In honor of Earl McClung (1923-2013)
With great sadness and tribute I write to tell of the passing of Earl “One Lung” McClung, one of the original Band of Brothers. Earl died at his home in Pueblo West, Colorado, in the early morning hours of Wednesday, November 27, 2013.
He was 90.
Earl was known as a kind-hearted family man, a gentle and affable friend to many, and a valiant warrior for his country and the cause of freedom.
Earl was born on April 27, 1923, on the Colville Indian Reservation in northeastern Washington State. He was three-eighths American Indian and proud of his ancestry.
He grew up hunting, fishing, and trapping, and killed his first deer when he was 8 years old.
Earl self-admittedly had a difficult time in school. When Pearl Harbor hit, he wanted to enlist, but he was still in high school. He was drafted at age 19 in February 1943 during his senior year, along with seven other students in his senior class. He was patriotic and wanted to do his duty.
Given his propensity to regular strenuous physical activity, Earl described basic training in Ft. Walters, Texas, as “pretty easy, kind of fun,” although he had never before been more than 100 miles away from home and found himself a bit homesick.
He volunteered to be a paratrooper and trained at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He had never been in an airplane before until the day he first jumped out of one. He joined E Company, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne when they were at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
Earl parachuted into Normandy on D-Day where he fought near the town of Sainte-Mère-Église. As he came down in the dark, two enemy soldiers shot at his parachute. Earl always jumped with his rifle in his hands and could see their silhouettes against the moonlight. He killed the two men shooting at him moments after he hit the ground.
In the first part of the Normandy Campaign, Earl first fought with a smattering of men from the 502nd and 82nd, until he ran into Paul Rogers and Moe Alley, two paratroopers from his unit. For three days the loosely arranged group of paratroopers fought in Sainte-Mère-Église under heavy fire.
Somewhere during that time is when Earl received his nickname. He’d been on patrol all night, then came back to safer ground where he fell asleep. A lieutenant came up and asked Alley and Rogers who the machine gunner was. They both shrugged and pointed at Earl, who was sound asleep. Earl said,
So [the lieutenant] just put the machine gun by me. I wasn’t very happy about being made a machine gunner. As far as I know that machine gun is still there. When I woke up there were some strong adjectives being thrown around. So Rogers [who was known for writing funny poems] wrote a poem about it with a line that went:
Who hung the gun on One Lung McClung?
Earl, Rogers, and Alley rejoined the rest of their company just in time for the house to house battle of Carentan.
During Operation Market Garden in Holland, Earl was first scout for Easy Company, whose task was to blow up the bridge across the Wilhelmina Canal. Earl walked ahead of his company across the bridge, then sat down behind a shade tree to rest and wait for the rest of the men to catch up. At that moment, enemy soldiers blew up the bridge first. The tree protected him from flying debris. Earl said of the experience,
The timing of that explosion—if it had been just a few moments later, they would have got the whole damn company, a few moments earlier, they would have got me. The way it worked out it didn’t get anybody. It stopped us, but nobody got hurt. We could talk across the river, but there wasn’t anything anybody could do. So I just lay down behind the tree and went to sleep. There were no Germans around. By that time they were long gone.
While fighting in Holland, Earl was hit under his knee with a piece of shrapnel. Medics bandaged it and he limped for several days, but he was never evacuated. Earl was one of the very few men of Easy Company who made it all the way through the war without being seriously wounded or killed.
Herb Suerth, Jr., one of Earl’s friends in the company, tells a story about him when the men went to Mourmelon for some R&R.
Easy Company had come off the line from Holland in late November. Everyone celebrated Thanksgiving the day after that.
Within a day or two of that we had a full retreat parade—ODs, boot shined—the guys didn’t have half the stuff they needed, and some of the other guys definitely had other thoughts about the retreat. The way some guys talked, I thought there was going to be a mutiny.
Earl McClung’s bunk was next to mine. He wasn’t moving. Just before the retreat, somebody came to Mac and said, “Hey Mac, gimme your boots.” Mac handed them over and the guy started shining them for him. I wondered what was going on. Another guy came up and said, “Hey Mac, gimme your pants. He started pressing them for Mac, and so on ‘til Mac was completely ready for the retreat.
They were polishing McClung’s boots and pressing his pants for him! They knew he wouldn’t, and if everybody in the company didn’t participate, then nobody would receive any passes.
Over the years I’ve had to ask myself if I remember that story correctly. Now, you have to realize Earl McClung was one hell of a combat soldier, one of the best that ever was. That’s why the guys pressed his pants for him.
Well, one night years after the war McClung, and Shifty Powers and I were drinking Calvados together and McClung says, “Y’know, I wasn’t a very good garrison soldier.” I said, “Well Mac, my impression is that you were maybe the world’s worst.” He looked right at me and said: “You’re right!”
Earl fought in the harsh winter conditions of the battle of Bastogne. He wrapped his feet in gunnysacks to keep them from freezing.
He fought in Haguenau, when the enemy was right across the river.
With the company, he pressed into Germany and personally witnessed the horrible atrocities of the concentration camps.
The road up to Hitler’s hideout, the Eagle’s Nest, was blocked by rubble. Earl climbed up and over the rocks, and as far as known was the first American in Berchtesgaden.
In Kaprun, Austria, Earl’s job was to hunt and feed prisoners of war and displaced person. Earl said,
“Kaprun—I thought I had died and gone to heaven there. I just camped out. They saw me maybe once or twice a week.”
After the war, Earl returned to the States in December 1945 and had a difficult go of it for some time. Earl described the experience,
The first Christmas, it was kinda scary back home. It’s hard to say. The kid who left wasn’t the kid who came home.
I had a pretty rough time of it. I had dreams. I’d be sound asleep and somebody would touch me and they’d end up in the closet with me choking them. I was pretty dangerous even to touch.
I got in fights. I was angry all the time. I didn’t know what it was. I knew I needed help and the only way to get it was to go back in. A little hair of the dog that bit me to get me straightened out.
So in February 1946 I reenlisted for another 18 months. Then I was okay from then on.
Earl was married during his second enlistment. His wife, Jean, was also in the service. They met in South Carolina and were married before both being discharged.
Married life helped make Earl a new man. He worked in a trucking garage for a while, then as a mail carrier for seventeen years until a back injury forced him to quit. He became a game warden and retired in 1988.
Earl and Jean had three children. One son was lost in Vietnam. A daughter was killed in a car accident.
Earl was portrayed in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers by actor Rocky Marshall.
On a personal note, I was privileged to speak with Mr. McClung several times when I interviewed him for the 2009 compilation memoir We Who Are Alive and Remain.
Mr. McClung was best friends with Darrell “Shifty” Powers, and I spoke with him several more times while I researched the book Shifty’s War, which Mr. McClung later kindly endorsed.
I met Mr. McClung in person at one of the E Co reunions, and later at a military show and book signing in 2010 in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, where I spoke with him at length.
I feel exceedingly honored to have known in a small way this legend of a man.
Earl McClung—thank you. You were a man who led well.
“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.” Revelation 21:3-4