Born on December 7, 1918 in Braxton County, West Virginia, James Kemp McLaughlin grew up not in the world of aviation, but in the world of agriculture as a son of a farmer. He only considered a career in aviation after the Army Air Corps testing team visited West Virginia University in 1938 while he was attending college. Successfully passing the test he was too young to enlist without parental consent which he did not have. It would be another year before he reached the age of 21 and was able to enlist under his own accord, without parent approval.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, McLaughlin was deployed to England as a co-pilot and Second Lieutenant in the Mighty Eight’s 92nd Bombardment Group flying the famous B-17 bomber. After flying 39 combat missions and numerous “close calls”, he was ordered back to the U.S. in 1945 where he accepted a commission as a Lieutenant Colonel. He was subsequently 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. He finished his service in June 1946 at which time he and his wife, Constance Bailey, returned to Charleston, West Virginia with plans to return to civilian life. Those plans were altered in 1947 however, after the Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard asked McLaughlin to serve as the First Commander of the state’s Air National Guard squadron. In 1951 the squadron was federalized for active duty in the Korean War. Following the unit’s service in the Korean War, McLaughlin was promoted to full Colonel and was appointed to Assistant Adjutant General. He was eventually promoted to Brigadier General in 1962 before retiring from the military in 1977.
McLaughlin also enjoyed public service and served on many government branches; helping affect change and laws over the country he was sworn to protect. He became a Kanawha County Commissioner from 1963 to 1968 and was appointed into the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1974 to 1976. McLaughlin contributed his life to service in both the aviation and public sectors in West Virginia and we are proud to honor him.