Things to be Thankful For: Citizen Soldiers

Imperial War Museum

This is the time of year that we tend to be more thankful than other times. For me, that often comes down to our soldiers. And what drives me nearly around the bend is what Kipling described as “O makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep”. One of the sources for the quote that seems misattributed to George Orwell. It’s been pretty endemic most of my life and always rubs me the wrong way. Here’s one of them

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to First Lieutenant Ronald W. McLean (MCSN: 0-105587), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving with Company A, Third Reconnaissance Battalion, THIRD Marine Division in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On 8 June 1969, First Lieutenant McLean’s six-man reconnaissance team was patrolling eleven miles northwest of the Vandegrift Combat Base in Quang Tri Province when it became heavily engaged with an enemy force. Realizing the Marines needed a more tenable position, First Lieutenant McLean unhesitatingly exposed himself to the hostile rounds impacting around him and fired his M-79 grenade launcher into the midst of the enemy, killing two hostile soldiers and enabling his team to maneuver to a more defensible position. After the dead soldiers had been searched and the team had retrieved documents of intelligence value, the Marines were attacked by a platoon-sized hostile force. Reacting immediately, First Lieutenant McLean fired his grenade launcher at the enemy and killed five more hostile solders. Observing one of his men fall wounded, he boldly ignored the hostile rounds directed at him to give medical assistance to his comrade. As he was rendering first aid to the injured man, he alertly observed a hostile soldier preparing to fire on their position. Completely disregarding his own safety, he shoved his companion down and was mortally wounded by the enemy fire. His bold initiative and heroic efforts inspired all who observed him and accounted for eight enemy soldiers killed. By his courage, aggressive leadership and steadfast devotion to duty, First Lieutenant McLean upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.
Action Date: June 8, 1969

As always, the citation of a posthumous award tells us of the gallant way he or she died, but little of his life. That’s often interesting too. In this case, what jumps out is that his hometown was Beverly Hills, California.

LT McLean had a stepfather who outlived him, which is kind of amazing considering he (the stepfather) was assigned as operations officer of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group, a B-24 Liberator unit soon to be sent to the war in Europe. On 20 January 1944, he was promoted Major and served as deputy commander of the 2d Bombardment Wing during what we remember as “Big Week”, where we and the RAF broke the back of the Luftwaffe. On 29 March 1945, he was promoted Colonel and given command of the 2d Bombardment Wing. Since he had enlisted after failing his draft physical, he had gone from Private to Colonel in four years.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters; the Distinguished Service Medal; and the Croix de Guerre avec Palme (France).

Unusually for a citizen soldier, he remained a reserve officer and was promoted Brigadier General by President Eisenhower on 23 July 1959. During his career, he remained current on B-36, B-47, and B-52 aircraft, as well as joining the Mach II club in a B-58 Hustler.

Brigadier General James M. (“Jimmy”) Stewart, USAFR (center) with the crew of B-52F Stratofortress 57-149, at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

But wait there’s more…”20 February 1966: he, flew the last combat mission of his military career, a 12 hour, 50 minute “Arc Light” bombing mission over Vietnam, aboard Boeing B-52 Stratofortress of the 736th Bombardment Squadron, 454th Bombardment Wing. His bomber was a B-52F-65-BW, serial number 57-149, call sign GREEN TWO. It was the number two aircraft in a 30-airplane bomber stream.”

That was his part-time job, as a citizen-soldier, many are more familiar with his other career, as an actor. In fact if you are like me, you will watch at least one of his movies between now and Christmas. It’s become rather a tradition for many of us. It’s called It’s a Wonderful Life and he is indeed Brigadier General James Maitland Stewart, US Air Force Reserve. He died of a heart attack on 2 July 1997.

Many thanks to This Day in Aviation for providing accurate information on both of these citizen soldiers’ lives. There are more pictures there too.

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7 Responses to Things to be Thankful For: Citizen Soldiers

  1. the unit says:

    So very interesting!
    Won’t admit where my mind was wondering @ “LT McLean had a stepfather who outlived him, which is kind of amazing considering…” What I was considering. Let’s just say a downfallen step father…maybe “racist and a liar, and move on.”
    Shouldn’t ever jump to conclusions. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. the unit says:

    And so thankful to learn that there’s been no conspiracy against present president, according to NYTs. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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