By Major Van Harl USAF Ret
Wisconsin –-(Ammoland.com)- He was down to his last two rounds of ammunition for his M1 Garand rifle!
The winter of 1944 was so extremely cold, and the Germans decided to make one last major effort, a counterattack in Belgium to stop the US Army.
The men of E Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne were surrounded by Germans at Bastogne at the Battle of the Bulge. Earl McClung had been with the 506th since they jumped into France on 6 June 1944-D-Day.
The Germans were shooting at him as he descended miles off course and landed in Ste. Mere-Eglise, France. His parachute was hung up on the roof of a small building and two Germans were trying to kill him. He was lucky. Unlike many of his fellow paratroopers, McClung was able to retain his rifle after he jumped from his aircraft. The two German soldiers were not so lucky.
McClung had systematically killed Germans from June until December of 1944. At Bastogne he was freezing and running out of everything it took to halt his enemy. He may have had only two rounds for his M1, but his foxhole was full of captured German 98 Mauser rifles and MP 40 sub-machine guns. If he fired his last American bullet, his plan was to continue the fight with his enemy’s weapons. But then the weather broke, ammo started to fall from the sky out of US cargo planes and the re-supply trucks rolled in.
The Germans last great offensive of the war was stopped.
He fought his way into Germany and was the first person to climb up to Hitler’s Eagles Nest at Berchtesgaden . I was granted the privilege of visiting Earl McClung at his home in Pueblo, Colorado.
He was originally from Inchelium, Washington, where he was born on the Colville Indian Reservation. He was drafted in 1943. He volunteered for parachute training and was assigned to E Company of the 506th at Fort Bragg, NC. He fought in every engagement the 506th was in. He was wounded in his knee in Holland by a piece of a German 88 artillery round. There is a shadow-box on his wall with all of his medals, ribbons, and badges.
He had two stars on his jump wings for his two combat jumps, one made on D-Day and the other into Holland during Operation Market Garden. There were also his campaign ribbons and medals, two Bronze Stars for valor and a Purple Heart for the knee wound.
The military discovered that sending combat troops straight home to civilian life was not always good for the soldier or the folks back home. Within weeks civilian Earl McClung was in trouble with the law. The judge allowed him to re-enlist or to go to jail.
McClung was back in the Army for 18 months. Two positive things happened, he got the discipline of the Army to help settle him back into non-combat life, and he met his wife Jean who was serving as a WAC in the Army.
McClung came home from his war only to later have his son killed in Vietnam on a Navy swift boat. He worked for the Postal Service and then moved back to his reservation to be a game warden. He enjoyed hunting and had used those skills to help feed newly freed Hungarian slave-laborers in Austria at the end of the war. Many men give up hunting after their war, but McClung continue until he was charged with protecting the reservation animals.
I asked him what he had in his home that he had liberated at Berchtesgaden. “Nothing” was the answer, “they took it all away from us.” He had dug up the garage floor of Herman Goering’s home and found 100 pound British notes and $50 US bills. He kept the US money until Army Intel members, backed up by MPs, rousted his squad out of their beds and took all the captured booty away.
We talked about his adjustment problems after getting home from WW II and those same effects on current soldiers returning from combat. “Get all the help you can” was his advice. It was not there for him when he got home.
There are only a few members of his unit left. Major Dick Winters, their commander died on 2 January 2011. I thanked former Staff Sergeant McClung and told him it is not every day you get to meet a real WW II combat hero. He told me he was not a hero. Well I did not want to argue-even at 86 years old, he is a tall formidable man. But he was incorrect…
Earl McClung is a walking piece of American history and most assuredly an American hero. Go re-watch the HBO series Band of Brothers, McClung he is one of those last remaining brothers.
Update–Today I had an e-mail from a fellow Colorado Rangers who is a friend of Earl McClung and who introduced me to Sgt McClung so I could interview him. As I read the subject of the e-mail I was sure when I opened the message I would discover Earl McClung had died. To my great surprise I found a picture of McClung along with two other surviving members of Easy Company , Ed Tipper and Paul Rodgers helping Sgt McClung celibate his 90th birthday. I was happy to discover that Sgt McClung was still with us and going strong.
We are down to our last few WWII veterans. If you have friends or family who were WWII veterans, honor them now–time is running out. Happy Birthday Sgt McClung and continued good health.
Major Van Harl USAF Ret
About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:
Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret. , is a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Now retired, these days he enjoys camping, traveling, volunteering with the Girl Scouts and writing. [email protected]