CHARLESTON, W.Va. --
Brig. Gen. (ret.) James Kemp McLaughlin, former WWII B-17 Flying Fortress pilot and founder of the West Virginia Air National Guard (WVANG), fondly know to his family and friends as, ‘General Mac’, passed away peacefully at his residence Sunday evening, Dec. 15, 2019, at the age of 101.
"General Mac was an important part of the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) family," stated WVNG Adjutant General Maj. Gen. James A. Hoyer. "We have been so very honored to have him with us for so long as leader, mentor, and inspiration. His legacy today directly touches the lives and careers of more than 6,800 Airmen, Soldiers and civilians in the WVNG, and his vision will continue to inspire and guide us for generations to come."
Born in Braxton County, W.Va., Dec. 7, 1918, McLaughlin joined the Army Air Corps in 1941 at the age of 23 after attending West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va. By 1942, McLaughlin had concluded training and was sent to Europe to join the ranks of the Mighty 8th, or what is known as the Eighth Air Force, assigned to carry out strategic bombing campaigns in France, Germany and the Low Countries of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands during World War II. During his first mission as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot to bomb steel mills in France, McLaughlin's aircraft took multiple direct hits from a German fighter causing a massive fire and injuring the radio operator. While under fire, McLaughlin engaged in air-to-air combat with the fighter before the gunner of McLaughlin’s B-17 was able to take out the enemy aircraft.
In reflecting upon his first contact with the enemy during World War II, McLaughlin stated that these initial raids would “separate the men from the boys.” He also knew that his chances of survival would diminish with each flight he took part in, yet he continued to push forward and make significant contributions to the Allied effort in Europe.
Before the war’s end, McLaughlin had flown 39 bombing missions, including some of the most pivotal air raids in history. He served as a lead bomber in the mission to attack ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt, Germany, referred to as the largest aerial battle in history, destroying more than 70% of the German ball bearing facilities. He also took part in raids to bomb facilities in Norway, halting the Nazi’s efforts to produce an atomic bomb, and provided air support to ground troops clearing a path for ensuing ground battles to take place.
The missions he took part in laid the foundation for what is now known as American air superiority, a cornerstone of the U.S. Air Force’s warfighting strategy and a pinnacle of the United States National Defense Strategy.
While McLaughlin’s participation in World War II helped lay the framework for American military strategy, his greatest legacy will be remembered as his return to West Virginia and his efforts in the formation of the WVANG.
Named as the WVANG’s first commander, Lt. Col. McLaughlin helped establish the organization in 1947 and remained in leadership positions until his retirement as brigadier general in 1977. During that 30-year span, he helped grow and nurture the WVANG, including leading the unit during an active duty deployment during the Korean War.
During the latter parts of his military career, McLaughlin also served the state in civilian leadership roles; first as a Kanawha County Commissioner from 1962-1968, and later appointed as a State Delegate in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1974 to 1976.
“Brig. Gen. (ret.) McLaughlin has left a lifetime of history to which our men and women of the WVANG can draw courage and wisdom from,” said Brig. Gen. Christopher S. “Mookie” Walker, Assistant Adjutant General-Air and Commander of the WVANG. “Throughout his life he exemplified American patriotism and service to others, and his life will remain a shining star in our firmament.”
McLaughlin Air National Guard Base, the base that houses the 130th Airlift Wing in Charleston, W.Va., was renamed in his honor in 2014. On Dec. 7, 2017, in celebration of both McLaughlin’s service and his 99th birthday, the 130th AW dedicated a C-130H in his honor, forever marking the aircraft, “The General Mac.” During his military career, McLaughlin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, with three clusters, the U.S. Army Air Corps Air medal with eight clusters, the French Croix de Guerre, and a Presidential unit citation.
“Brig. Gen. McLaughlin was among the greatest of the great West Virginians who ever lived,” said West Virginia Governor Jim Justice. “His service saved countless lives around the world and his leadership here at home paved the way for thousands of men and women to further serve and protect our great state and its people.”
Funeral services will be held Monday, December 23, 2019, 10:00 a.m., at the First Presbyterian Church located at 16 Leon Sullivan Way, Charleston, with burial following at Elk Hills Memorial Park located at 4705 Pennsylvania Ave., Charleston.