Aviator James Kemp McLaughlin was born in Braxton County on December 7, 1918. He began his military career in September 1941 as a cadet in the Army Air Corps. Early in 1942, Lieutenant McLaughlin was assigned to the 92nd heavy bombardment group of the Eighth Air Force. The 92nd was among the first American units to see combat during World War II.
On October 14, 1943, Captain McLaughlin piloted the lead bomber in a mission against the ball-bearing works of Schweinfurt, Germany. Two-hundred-sixty B17 bombers participated in the raid which is considered the biggest aerial battle in history. Referred to as ‘‘Black Thursday,’’ 25 percent of the American force was lost, but an estimated 70 percent of the German ball-bearing production facilities was destroyed, seriously weakening the Nazi war effort. In November 1943, McLaughlin participated in bombing facilities in Norway which were crucial in the German attempts to develop an atomic bomb. His B17 returned to base with an engine on fire after pursuit by Luftwaffe fighters.
A lieutenant colonel at war’s end, McLaughlin had flown 39 combat missions and 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. After the war McLaughlin founded the West Virginia Air National Guard, of which he was the first commander. In 1951, he led the squadron on active duty in the Korean War. Following service in Korea he was promoted to full colonel, and in 1962 he was appointed assistant adjutant general with promotion to brigadier general.
Retired in 1977 from the military, he served as Kanawha County commissioner from 1962 to 1968.
This Article was written by Richard A. Andre
Last Revised on October 20, 2010
McLaughlin, J. Kemp. The Mighty Eighth in WWII: A Memoir. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000.