After defeating the armies of Nazi Germany and the Axis Powers, thousands of U.S. soldiers barely got to celebrate before getting sent to fight another war. Herbert McClure, of Marlinton, was one of those soldiers.
One thing McClure clearly remembers about his WWII military service is seeing a lot of the world. Indeed, he saw more than most service members.
McClure was born and raised in Mill Point, the second-youngest of 10 kids. He worked hard on his family’s farm and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940, when he was 19 years old.
“We built roads, highways, and we built Watoga State Park,” he said. “I did a little bit of everything.”
McClure got drafted in 1942 while working at the Watoga C.C.C. camp. He reported to Clarksburg, where he received a physical and got inducted into the Army. The Army sent him to basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
“No, it wasn’t hard,” he said. “I was from the country so I was used to working hard.”
The Army wasted no time getting the new soldier overseas.
“I went to Boston and took a ship to England,” he said. “I wasn’t there very long. I took a train, part of the way, then got on a boat and went across the English Channel.”
Assigned as a military policeman, McClure’s time in Europe was an adventure.
“I did a little bit of everything,” he said. “I drove trucks and hauled groceries. I looked after the soldiers and kept them out of trouble. I did some traffic directing. I done quite a bit of traveling. I was there quite awhile in France. It wasn’t really hard. You kind of enjoyed the traveling.”
The French were still suffering from their treatment under the Germans.
“The French people treated us all pretty good,” he said. “There was a lot of kids and they stayed hungry half the time. Back behind where our company served the meals, we had garbage cans. Those kids ate that food out of them garbage cans. I was sad to see that. But the Army gave them people food. We gave the kids candy bars. They called it ‘bon-bons.’”
Duty away from the front lines was not without danger.
“They attacked us with planes,” he said. “We was all sitting around over there one evening, waiting for other troops to come through. I was sitting up on one of these high barrels. It blowed me clear off that barrel, but it didn’t hurt me. I was lucky.”
McClure saw much of northern France during his two years there, including Paris. As the war in Europe wound down, the U.S. planned to send 15 divisions – more than 250,000 men – from Europe to the Pacific. The reinforcements were to be part of Operation Downfall – the invasion of mainland Japan. But only a small fraction of those troops arrived in the Pacific Theater by the time the war ended. McClure was one of those troops.
Before the European war ended, McClure embarked by ship from France. The ship sailed through the Panama Canal and was steaming past California, when the Germans surrendered on May 7, 1945. McClure’s hopes were dashed when the ship continued sailing eastward.
“I thought I might get to come home, but we went right on by California,” he said. “We never come back to the States.”
Although the ship made several stops, McClure doesn’t recall stepping ashore until it reached Okinawa, where U.S. forces were preparing for the invasion.
Fortunately, the invasion – and the inevitable hundreds of thousands of casualties – never happened. After fanatically defending Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the Japanese surrendered in September 1945 – only after atom bombs wiped out two port cities and the Soviets invaded Manchuria. Rather than taking part in a bloody invasion, McClure and his buddies got to go home.
But the young MP didn’t come home right away. He spent six months on Okinawa, helping to maintain law and order, as thousands of troops preceded him on the journey home. During his time on the island, he survived a massive typhoon in the winter of 1945.
Mustering out of the service in January 1946, McClure returned to Marlinton. He got a job at Howe’s Tannery, where he worked for 22 years. He married Dolly and the couple lived on Tannery Row. After the tannery closed in 1970, McClure got a job as the Marlinton town policeman – a job that he enjoyed.
“The town was in pretty good shape and I always liked things like that,” he said. “I had to break up a couple fights in the beer joints and I had to take a few people to jail, but I liked it. The crime wasn’t bad, it wasn’t bad at all.”
McClure worked as a police officer for seven years, until he got a better paying job as painting supervisor at Denmar State Hospital. He worked there until 1990, when the hospital closed, and he retired. He and Dolly now live on Lake Street, where they moved after the flood of 1985.
McClure still has his Army khaki uniform jacket, with unit patches that reflect his war service on both sides of the globe. On the jacket’s left shoulder is the patch of the Army’s European Theater Headquarters, where McClure served from 1942-1944. The insignia shows twin lightning bolts snapping the chains of Nazi oppression. The lightning bolts form the letter “V,” the symbol of victory common to both U.S. and British forces.
On the jacket’s right shoulder is the patch of the Army’s Pacific Command, where McClure served from 1944 to 1945. A red arrow of war denotes the valor and self-sufficiency of the soldiers in the command. A blue field represents the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. White stars portray the North Star, Big Dipper and the Southern Cross.
McClure remembers his extensive travels more than anything else from his time in the service.
“I got to see a lot of the world,” he said. “I suppose I got some discipline out of it.”
The veteran recommends military service to young people – with one caveat.
“You got to like being away from home” he said.