Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Tribute to Hugh Jackson McLaurin, USAF

 Originally published May 24, 2007

Fifty years ago today on May 24, 1957 my uncle, Hugh Jackson McLaurin, took off from McCord AFB in Washington state for a routine training flight in a F-102a. Just a few minutes into the flight the jet began to experience catastrophic power loss. Ejecting from the aircraft was the obvious option in those cases; however, at the time he was over a populated section of an nearby Army base and couldn't be assured that the plane would not crash into family housing or into a parade ground occupied by a company of US Army soldiers. Rather than risk harm to them he stayed with the plane piloting it to an unpopulated area. By the time he "punched out" there was insufficient altitude for his chute to deploy and he was killed. He was 33.
Soldiers on the parade ground that day requested that they man the honor guard at his funeral in recognition of his valiant efforts on their behalf. A few months later he was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for his selfless actions that day.
His fascination with aviation can be traced, according to his brother, to an afternoon in the 1930s. They were working the fields of the family's North Carolina farm when several squadrons of planes from Myrtle Beach AFB flew over while evacuating from the path of a hurricane. After that he knew he wanted to fly and at 19 he joined the Army Air Corps in 1943. He never saw action in WWII but saw plenty in Korea where he was awarded his first DFC for extraordinary skill in bringing home an aircraft significantly disabled in combat.

Aviation was Uncle Hugh's life, and I recently found out that he published several articles on the topic. One, published in the March, 1951 edition of Flying, entitled 13,100 mph -Strait Up! described training in a pressure chamber for high altitude flight.

I never had the pleasure of knowing Uncle Hugh. All this happened three years before my birth; but, I was named after him, and this has been a point of pride for me all my life. I'm very proud to be descended from a man of this caliber, and I can only hope that if faced with a similar decision I'd show as much courage. 

1 comment:

  1. I am David Owens daughter. Barbara Owens was my grandmother...she recently passed away. January 29th 2014 at 71 years young. I never knew the story of Hugh. I've seen his pictures at nanny and pops house. My dad told me every time I asked 'who's that?' He would reply 'that man is a hero'