Local World War II Hero Honored

By Marc Strauss

April 30, 2011 Updated Apr 30, 2011 at 6:14 PM CDT

He was one of the unsung heroes of World War II and on Saturday he received one of the highest honors given to a civilian.

Marc Strauss has more on this special Peoria aviator.

Its been more than 65 years since Captain Francis "Mac" McLaughlin served in the Army Air Forces Auxiliary as a pilot with the Civil Air Patrol.

McLaughlin helped police the waters off Florida's Atlantic Coast looking for German submarines during World War II.

"German commanders used to curse the little yellow planes of the Civil Air Patrol because they would have to submerge," said Colonel Gordon Larson. "They couldn't charge their batteries and stay on the surface looking for targets because people like Colonel McLaughlin were flying around."

That's right. Now he's Colonel Mac McLaughlin. The 97year-old beacon of aviation in Peoria got a promotion Saturday during a ceremony at the Illinois National Guard's 182nd Air Lift Wing.

He also received the Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor one can receive from the Civil Air Patrol.

"From the day they started patrolling there was never another American ship sunk off of the coast," said Mac's wife, Jean McLaughlin.

Civil Air Patrol is hoping Colonel McLaughlin's achievements will also help them receive additional recognition. Larson says because CAP contributed to the successful war effort the organization is campaigning for the Congressional Gold Medal.

"And each member, much like Colonel McLaughlin, will receive a replica gold medal," explained Larson. "It was awarded to the Women's Air Corp last year for the job that they did during World War II and we're right now working very hard to have this in conjunction with our 70th anniversary on December 1st."

McLaughlin's elevation to Colonel isn't a surprise to local aviators. Mac ran the old Mount Hawley airport for some 25 years. Later, he was the chief pilot for Byerly Aviation. He was still flying at 90. And on Saturday, the WWII hero of the skies was on cloud-9.

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