Editor’s Note: William “Bill” McClure, well known all around Southeastern Indiana, passed away on Monday morning. An honored veteran who spent much of his time helping other veterans, Bill was the father of he late Mike McClure, longtime teacher and coach at Switzerland County High School.
Vevay Media Group thanks Register Publications for allowing the following article to be shared with our readers.
By Chandra L. Mattingly
Over 400 veterans have William M. “Bill” McClure to thank for Honor Flights and later bus trips to Washington, D.C., said PG Gentrup, Ohio County Veterans Service officer.
A World War II veteran, McClure, 94, Rising Sun, died early Monday, January 5th. Markland Funeral Home, Rising Sun, is in charge of arrangements.
Captain McClure was known for his colorful stories, talking to school kids (and anyone else he happened to meet,) and in recent years, rolling down Rising Sun’s main streets in his motorized chair, American flag flying.
A Logan native, McClure enlisted in 1942 after the December 7th, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was a senior at Purdue University, with just one semester of college to go. But as McClure told PG Gentrup, “What’s my education going to be worth if we don’t have a country?”
“That was the way those guys thought. It was God and country and family,” said Gentrup.
Rather than fighting the Japanese, his reason for enlisting in the U.S. Army, McClure ended up in the Philippines after the war ended. There, he directed the building of a 2,200-bed hospital in less than two weeks to house Japanese and other prisoners of war, he told this newspaper in 2012. And the Rising Sun resident became friends with Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita, later executed for war crimes.
Though he didn’t witness the execution, McClure kept to his own death a piece of the trip rope used to hang Yamashita.
In 2007, McClure enlisted Gentrup’s help when Honors Flight coordinators came to a veterans program at Rising Sun High School, said Gentrup. At that time, the trips to the WW II Memorial and other memorials in Washington, D.C., were geared for WW II veterans, said Gentrup. Later, other veterans were included. But it was McClure who initiated that first trip.
The flights in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and bus trips from 2010 through 2014, made it possible for over 400 veterans from Southeastern Indiana to go to Washington, D.C., including Arlington National Cemetery, said Gentrup. McClure went on every trip through 2013, and was one of four local veterans to place a memorial wreath on the “hallowed ground” of Arlington Cemetery, along with Bud Swales, Paul Leive, and the late Joe Ricketts of Vevay.
“I think a lot of the lives his stories have touched,” said Gentrup. McClure visited schools in Ohio, Switzerland, Dearborn and Ripley counties, as talking with kids was one of his favorite things. On the first school trip McClure was accompanied by Army veteran Brett Bondurant, Lawrenceburg, who was severely wounded in Afghanistan, “they shook hands with every kid that came out of that gymnasium,” said Gentrup.
McClure sometimes would call a youngster back when the youth’s contact didn’t measure up to McClure’s standards, said Gentrup.
“You give me a firm handshake, you look me in the eye,” McClure would tell each student. His last school visit came a week before Veterans Day, when he talked to students at Batesville.
“Get a good education, he always impressed on them,” said Gentrup.
McClure’s favorite story to tell was about General Yamashita, but McClure also would tell how he learned to fly, said Gentrup. McClure and a fellow soldier stole a two-seater plane and hid it. The other soldier took them up in it, then spent 15 minutes showing McClure how to fly it. The soldier then landed it and told McClure to take it up.
“He took off, flew by the seat of his pants,” said Gentrup. After that, McClure got his own plane.
Longtime friend Terry Elbright said that plane came in handy at Christmas time in Rising Sun. Back when the city had its own airport, as well as many businesses downtown, the newspaper would report when Santa was coming to town, said Elbright. But if there was no snow, the children would worry about how Santa would get there.
McClure would promise to fly to the North Pole and bring Santa back, said Elbright. And on the day Santa was supposed to arrive, McClure would circle over town in his plane, then land.
“Sure enough, Santa would land at the airport,” said Elbright.
McClure had finished his education at Purdue University after the war, then taught vocational agriculture to veterans at Vevay. He and his late wife Jean Humphrey married in November 1947 and moved to Rising Sun, where they became owners of the Humphrey-McClure Funeral Home and raised three sons.
That latter occupation led to one example of McClure’s humor, said Elbright.
“He carried a tape measure and … he’d size up a guy drinking a beer … like he was measuring for a casket,” said Elbright. McClure always could make a tough situation better, he added.
“He was just a wonderful man,” said Lynn Graves, whose family was close to the McClures. At one time Bill McClure served on the life squad, and he would tell Graves he always could count on Graves’ dad, Haxsoll Graves, Patriot, to help on a run if needed.
Later in life, McClure served as a “sidewalk superintendent” when Lynn Graves was building a house in Rising Sun.
“Bill would roll down there on his little scooter” every day, said Graves. He told his employees to take the time to talk to McClure if he wanted to talk.
“He gave them words of advice,” said Graves. Even after the house was done, McClure would roll by and chat.
“He was just a wonderful man,” said Graves.
“We lost a true American,” said Elbright, crediting Gentrup with keeping McClure involved the last few years of his life.
“What a run he had! …Heaven’s a buzzin’ up there this morning.” said Gentrup Monday, explaining McClure was bound to be greeting his wife, their late son Michael McClure and all his buddies from the war and thereafter.