Corliss went from the front lines to the silver screen

February 21, 2001

Corliss went from the front lines to the silver screen

By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Greg CorlissSHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.Va. - In addition to a long stint in the military, his work as a beef farmer and even a stab at politics, Greg Corliss can boast of his time on the silver screen.

The Jefferson County, W.Va., man was one of the many military pilots selected in 1968 to fly planes for the making of the movie "Tora, Tora, Tora," which was about the events leading up to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the attack.

It was an experience Corliss has never forgotten.

To make the movie, the pilots were given old military planes that hadn't been used in nearly 30 years. Many of them didn't have all the instrumentation that is on most aircraft and the production of the movie was a rough - even deadly - experience sometimes, said Corliss, who now runs a 50-acre beef farm off Flowing Springs Road north of Charles Town.


Corliss remembers a day when another pilot was using the plane he normally flew in. When the pilot landed the plane, the landing gear was torn off, causing the plane to land on its belly and damaging the propeller.

But that wasn't about to stop production on the movie.

The movie crew, which hired mechanics to work on the planes, slapped a new propeller on the plane and it was ready to go, said Corliss.

"They had a lot of problems with them. A lot of them had come out of bone yards where they had been stored," said Corliss.

To make the movie, the pilots had to perform nose dives to imitate attacks. A couple of pilots were killed when they crashed, said Corliss.

"Tora, Tora, Tora," a television favorite for years, received several awards, including Best Visual Effects at the 1970 Academy Awards.

Corliss does not appear personally in the film. His job, along with the other pilots, was to fly in formation while a helicopter flew ahead of them to shoot the footage.

"Our kids swear up and down they could see their dad, but we never saw it," said Corliss' wife, Carolyn.

One of the scenes Corliss' plane appeared in occurred when 18 planes were flying over the Koli Koli Pass. As part of the special effects, the pilots discharged dummy ordnance, with equipment on the ground simulating anti-aircraft fire.

"All of that was fun. You never get to do something like that in ordinary life," Corliss said.

"And not get court-martialed," added Carolyn.

Corliss spent 33 years in the military, and served in administrative and combat positions, including flying CH-46 helicopters in the Vietnam War for the U.S. Marines and flying A4-2 attack jets.

After leaving the military, Corliss settled in Jefferson County, where he fulfilled his long-time desire to farm. He raises beef calves on his farm, then sends them to feeding operations in the Midwest, where they are slaughtered.

Last year, Corliss turned his interests to state politics.

Concerned about what he saw as an unfriendly atmosphere for business in the state, Corliss ran against Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson. He was particularly concerned about high workers' compensation rates and unequal tax burdens on different businesses.

He was defeated in the general election last November.

When asked whether he will run again, the 70-year-old Corliss did not say for sure.

He said he will wait to see if progress is made toward what he sees as problems.

If so, "that's great," said Corliss.

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