Gene Conley was born on October 24, 1927, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve on November 22, 1944, and served on active duty from November 12, 1945, to August 7, 1947. Conley then enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Air Force on September 24, 1948, and was commissioned a 2d Lt and awarded his pilot wings at Williams AFB, Arizona, on September 30, 1949. His first assignment was flying F-84 Thunderjets and F-86 Sabres with the 59th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Otis AFB, Massachusetts, from October 1949 to June 1951, followed by service with the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Kimpo AFB, South Korea, from June to December 1951. During this time he damaged 1 enemy aircraft in aerial combat. Capt Conley next served as an Intelligence Officer with Headquarters 5th Air Force at Seoul, South Korea, from December 1951 to June 1952, and then served as a gunnery instructor and flight test maintenance officer at Nellis AFB, Nevada, from June 1952 to August 1954. He received an Air Force Institute of Technology assignment to complete his bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University from August 1954 to June 1956, and then attended Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California, from June 1956 to February 1957. His next assignment was as a flight test maintenance officer and later as a maintenance chief at Chateauroux AS, France, from February 1957 to January 1960, followed by service as a flight test maintenance officer at McClellan AFB, California, from January 1960 to January 1962. He served with the 1st Air Commando Group at Hurlburt Field, Florida, from January 1962 to September 1963, and then received another Air Force Institute of Technology assignment, receiving his Master's degree in aeronautical engineering in June 1965. Col Conley next served as a senior project engineer with Air Proving Ground Command at Eglin AFB, Florida, from June 1965 to August 1966, when he deployed to Southeast Asia. He served as operations officer with the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Takhli Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, from August to December 1966, and then as commander of the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Takhli from December 1966 until he was killed in action on January 21, 1967. His remains were returned to the U.S. on June 22, 1989, and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
Lieutenant Colonel Eugene O. Conley distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism as an F-105 Thunderchief pilot over North Vietnam on 21 January 1967. On that date, Colonel COnley was the Seventh Air Force's mission commander for a two-wing strike force launched against the heavily defended Tung Tu rail yard thirty-five miles north of Hanoi. Coolly evaluating the hostile force's defensive posture, he skillfully led the first flight through the concentrated flak barrages and picked his way past the deadly surface-to-air missiles. After visually acquiring the target, he scanned the area for the heaviest concentration of hostile fire upon which to unload his deadly weapons in order to minimize the threat to those he led. He attacked his target and then, with complete disregard for his personal safety, he circled the target area to incite the defenders to unleash their full defensive might against him, thereby permitting his followers to destroy the target. Observing a hostile missile site near the target, he marked it, ordered an attack against it, and then fearlessly circled back over the target area to seek out other hostile defenses. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Colonel Conley reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.