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Aviator James Kemp McLaughlin (December 7, 1918 – December 16, 2019) was born in Braxton County. He graduated from West Virginia University at 23 and 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 B-17 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 B-17 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 a Kanawha County commissioner from 1962 to 1968. In January 2014, the Charleston Air National Guard base was renamed McLaughlin Air National Guard Base in his honor.

This Article was written by Richard A. Andre

Last Revised on July 21, 2023

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McLaughlin, J. Kemp. The Mighty Eighth in WWII: A Memoir. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000.

Cite This Article

Andre, Richard A. "J. Kemp McLaughlin." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 21 July 2023. Web. 20 July 2024.


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