal he encountered during World War II. “Life is a gift to appreciate every moment.”
Deacon Kurt Carlson, who is also a physician at the Veterans Administration Lahontan Valley Outpatient Clinic in Fallon, delivered a homily to describe the strength and faith Quinley had in his life, both as a man and as a military man fighting evil.
“I knew Cecil for six years, near the end of his life,” Carson said. “Behind his eyes is a great story to be lived.”
Carlson referred to Quinley’s military service and how, with each bombing mission in 1943, there was a high probability his bomber could be shot down.
After Quinley became a POW, Carlson said dysentery was a problem for those in captivity. Either the POWs died or guards took their captives to an outside hospital, which, Carlson, described, was almost a one-way ticket to death.
Years ago at a remembrance in Modesto, Calif., Carlson said Quinley began to “open up” and tell of his WWII ordeal and being liberation from the Stalag.
“He told what it was like to see the Nazi flag lowered and the U.S. flag raised,” Carson said of the ceremony at the prison camp.
Quinley was one of 12 children born to John Winson Quinley and Cora Belle McCoy-Quinley in Waterford, Calif., in 1915.
He was a member of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, and Our Divine Savior Catholic Church in Chico, and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Fallon.
Quinley is also survived by sons David (Jan) of Arizona; Dennis of California; and Daniel (Leslie) of Fallon. He has seven grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren.