Harland McLaughlin traveled quite a bit before he and his late wife, Naomi, moved to Lancaster for their retirement. McLaughlin, the local VFW Post Chaplain can still fit into his Army Air Corps uniform, the one he received during World War II.
Growing up on a farm in Illinois, McLaughlin enlisted in the U.S. Army in the fall of 1942. “It sounded attractive to me,” McLaughlin said of why he joined the Air Corps, which was the precursor to the Air Force.
The Army needed staff everywhere in 1942, and McLaughlin spent very little time in training before being shipped off to Egypt to be part of support forces for the English Eighth Army air group.
Harland recalls that in order to get to Egypt, he traveled from New Jersey to Bombay, India, on the HMS Egra, a ship well passed its prime.
In the Sahara, McLaughlin was assigned to the general office to make sure supplies and parts were fully stockpiled. From tires to furel, to bombs, requests made sure that there was no delay, as items never seemed to take a direct route.
Beyond monitoring supply lines, McLaughlin took on a number of tasks while in the desert, working in several of the support shops. These shops were not buildings, but tents in the desert, repairing engines, changing out guns - everything needed to keep the planes in the skies.
Harland’s woodworking experience came in handy as he made the frames to shape plexiglas windows used in the planes.
“We did just about everything,” Harland noted.
He also guarded prisoners. “That wasn’t hard, where were they going to go?” McLaughlin noted.
After the west African campaign moved north to Italy, McLaughlin was stationed near Letchie, helping keep B-24 Liberators in the skies. “They would fly so low, they would have corn caught on their landing gear,” McLaughlin quipped.
In a bombing run, Harland recalls seeing 70 bombers take to the sky at once, but planes rarely came in together, some taking as long as three days to make it home, landing along the way to nurse engines or to refill. Many more did not make it back, succumbing to flack or fighter fire.
McLaughlin recalls the night sky being filled with dogfights.
Just about the time the Allied troops were fighting back the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge, McLaughlin earned enough points to serve his remaining time in the United States, and was discharged in October 1945.
After the service, he went to the University of Illinois and worked at a number of universities before becoming the grounds foreman at Asbury College in Kentucky. He and his wife chose to move to Lancaster because it was between family in Illinois and Minnesota.