"No, son," McLaughlin replied. "Just set the brakes and let her burn. I don't ever want to see that airplane again."
After the war, McLaughlin returned to West Virginia, where he was tapped to head the new West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Fighter Squadron in Charleston. Initially, the unit would be equipped with P-47 and P-51 fighter planes.
In 1955, the 167th would transfer to Martinsburg, and Charleston would become home to what is now the 130th Airlift Wing.
The transition from lumbering four-engined bombers to nimble single-engine fighters can be tricky for bomber pilots. But McLaughlin had an ace up his sleeve.
"It wasn't that big a switch," he said with a wry grin.
While stationed in England, McLaughlin had made friends with the pilots of the 56th Fighter Group. "I happened to be over there one night talking with their commander, and he was lamenting the fact that there wasn't a radio in his staff car," he said.
McLaughlin said he could probably find a radio, and in exchange the commander gave McLaughlin one of the unit's older airplanes. McLaughlin picked a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter.
"I got checked out on how to start it, and I flew it home," he said. For the next few months, he flew the Thunderbolt all over England, giving him advantage when he was asked to lead a fighter squadron back in West Virginia.
When North Korean soldiers invaded South Korea in June 1950, McLaughlin said he got a call from the Pentagon within days asking if he could send four of the 167th's P-51 Mustangs to California.
"They were calling every National Guard unit in the country," he said. It was one of many times the National Guard proved invaluable to the U.S. military.
"The Air Force had done away with the P-51," McLaughlin said. But he and other National Guard commanders were able to send operational, armed aircraft with gunsights and equipment in time to hold the line in the frantic early weeks of the war.
"This is the best organization this nation has ever had," McLaughlin said. "America can't do without the National Guard."
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.