‘It was a good 40 years’
FLORENCE, S.C. -- Army veteran James McGlaughlin served his country for 40 years.
“It was a good 40 years,” he said. “I can’t complain.”
McGlaughlin grew up in the Evergreen and Clausen communities southeast of Florence. He said he attended Wilson High School but graduated from Southside High School. As he explained, Southside was a high school before South Florence High School was constructed. He said he was one of the students rezoned following integration in the 1970s.
He said his father was a share-cropper, a life he wanted no part of. In high school, he took auto mechanic courses and did quite well.
“Actually, I joined before I graduated,” McGlaughlin said. “I joined on March 2. It was called a delayed-entry plan. With that plan, you didn’t have to worry about being drafted. You could go into the field that you wanted to.”
McGlaughlin set his mind to working as a mechanic and eventually was schooled to become a wheel and track mechanic.
He went through basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia. After Fort Jackson, he went to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and took a 16-to-18-week course in wheel and track work. From there, he went to Oakland Army Base for two weeks while he waited to see whether he would be sent to Vietnam or Korea.
At the time, the United States was heavily involved in the Vietnam War.
The United States first entered the Korean peninsula when responding to assist the fledgling South Korea, formally the Republic of Korea, fend off an invasion from North Korea, formally the Democratic Republic of Korea. An armistice agreement was signed between the two Koreas on July 27, 1953, creating a demilitarized buffer between the two countries. The United States has maintained a presence along the buffer since the armistice agreement was signed.
The United States military presence is called United States Forces Korea, and it mostly consists of the Eighth Army and the Seventh Air Force. There are also smaller detachments from the Navy and the Marine Corps. There are around 30,000 United States troops in South Korea.
“So they sent me to Korea for a year,” McGlaughlin said. “There, actually, I was at Camp Edwards right up from the DMZ.”
McGlaughlin said he did not know what to expect in Korea. He said it was one of the coldest places he had ever been.
From Korea, McGlaughlin served with the First Cavalry Division at Fort Hood. Then, McGaughlin left the Army and joined a unit of the reserves based in Florence. He served there for two years. After Florence, he went to a medical unit in Dalton and then to a MASH unit in Maryland.
He joined the 133rd Military Police Company in Timmonsville after Maryland. He joined a unit of air defense in Columbia.
McGlaughlin served in Kuwait and Iraq in 2005. He was also under fire there.
“The folks didn’t know how to trust us being soldiers,” McGlaughlin said of the Iraqis. “A lot of times, they feel when we go to areas like Afghanistan that we’re trying to find a way to take over their country. They feel that we don’t respect their cultures. So they’re sort of antsy, and you don’t know how to trust them, but you have to still interact with them.”
He added that in Iraqi houses, you must sit with palms up and you can’t wave with the front of your hand.
McGlaughlin said he learned from his experience growing up in segregated Florence the need to be sensitive to other cultures.
He joined the 742nd Maintenance Division at McIntyre Air Base and served until March 2, 2012. As part of that unit, McGlaughlin went to Afghanistan in 2011.
He described Afghanistan is being similar to Iraq.
McGlaughlin said the missiles were fired at the base he served at in Afghanistan.
He said with men under him, he couldn’t show fear.
“We don’t need scaredy cats when we’re out there,” McLaughlin added.
Also, he kept his faith in God.
He ended his tour of 40 years on March 2, 2012.
McGlaughlin said he also had served short tours in Jordan to learn Arabic and in Germany and Panama. He called Panama one of the better tours, because the people were friendly.