The Greatest Generation: Kemp McLaughlin

Last year, I decided to try the Tuesday morning Men’s Prayer Breakfast and discovered a thoroughly enjoyable time of fellowship, devotion, prayer time and of course a five-star breakfast. I returned several Tuesdays over the next month or so before I began to put the pieces together in my mind regarding just who attends this weekly event.

Some Tuesdays I was the baby of the bunch…some days there were two or three of us ‘youngsters’ in the crowd. The one morning that really got my attention was when I looked around my table and realized I was sharing breakfast with four World War II veterans. We were discussing how awful the tsunami destruction was in Japan when one of the fellows began to compare it to the aftermath of the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima. He said he toured the area in October. I asked which October (thinking it may have been years later) to which he replied October 1945. I was awe-struck as two others at the table then calmly told how their ships were shot out from under them in the Pacific theatre. Sitting to my left was a long-range bomber crew member in the Army Air Force who also saw action in the Pacific.

I started looking at the other tables and saw more WWII veterans and others who were veterans of more recent eras. I began to wonder if it was a coincidence that these guys were regulars at a weekly meeting of Godly men. I decided to find out more about these ‘heroes’ who made incredible sacrifices so we Americans could live as we do today.

Kemp McLaughlin was my first interview because I wanted to catch him before he headed back to his West Virginia farm for the summer. Kemp grew up in Charleston, West Virginia and graduated from West Virginia University where he entered and completed the College Pilot Training Program. After enlisting in the U.S. Air Corps, Kemp trained in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida before shipping out to England in 1942 as a part of the 92nd Bombardment Group.

I asked Kemp about his memories of the war and he proceeded to tell me of his first mission as co-pilot of a B-17 Bomber where his plane was hit with shrapnel over France. He was able to fly it back to England with an engine on fire and a wounded radio operator. He said it was then that he knew it would take a miracle to make it safely through the war. Kemp was in fact a recipient of such a miracle and after the war went on to organize the Air National Guard of West Virginia in 1947 which he commanded for the next thirty years.

I was curious how Kemp ended up wintering in Lake Wales. He told me he was familiar with the area because of the Avon Park bombing range. He also shared that he liked living in an agricultural community because the folks tend to be closer to God because of their reliance on Him in tending to nature.

I believed I would figure out over the next few months that a close relationship with our Lord was the common thread which provided these “greatest generation” prayer breakfast men the miracles necessary to survive WWII. I also came to believe that our nation is a better place not only because of the sacrifices of these men and millions like them, but also because we get to live in the same community with them every day.