CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Triple digits for a West Virginia and American hero.
Brig. Gen. James Kemp McLaughlin, the founder of the West Virginia Air National Guard, celebrated his 100th birthday Friday afternoon in Charleston.
Dozens were on hand at the Edgewood Summit to celebrate the man’s life of service to his family, state and country.
“He’s been one heck of a good dad,” Kemp McLaughlin, McLaughlin’s son, said. “We’ve had him for a long, long time. He was a World War II veteran, been in business here for 50 years, retired and has lived here in Edgewood Summit since.
“This occasion is awesome. It is a great thing. We are proud and happy to have it.”
McLaughlin flew more than three dozen missions in World War II as part of the Eighth Air Force before returning home to create the Air National Guard and join Guard.
On Nov. 3, 1947, the West Virginia Air National Guard was founded at the Kanawha Airport by then Lt. Col. James Kemp McLaughlin.
“He’s a true West Virginian,” Laura McLaughlin, McLaughlin’s daughter, said. “At one point in time, he could name all 55 counties and the county seats. He is really a historian at heart. A true West Virginian in addition to having been the first commander of the West Virginia Air National Guard. His interests and love for the state government go beyond on that, although the Air Guard is really his identity.”
McLaughlin was born in a small town, Strange Creek, in Braxton County and spent a lot of time growing up in Charleston. He later went on to West Virginia University where he met his late wife in a relationship that lasted nearly 50 years.
“My whole growing up years, I grew up in a family where dad was known throughout the city,” Laura McLaughlin said. “Everywhere I went, I was always his daughter and if you got into a little trouble he always found out about it.
“He has been a fabulous father, a great West Virginian and really a great American.”
In a release, the West Virginia National Guard said during his time serving his country during World War II, he flew the B-17 in the 92nd Heavy Bombardment Group of the Eighth Air Force which was responsible for some of the most important bombing missions and aerial battles in history.
“It’s an important legacy for us to carry forward,” Cpt. Holli Nelson of the West Virginia National Guard said. “Not only is he the founder of the West Virginia Air National Guard, but he is also a true West Virginia hero.”
“People use the term “The Greatest Generation” and he truly embodies that. He was a hero from World War II, he really helped create the doctrine we use in the US Air Force known as Air Superiority. Back in the day when he was flying the B-17s, there was really a chance that they weren’t sure if they would ever come back home. He survived World War II and he survived some of the most important air raids in history and a part of the mighty Eighth Air Force. We couldn’t ask for anything more in West Virginia than to have a true hero like that to still be here with us today celebrating his 100th birthday.”
After creating the West Virginia Air National Guard, he went on to serve as commander of the 130th Airlift Wing. In 2014, the base was named McLaughlin Air National Guard Base in his honor.
Dozens gathered for his celebration including family, friends and other veterans and current military members.
Sec. of State Mac Warner, read a proclamation from his office, recognizing a lifetime of service and contribution to his state and country.
“Dad has often said that this is the greatest country in the world,” Laura McLaughlin said. “When he gets upset about politics, he always goes back to the fact that it is still the greatest country in the world.
“Dad doesn’t get really excited but I tell you he has been well prepared for this and he has talked about making it to 100 for a long time. It has been a goal of his and he has reached that. He has been a goal oriented person and one of those people that never let obstacles stand in his way and he never let the obstacles stand in his way this time of reaching 100.”