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In honor of Earl McClung (1923-2013)

Nov 27, 2013 // By Marcus Brotherton

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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.

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Earl McClung, war years. Photo courtesy the McClung family.

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,

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Earl McClung, 1954, working as a lumberjack after the war. Photo courtesy the McClung family.

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.

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Jean and Earl McClung, photo courtesy the McClung family.

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.

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MB and Earl, 2010, photo courtesy Valor Studios.

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

  • Colin

    A touching tribute…..i’m an Aussie, but can relate well to the story. Thank you.

  • Gary Sedgwick

    Marcus: Many thanks for keeping us informed of the lives and death of men in Band of Brothers. I have read many books about their war efforts and feel as though I know them. I am thankful that authors, like you and others, have written their stories for us to read.

  • Jenn Rockefeller

    Thank you Marcus. Well written, as usual. It’s sad that these great men are leaving us. I didn’t have the honor of meeting Earl. I wish I did. Through your book, We Who Are Alive and Remain, I got to know this amazing soldier. I have read all I could about the BOB and I have loved reading about such a great group of men.

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  • David Tindell

    In reading the stories of these men, I wonder if some future historian around 2083 will be writing the stories of the Iraq and Afghan vets. I suspect those stories will be a lot like the ones of the vets of E Co. Honor and integrity might be waning in our society, but they’re still around.

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  • Jennifer Williams

    Very interesting article. My Father’s Mother was a McClung and sadly she passed away years before I was even born as she died in a car accident. Going to do some research to see if Earl was any relation.

  • Mary Renee McClung

    Thank you for this tribute. It’s hard to put men like Dad “in a nut shell”, but you did it. He had a lot of respect for you, you know, and really liked you too. Or, as he would have said, he “liked the hell out of ” you. Thanks for all the good books, too.

    • Marcus Brotherton

      Thank you, Mary, and so sorry for the loss of your father. All best to you–Marcus

    • Nancy Aubertin-Pipkins

      I just want to send prayers and condolences. I might have met Earl when I was a youngster, but I honestly don’t remember. I only remember hearing of him, with much love and respect. My dad, Benny Aubertin was proud of being Earl’s cousin. All of us in the family have continued to follow and share Earl’s story.

  • smithby2

    Marcus Brotherton. I can relate to the feeling of honor that you have for having know

    Mr. McClung

  • Susie & Willie

    Amazing stories from aa amazing man, as I sit here with his neice Susie reading the stories of Uncle Earl, I remember one he told me when he was a game warden here on the Colville Indian Reservation. One day after Earl’s father went to work , Earl decided to sneek his dad’s new fishing pole and try it out in the San Poil river, Earl said he was about 10-12 years old at that time and probably weighed 60 lbs, soken wet. Well back in those day’s the Chief Joseph and the Grand Coulee Dam’s we not built yet and the wild salmon still filled the rivers on the reservation. As he started fishing he said he hooked a nice big salmon, “the salmon were bigger back in the those day’s”, then he said the salmon started pulling him towards the river. Earl said as he sliding towards the San Poil river, all he could think about was the ass whopping he was going to get if he lost his dad’s fishing pole. Then Earl said, the only thing between him and that river was a skinny little pine tree, with one hand on the pole and one on the pine tree he held on, he said he could feel his feet lifting off the ground. Well after about an hour or so went by, Earl said he finally wore that fish down and land it, although he said he was more concerned about loosing that pole and getting a ass whooping, than catching that salmon. We are going to miss Earl and Jean’s vistis here in the summer time at the Hall Creek camp, but I guarantee the Stories continue to be told and live forever, Rest In Peace Uncle Earl…….

    • Marcus Brotherton

      Thank you so much for adding this stories of your uncle. blessings to you during this time–Marcus

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  • David Koziol

    That is a very nice piece on Mr. McClung, I’m very happy I found your site, I’ll investigate further. I have a couple of the books you have written on the Band of Brothers, also very good. I’ve meet Earl several times over the years in Louisville with Valor Studios, a very nice gentleman. He will surely be missed, a big thank you and God Bless to all these fine men.

  • Devon Schaffer

    I had the great honor of meeting Earl McClung when I was in middle school. He lived in Pueblo CO where I grew up. My history teacher somehow found him and asked if he would visit our class. He was an amazing man and I feel so blessed to have met him. I am now in the United States Army, going through WLC (warrior leaders course) and when they asked us what NCO we wanted to do a history report on the first name that came to mind was Earl McClung. I was sad to hear of his passing when I looked up his story today I would have loved to talk to him one last time. My condolences go out to his family.

  • Scott M Sykes

    Caught the last manifest for the jump home! Hoorah Airborne!

  • Great article about a fascinating man. Thank you for researching and sharing this, sir.

  • Great article about a fascinating man. Thank you for researching and sharing this, sir.

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the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help people lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.