How He Lived

Author Susan Jimison’s novels tell the stories we should never forget

Southern Dazzle Photography
Author Susan Jimison.
Southern Dazzle Photography
National Naval Aviation Museum collection
He sent me a long, detailed email about how he was supposed to be flying with Mark the day he was shot down. We exchanged a few emails and then he disappeared.”

Author Susan Jimison’s journey began with a letter. She was just 14 years old when news of her brother’s death reached home through a telegram.

“When we first got the missing in action telegrams, I really thought he was shot down and probably just hiding somewhere in the jungle, and they’d find him,” Jimison remembered.

But 22-year-old Army Officer Mark Clotfelter died June 16, 1969, while serving in Vietnam.

Jimison’s father, a World War II veteran who suffered from “battle fatigue,” (now known as post-traumatic stress disorder) rarely spoke of war. Her father’s memories and the many questions about her brother were a silent presence in the Clotfelter home. It wasn’t until after her father’s death in 1996, that Jimison began a long journey to learn more about her brother’s life.

“I knew how he died,” Jimison said. “I wanted to know how he’d lived.

“In 1997, my sister gave me a hand-me-down computer. I didn’t know the first thing about it, but I started posting on some veterans’ boards online,” she said. “Within two weeks, I made contact with someone who had known my brother in flight school.

“Since finding Mark’s helicopter unit from Vietnam, I have felt embraced like never felt before,” she said. “I feel they have always known it could have been them and I could have been their sister. Powerful realization.”

What unfolded next connected Jimison to her brother

in a most unexpected way.

In 1999, Jimison went to a reunion where she hoped to meet veterans who had known her brother. She ended up meeting Mike Jimison, a man whose own life would forever be linked to the fate of Mark Clotfelter.

“When I first communicated with Mike, he was in South Africa, flying to oil rigs as he had done since leaving Vietnam,” Jimison said. “He sent me a long, detailed email about how he was supposed to be flying with Mark the day he was shot down. We exchanged a few emails and then he disappeared. ”

“He had come to the States, had a benign brain tumor removed and was grounded,” she said. “Two years later, we reconnected and started talking on the phone. He told the story again. But by then, I had heard the same story from others who claimed they were supposed to be flying with Mark.”

Mike and Susan married in 2006. It wasn’t until 2011 that her research revealed the truth.

“I went back into the Individual Deceased Personal File (gruesome information) and had found the man’s

name who actually recovered my brother’s charred remains in 1969,” Jimison said. “I looked him up on the Internet. He told me there was something odd about the recovery.

“He recovered one of the bodies with dog tags saying one thing and his flight suit saying another,” she said. “That soldier was wearing Mike Jimison’s flight suit because Mike had given up his seat so the guy could make his first mission in Vietnam. We knew then that Mike was the one that was supposed to be flying with my brother that day.”

With the support and encouragement of colleagues in a writing class, Jimison made her first attempts to write her brother’s story.

“I didn’t really know my brother as an adult or as a warrior,” she confessed. She felt her perspective lacked authority. And so, she took a chance.

“I started writing chapters as letters, telling Mark about how our dad died and about when I met his unit and how nice everybody was to me,” she said.

With that, “Dear Mark” was written, Jimison’s authentic and inspiring response to a heartbreaking telegram from so many years ago.

“I wish I had started this earlier so my father could have heard some of the stories and met some of the people,” Jimison said. “It was too late for my dad, but my kids will know Mark’s story, and my nieces and nephews.”

She’s carrying on in that vein with her second novel, out in August, “Through the Eyes of the Tiger.”

“This one is about my Dad’s cousin,” she said. “They were good ol’ Alabama boys.”
This novel is based on the story of John Donovan, a member of the World War II American volunteer group, the Flying Tigers.

“Accidentally, I came across a letter tucked into my grandmother’s scrapbook,” she said. “Her nephew had written a letter to his mother prior to a mission he was about to fly in China in 1942. When I began to research him, I found out John was killed in action only 1,000 kilometers from my brother. I found about 40 pages of single-spaced typewritten, beautiful letters he had written about his trip to China.”

Jimison’s dedication to the memory of veterans goes far beyond her own family. Jimison volunteers with multiple veterans organizations, including the Virtual Wall, a place where people can share stories. Her message is a clear, powerful tribute to so many who served – time is limited. Memories are precious. Never forget.

“If you write it down, when these vets are gone, their families can remember,” she said. “It’s all about remembering these people and their sacrifices.”

For more information on Jimison and her book, or to purchase a copy of the book, visit her website at


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