JOHN H. MCCLEAN, CAPT, USAF

From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

John McClean '53

Date of birth: January 17, 1929

Date of death: August 16, 1963

Age: 34

Lucky Bag

From the 1953 Lucky Bag:


Loss

From Wall of Faces:

On August 16, 1963, pilot CAPT John H. McClean and navigator 1LT Arthur E. Bedal were crewman on a B-26B Invader (#44-34681) from the 1st Air Commando Squadron, 34th Tactical Group, on a support mission for ARVN troops against Viet Cong when the aircraft slammed into a mountain, killing both Americans and a Vietnamese crewman. The crash occurred in guerrilla-infested jungle of Quang Ngai Province in central Vietnam near the South China Sea. The crash was later attributed to mechanical failure (wing spar fatigue).

Remembrances

From Wall of Faces:

My Dad probably chose the wrong aircraft, but he sure knew what he was doing when he married Freda

I never had much of an opportunity to get to know my dad. You see, I was only 5 years old when he was killed in Viet Nam over 40 years ago. However, he must have been a heck of guy as well as a war hero. I know this because he was smart enough to find and marry my mom, Freda.

John (Mac) Howard McClean from Brooklyn, NY attended the Naval Academy during the late 1940's. While attending the Academy he met a remarkable "Coal Miners Daughter" from Parsons West Virginia named Freda Alice Root. Freda had recently moved to the big city, Washington DC, and was employed by the government. I can't recall exactly if this is when she worked for the FBI or CIA. Anyway, they happened to meet at one of those military dances where the Naval Cadets and Secretary pools get together. Visions of the movie, "An Officer and a Gentleman", often come to mind when I think about this. It might have also been somewhat like the "Enchantment Under the Sea Dance", from the "Back to the Future" movie.

Following Mac’s graduation from the Naval Academy, Mac and Freda married. Mac then participated in a special program that converted Naval Academy Graduates to the Air Force due to the need for pilots. Mac loved to fly and particularly loved to fly the B-26. One of my memories of my dad involves a flight in a trainer at Eglin Air Force base in northwest Florida, probably in early 1962. Mac and Freda proceeded to have 3 sons: Don, Bill and Jerry. Yes, I was the youngest and supposed to be the daughter. After 3 C-Sections, I think Freda and Mac decided, or at least Freda decided, that a daughter just wasn't in the cards.

In 1963, looking to increase his flight hours, Mac volunteered for a six month assignment in Viet Nam. One month before his assignment was complete, the wing of his B-26 aircraft fell off during a bombing run and Mac and his crew (co-pilot and a South Vietnamese Officer) were killed in military service on August 16, 1963. Mac and his co-pilot were the 103rd and 104th US causalities of the Viet Nam War. About three years ago, Freda requested Mac’s military records from her Congressman. Contained within Mac’s records was a written transcript of an interview that was conducted with the officer in charge of the search team to retrieve the B-26 crew and help determine the cause of the crash. Prior to receiving this information in Mac’s records, we never knew this transcript existed or the documented activities contained within it had ever taken place. I have summarized the contents of the transcript in the following paragraph.

On August 17, 1963, the B-26 crash site was located. A small team was sent in to secure and clear an area near the base of a mountain ~2 miles from the crash site. During the night while guarding the clearing, one of the men was actually eaten by a Tiger! It turns out that tigers hunt at night and they believe the tiger thought the man was probably a deer. The next morning, a second team was brought to the sight by helicopter via multiple trips due to high winds. This second team proceeded up the mountain to retrieve the crew. By the time they reached the plane, it was clear that the Viet Cong had already been through the plane and had taken any item that they felt they could use as well as carry. The search team retrieved the bodies and detonated a remaining 750 lb bomb that had not exploded during the crash. The team quickly proceeded down the mountain and returned to the military base that afternoon with the B-26 crew. During the debrief, it became apparent that the retrieval of the B-26 wing was critical in order to understand exactly what had happened. Until this was determined, the B-26’s would not be permitted to fly bombing runs. The team quickly put together a plan to return to the crash site with the proper explosives in order to retrieve the wing or parts of the wing to determine what caused the wing to come off. They would use plastic explosives to cut the spars off the wing and return them to the base. They set two charges; however, when the first charge went off the second charge was disabled. They reset the second charge and successfully separated the spars. It took the team an hour and ten minutes to hike up to retrieve the wing and 35 minutes to come out. The team all returned successfully and received the Bronze Star with V clasp for heroism. The Army crew that flew the team was given the Distinguished Flying Cross. As a result of this mission, the wings on the B-26 were strengthened and the B-26’s were cleared to resume bombing runs.

And now the rest of the story. Freda began to sort out the significant life-changing event that fate had dealt her. One option was to move back to West Virginia or New York to join her or Mac’s family. To some this may have seemed to be the obvious or easiest choice. A second more difficult option was to stay in Florida and return to the work force. Freda chose the second option by staying in Florida and returning to the work force. Freda joined the Civil Service as a secretary at Eglin Air Force Base in Northwest Florida. With some sense of stability returning to her life, Freda then made the decision to pursue her college degree by attending night school. I seem to remember that this was about a twelve-year process. What didn't seem like a big deal to me then, seems like an impossible task to me now. How in the world she ever accomplished what she did and has I will never know. I am just now starting to comprehend the significance. What a remarkable achievement from a remarkable lady. Heroes come from many walks of life. How lucky my brothers and I are to have had two heroes to model our lives after. We are truly blessed.

Freda never remarried and continues to live in Northwest Florida near Hurlburt Field. In 1964, several of the streets on Hurlburt Field were renamed after Viet Nam war heroes. One of the streets was named after "Captain John Howard McClean". A second street was named after John's co-pilot, "First Lieutenant Arthur E. Bedal".

Freda retired from the Civil Service several years ago and enjoys golf, Atlanta Braves baseball games, the stock market when it is going up, her 3 sons and her 6 grandchildren. What a remarkable lady. My Mom. My hero.

An interesting side note to this event can be found under another remembrance posted to the Virtual Wall for Mac’s co-pilot, Arthur (Skip) E. Bedal. This remembrance provides information to say that the B-26 that Mac and Skip flew had just returned the night before the crash from Taiwan where the plane had been refurbished by the China Air Transport Company. This is information that my family had never known before reading this remembrance.

JERRY MCCLEAN, 12/2/02

To Jerry, son of Capt. John McClean

Dear Jerry,

It's been almost twelve years since you posted your beautiful tribute to your parents; yet, I am hoping you will return to this page one day to find this message. I only met you and your brothers once, and that was at a getting-to-know-each-other dinner just before your dad and my husband, Skip Bedal, left for their tour in Vietnam. Our daughter, Sheryl Jo, was a year-and-a-half, and I was pregnant with Leigh-Ann, who was born three months after your dad and Skip were killed.

I wanted you to know how pleased Skip was to have your dad as his flying partner. He had expressed that your dad was "the best" when it came to flying that dated WWII B-26 and that he felt completely safe and comfortable - they made a good team. I can just imagine that they were both pretty excited to be the first to take up that newly refurbished, just like brand-new, old bird.

I was in Ft. Walton Beach a couple of years ago and met briefly with your mother. We never really got to know each other since upon arriving at Hurlburt Field I'd been fighting dreadful early-pregnancy sickness and then was off to California to await Skip's return. So, It was good to finally visit after so many years and to share how one instant changed both of our lives forever. It was at this time that your mother said to me, "You do know that Skip is buried in New York, too." I was so taken aside by this that I said, "Yes." In fact, I didn't know how to tell her I didn't know, as I had only been told that it was advisable not to view the remains. it never occurred to me or the family that the bodies had been co-mingled in the accident since we had a casket and "a" body. This is very hard to talk about in a public forum, but I'm doing it because I think you and your brothers should know that the other site of your father's burial is with Skip at Pierce Brothers Memorial Park, North Hollywood, California. I had asked both cemeteries to add the other's name to their records, but because of government regulations they require documentation that was never provided or mentioned in 1963.

Also, unlike your mother, we here in California were led to believe that the plane was shot down; it wasn't until almost 40 years later that I suspected differently after reading a posting on the internet that said the plane had lost its wing, which turned out to be true. Skip's folks died never knowing the truth, and I was angry. I had never been really angry before because I knew that Skip loved what he was doing; was proud of being a member of the 1st Air Commando Group; and felt that what he was doing was important and right for our country. As you know, this was before the protesting and public awareness.

In case you haven't see this internet posting, it tells of the 1st Air Commando's 1963 presence in Vietnam when your dad was there and even mentions him by name:

http://milmag.com/2010/02/1st-air-commando-group-—-viet-nam-1963/

Jerry, know that I was thrilled to see your posting and to hear of your mother's successful redirection - a remarkable and brave lady. And, perhaps you will see this and make contact. I would be delighted to hear from you.

SUSAN, 10/28/14

Family

From Find A Grave, his wife:

Freda Alice (Root) McClean (1929 - 2012)

Mrs. Freda Alice (Root) McClean, 83, of Navarre, Fla., died Dec. 17, 2012, at The Grace Care Center in Cypress, Texas, after suffering a stroke. She was receiving cancer treatment at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Freda was born on Oct. 28, 1929, in Douglas, W.V., the quintessential "Coal Miner's Daughter" of the late Julius and Lessie Root. Following her graduation from Thomas High School in 1947 and facing limited career prospects in a coal mining town, she packed her bags and rode the bus to Washington, D.C. After completing a secretarial course, Freda worked at the FBI for three years before transferring to the CIA for a small pay raise. An arranged blind date introduced her to the love of her life, Annapolis midshipman John Howard McClean, "Mac." Freda and Mac were married after his graduation on June 20, 1953, in the chapel at Annapolis. Mac accepted a commission into the U.S. Air Force, and the first few years of their young marriage were spent traveling to various air bases in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Georgia while Mac trained to be a pilot. Freda and Mac were thrilled to settle in California where Mac was invited by the Air Force to pursue a master's degree in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University. This time was always remembered fondly by Freda, who pursued their three small boys and ran the household in order to allow Mac the time needed for studies and the usual U.S. Air Force temporary duty assignments. Although the boys outnumbered Freda, they never outlasted her patience or devotion.

After graduation, Freda and Mac received their new assignment to Mary Esther, Fla., where Mac continued his pilot training at Eglin. During these years, Mac was sent to Vietnam, but sadly, on a fateful day in August 1963, Mac's B-26 crashed due to wing failure. The tragedy devastated the family, but fortified by her tremendous inner strength, Freda bravely shouldered her new responsibilities as a single parent and entered the job market. Freda managed to provide a rich and interesting childhood for her sons, juggling work as a secretary with little league, basketball, swimming lessons, and school activities. She never knew what surprise might await her at the end of the workday; it could be a pot of live crabs scrabbling on the stove top or a broken arm needing to be set. Freda realized her secretarial career would not support much of a retirement, and so enrolled in college classes as soon as her boys were old enough to look after one another in the evening. Freda persevered through ten years of juggling work, her boys' own university educations, and eventually completed her Bachelor's of Science from Troy University. Soon after, she was promoted to a contract administrator for an Eglin weapons program. This prompted her proud grandchildren to tell their classmates "after beginning her career as a special agent for the FBI and CIA, my Grandmother is now an arms dealer." This was not far from the truth, since Freda made numerous trips to Israel, Germany, France and even Australia as a member of the negotiating teams who were charged with selling weapon technologies to America's allies. A pretty neat trick for a "coal miner's daughter!"

Freda retired after 20 years working in civil service, and embarked on one final adventure by leaving her home of 40 years in Mary Esther and moving to Navarre. She was delighted to find herself surrounded by friendly neighbors on a peaceful street within view of her beloved Gulf Coast waters. In this happy setting, she carved out a new life anchored by her neighbors and church. One of her favorite memories was surviving Hurricane Ivan and the gathering of neighbors who turned their rapidly melting freezers into a cook-out feast that lasted for days. Freda particularly looked forward to attending Sunday school and church each week, and took special joy in watching her good friends' triplets grow up.

Freda finally learned to relax in her new found leisure, and pursued her passions of Atlanta Braves baseball, gardening, and golf. Her home in Navarre was a popular destination for her families to visit, and she always had freshly baked cookies and her famous pound cake waiting for her beloved grandchildren, along with a list of the newest restaurants she wanted to try. When she wasn't hosting family, Freda made a point of traveling to Texas, Arizona and California to check up on her sons and their families. The highlights of Freda's retirement travels were her trip to Ireland with her grandson, David, and her excursion to the Master's Golf Tournament with her son, Jerry.

Freda is survived by her three sons, Donald (Delores), Bill (Kathleen) and Jerry (Tami); and six grandchildren, David, James, John, Jarrod (Anh), Jennifer (Bryan) and Shannon.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 12, at United Methodist Church of Navarre, 9474 Navarre Parkway, Navarre, FL 32566. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the We Care Ministry, in care of the United Methodist Church of Navarre.

Published Online in Northwest Florida Daily News from Feb. 7 to Feb. 10, 2013


Class of 1953

John is one of 62 members of the Class of 1953 in Memorial Hall.