Lt. Col. C. E. (Mac) McLean: At age 92, ever a Marine

U.S. Naval Academy, 1941, World War II, Korea, Teacher, Always Faithful

Bill Pappou Drew, author and photographer

“Semper Fi”, short for Semper Fidelis, is the motto of the United States Marine Corps. It means, “Always faithful.” It is more than a motto. It is a bond, a way of life describing the dedication and loyalty that individual Marines have for "Corps and Country"...and that they exhibit for the rest of their lives. A history of the term is described here.

It was taught to me at a young age by my uncle, Col. Robert (Bert) Simpson, USMC, (Ret.) a veteran of World War II and our closest family friend. He and my father grew up near each other just above the South Mill Pond in Portsmouth. It was he, who stepped in, exhibiting faith and confidence in me when his daughter was accepted and I rejected for admission to UNH by saying, “I’ll get you into “Nawwich” (Norwich University), my Alma Mata.”

It was with this background that upon meeting 92-year-young “Mac” McLean a couple of months ago at my first Pease Greeters event, I was full of pride in having the opportunity to make his acquaintance. He had been a Marine. NO…he WAS and STILL IS a Marine; “Always faithful.” (See my article on Pease Greeters here.)

Almost immediately, we hit it off. In his strong commanding voice said, “Bill, I’d like you to come to Durham and have breakfast with me and a few of my friends. We meet every Tuesday morning.” It was like an “order” from Uncle Bert, ten years his senior. “Go and pay your respects, not just to him, but to all those who serve their country.” I found out later he has a habit of inviting new acquaintances to this Tuesday event. It is his way to continue to make connections, learn, and expound on the values and beliefs that are the core of his existence. This activity is coupled with “lending a piece of his mind,” on various subject matters via numerous opinions expressed in the Op-Ed platform in Foster's Daily Democrat, the local newspaper, and through being active in many political organizations.

If there is a true example of a member of the “Greatest Generation,” it is Lt. Col. C. E. (Mac) McLean, USMC.(Ret.).  From the Wikipedia definition; "The Greatest Generation," is a term coined by journalist Tom Brokaw to describe the generation who grew up in the United States during the deprivation of the Great Depression, and then went on to fight in World War II, …. and beyond.”

I asked “Mac,” if I could interview him as being representative of this generation?,” and true to form his immediate and I mean immediate response was, “Of course I will, and it will be done in remembrance of all and particularly those who did not return. “ His “colors ;” his nature, viewpoint, attitude, personality, commitment and faithfulness, already became crystal clear. This is a man of character, integrity, and action.

He grew up in the late 1920's in Thomaston, Connecticut. He recalls, “while in grammar school and on my way there with a friend, Jimmy Livingston, three bi-planes flew overhead and landed in a nearby cow pasture. We decided to take leave of school for the rest of the day. We ran over to the field, greeting the pilots and with reverence touched their leather jackets and the planes. From that point on, I wanted to become an aviator.” (See a video of his description here.)

During the early 1930’s, his family moved to Winslow, Maine. He graduated from the high school there in 1935.

For a year after high school he attended Colby College in Waterville, Maine, then located just across the river from his home. Having convinced his parents he wanted to fly, he received an appointment to and attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  

After graduation in February of 1941, he took the oath of a Second Lieutenant of Marines and was stationed as an artillery officer on the Island of Tutulia in the southern Pacific. After 14 months, he was promoted to First Lieutenant and then, a month later, to Captain.

He was then assigned to flight school and on to Marine Fighter Squadron VFM-351 at MCAS, Cherry Point, N.C. He flew “Corsairs,” including combat in 1945 from the aircraft carrier, CVE 109, the USS Cape Gloucester. For a time his mission was to intercept the suicide Japanese Kamikaze planes from flying into U.S. Naval ships. Corsair pilots and planes also provided "close air support" to Marine troops on the ground as they dislodged Japanese forces from the many islands in the western Pacific Ocean. (See note below)

Corsair pilots on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Two Vought F4U "Corsairs" fighter planes, part of a U.S. Navy carrier based squadron.

After the war he remained in the Marine Corps, and his services were required again, this time in Korea. He became the XO, the Executive Officer, and then the VFM-312 Squadron Commander, the Checkerboard Squadron.

He crashed only once, in 1950 in Korea. He came down and ditched the plane in the Han river and maneuvered it close to the southern shore. The objective was to position the wing over the shore line so he would not get his feet wet. Dry feet were essential if he were make his escape. He climbed out walked across the wing onto the shore then up the bank and over to level ground.

In Mac's words, "From the nearby village appeared an elder carrying a basket of apples. His tall stove like top hat defined his status. I bowed gratefully, accepted the fruit, and he returned to the village.

A young man then appeared saying, "Me Jap, Me Jap," I started to walk downstream with him walking next to me about 20 yards away. We had covered about a quarter of a mile when a hail of bullets, with the Doppler effect of tumbling ammo surrounding us, came our way. I concluded they were not leaning on their weapons. Thank goodness their aim was very poor.” It was a North Korean Rifle Company of about 150 men.

As I began walking directly to them, the firing ceased, I picked out the commanding officer, walked up to him, came to attention saluted and shook his hand. I then reached into my uniform and withdrew ten packs of cigarettes, ten Hershey bars and began distributing them to the Commanding officer and the soldiers. Amid big smiles and a relaxed situation, I then again, saluted, shook hands, and continued on my way expecting at any moment to be fired upon, shot in the back and be killed. They didn’t shoot nor did they follow. I continued to walk and eventually met up with and joined some South Korean troops and safety.”

In 1953, he was Executive Officer of CLVMF 122, a jet squadron aboard the carrier, CVA 43, the USS Coral Sea, and then retired from the Marine Corps in 1961.

He taught and headed up the Science Department at MSAU 60, Noble High School, in North Berwick, Maine. After 17 years, he retired from teaching at the school but NOT from teaching others "the value of being an American." In talking with teachers from that erA, he was greatly admired.

USMC emblem with flags

Mac’s academic love is physics. It is a science governed by formulas. A formula is made up of components with certain values. Translated to real life, one is either patriotic or not. One is governed by certain values of character or not. Mac gets very upset with those whose perceptions do not tie in with the foundation stones upon which this country has been built. Through his military service, he is acutely aware of the sacrifices that have been and are being made in the creation of the world we live in. Threats to this world he meets head on. He still wishes he could do more.   

"Mac" is a trained military being. He still refers to time in hours. “I’ll meet you at thirteen hundred hours,” not 1 p.m., as most of us would refer to it. His manual has been molded by a wealth of experience. He is a by-the-book individual. As the years have gone on, he is very cognizant of forces that tend to bring down the values and character of this nation.  He is a man who has been trained to make decisions, then ACT. There is no middle ground, and his opinions are rendered LOUD and CLEAR. Although akin with the feelings of the Silent Majority, he is far from silent.  He is a beacon in the fog. “I am on firm ground.  This should not happen. This is what necessary to correct the situation; follow me.”

"The lesson is THIS....."

An example of this is a video of him addressing the troops at a recent Pease Greeter send off, the day after Massachusetts State Senator Scott Brown was elected a U.S. Senator.  At one point, he removes his Marine Corps League cover (cap) and expresses his opinion as an individual. (See the video here.)

Mac delivering a speech with Captain Ed Johnson looking on

A complete, self written account of his life is described in Foster’s Daily Democrat here.

He is governed by the word of God and displays this commitment with daily and weekly prayers of praise and devotion to his religion. He is still deeply committed to his two wives now deceased, Wendy and Carrie, whose passings he reverently struggles with. There is still serenity in his life through the families of his children.  A recent reward is seeing one relative donate a kidney to her aunt, his daughter named Jo, so she may continue to live.  Mac has been on hand going to and from Boston to comfort her with his long time page-turning friend from church, “ey,” doing the driving.  

So here we are as Pease Greeters, attending the arrival of another planeload of troops, this time on their way back from a year of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Mac" continues to pay respect for their service and shows them that he, like those of us who are with him, are:

                FOREVER and ALWAYS FAITHFUL …and …GRATEFUL.

Lt.Col. C. E. (Mac) McLean, USMC, (Ret.) with Capt. William (Bill) Drew, CE, USAR, (Ret.)

For Mac, he is 92 years young …and still fighting the country’s battles.

Note: The first “Corsairs” in combat in the World War II were used for close air support over the island of Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands.  My uncle, at the time, Captain Robert M. Simpson, USMC, was a company commander of a unit on Bougainville and was awarded the Silver Star for meritorious service.  "Mac," did not serve in this theater of operation.


February, 2010