CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Retired Brig. Gen. James Kemp McLaughlin, one of the most decorated veterans in West Virginia history, has passed away at the age of 101.
The Braxton County native, who founded the West Virginia Air National Guard and was named their first commander in 1947, just celebrated his 101st birthday on December 7. He died on Monday.
McLaughlin had been in the service less than a year when the attacks struck Pearl Harbor on his birthday in 1941.
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, the unit assigned to carry out strategic bombing campaigns in France, Germany, and the Low Countries during World War II, according to Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, the Adjutant General of West Virginia.
He took part in some of the most pivotal air raids in the country’s history, as he served as a lead bomber in the mission to attack ball-bearing factories in Schweinfurt, Germany.
McLaughlin also took part in raids to bomb facilities in Norway, halting the German’s efforts to produce an atomic bomb and provided air support to ground troops, clearing a path for ensuing battles to take place, Hoyer recently said.
In total, McLaughlin completed 39 combat missions during World War II. For his service, he was awarded a Presidential unit citation, the Distinguished Flying Cross with three clusters, the US Army Air Corps Air medal with eight clusters, and the French Croix de Guerre.
McLaughlin retired brigadier general in 1977. Along with serving on the Kanawha County Commission from 1962 to 1968, he was appointed to the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1974 to 1976.
The Kanawha County Commission released a statement of McLaughlin’s passing on Monday.
“General McLaughlin lived a life that has allowed him not only to be revered as a hero but to be remembered as one. He was and will continue to be a true legend in West Virginia,” Commission President Kent Carper said.
“My wife Debbie and I are sending our deepest sympathy to his family at this time.”
Gov. Jim Justice shared his sympathies on Twitter Monday evening:
Brig. Gen. J. Kemp McLaughlin was among the greatest WVians who ever lived. His service saved countless lives around the world and his leadership here at home paved the way for thousands upon thousands of men and women to further serve and protect our great state and its people.
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) December 17, 2019
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin released a statement Monday on McLaughlin’s death that read in-part:
“Gayle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of our dear friend, Brig. Gen. Kemp McLaughlin. General McLaughlin truly embodied ‘The Greatest Generation.’
“General McLaughlin led a lifetime of selfless service in the military and here at home. Beyond his military service, he served our state as a Kanawha County Commissioner and in the House of Delegates. I am proud to have known him and I am honored to have called him a dear friend. Kemp was a true family man and a great West Virginian. Gayle and I know that many hearts are hurting with his passing, and we send our deepest condolences to his family and friends during this difficult time.”
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito released a statement on Twitter Monday, as well:
“General McLaughlin was a man of service and integrity who loved West Virginia dearly. Thinking of his family and the West Virginia National Guard today.”
On Monday, Kanawha County Commissioners ordered the lowering of flags on county grounds in honor of McLaughlin.