W.Va. Air National Guard Base to honor Brig. Gen. McLaughlin

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Charleston Air National Guard Base will officially be renamed after Brig. Gen. James Kemp McLaughlin, who helped found the West Virginia Air National Guard.

The name change was announced earlier this week, and a press conference was held Wednesday.

The change will formally take effect during a ceremony on Saturday that will be attended by McLaughlin, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Adj. Gen. James Hoyer.

The base is home to the 130th Airlift Wing.

"We felt it was more than appropriate to memorialize the service of General McLaughlin," Hoyer said.

McLaughlin was born in Braxton County and grew up in Charleston. Though he's 95 years old, he didn't skip a beat as he spoke to reporters from a podium Wednesday.

McLaughlin said it is "a great honor" to have the base named after him, especially because the recognition "came from an organization I think highly of."

"I look back and realize just how important the National Guard has been from the beginning (of the U.S.)," he said. "It doesn't get the praise and press it should get at times."

He joined the Army Air Corps in 1941 and flew B-17 bombers during World War II, including in Norway, Germany and the Battle of the Bulge. He flew 39 bombing missions during the war and received a Distinguished Flying Cross and three subsequent Oak Leaf clusters.

On at least two of the missions, the B-17s he piloted were severely damaged, which he said was "one of the toughest times of my life." He said he thanked the Lord when he landed safely.

After the war, McLaughlin returned to West Virginia and had a part in establishing the local Air National Guard. He spent a total of 37 years in the military and was also a Kanawha County commissioner and served one term in the House of Delegates.

McLaughlin said he thinks the National Guard is one of the most important institutions in the country.

"Through the years, the Guard has served the government in peace and war more than any other organization," he said. "(The Guard) is one of the best organizations this nation's ever had. America can't do without the National Guard."

The renaming of the Charleston Air National Guard Base is the latest in an ongoing effort by the West Virginia National Guard to better recognize outstanding West Virginians who have contributed to the military history of the United States.

Hoyer said he thinks in the past, the National Guard has "not done a good enough job" at distinguishing those people. He said going forward, the National Guard wants to improve that aspect.

"West Virginians have played a significant role in protecting and defending our nation," he said.

Last November, a street in Fairmont that leads to a National Guard facility was renamed "201st Artillery Drive" in honor of that unit, which the Fairmont Times West Virginian said "is the oldest continuously active military service unit in the United States and has been in service since Feb. 17, 1735."

The Fairmont unit is part of the Army National Guard branch of the West Virginia National Guard.

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