John Patrick McClain was honored for his services to his country Friday afternoon with a medal presentation by County Mayor Brock Hill and Veterans Service Officer Mark Daniels.
McClain's wife, children and friends were in attendance at the courthouse gazebo as he received his medals, some of which he never knew he earned.
McClain is one of a kind that is slowly fading away, a World War II veteran.
This 84-year-old retired accountant has spent a lifetime dealing with the after effects of his time in the Army and has finally received his rewards.
He received the Bronze Star medal of valor, which is the fourth highest award available, the Purple Heart for wounds received during combat, Army Good Conduct Medal, European African Middle East Theatre Medal, WWII Victory Medal and the WWII Occupation Medal Army Division. He was also honored with his Combat Infantry badge, Rifle Marksmen badge and WWII lapel pin. Due to a shortage in brass during the time, many WWII veterans never received their medals.
"That little piece of cloth, that medal, they don't just give those away. He suffered the rest of his life for you and I. I told him you're the reason my kids go to school. You're the reason I get to take my family to church," Daniels said.
The Purple Heart is a medal received when one is injured in the line of duty and McClain earned his on Christmas Eve 1944. Eighteen-year-old McClain was onboard on what was to be the final voyage of the SS Leopoldville. The SS Leopoldville was crossing the English Channel delivering 2,235 soldiers from the 66th Infantry Division to provide aid in France. The ship was hit by a torpedo late in the afternoon on December 24 and the soldiers and crew were told to abandon ship.
During the sinking of his ship, McClain was forced to jump into ice cold waters to avoid being sucked down. According to his wife, Pearl, he was a good swimmer and while fighting to stay afloat he tried to save a shipmate but was unable to help him.
McClain swam to the nearest Coast Guard boat, where workers saw him in the water. He was brought aboard but placed with the dead as he was unresponsive and too cold. He later learned he suffered from frostbite and exhaustion and had passed out. Upon awakening, McClain managed to gain the attention of nearby sailors and was moved to the sick bay. McClain, while surviving with minor injuries, would live with chronic back pain from this incident for the remainder of his life. He also suffered shrapnel wounds in the back and leg when he returned to duty. By the time the war ended, the 20-year-old McClain had earned his Purple Heart, the rank of Private 1st Class and more.
McClain left the Army after his discharge in 1946 and went on to the University of Pittsburgh where he earned his accounting degree. He spent the next chapter of his life working in Michigan where he married his wife Pearl. They later retired to Fairfield Glade in 1998 and have been part of the Crossville community ever since.
McClain has six children and three grandchildren. Sons John Jr. and Patrick and daughter Jackie were able to attend the presentation.
McClain has been quoted as saying he doesn't consider himself a hero but just another soldier trying to do his duty, according to the Glade Vista. As his family and friends stood around him, perhaps he wasn't a hero to himself, but he is a hero to his country and his community.