TYLER (KYTX) -- He gave 21 years of his life to his country serving in WWII and playing a vital role in protecting the U.S. during the Cold War. John McLin was a communications specialist in the Air Force. He is intelligent and skilled, yet humble and soft spoken. And you're meeting him in this special Independence Day edition of East Texas Heroes.
John McLin's service record in the U.S. Air Force reads like a world atlas. "I didn't go overseas until the end of the war, then I went to Germany and Austria, Italy and North Africa," McLin told us.
And the list doesn't stop there. He had about a dozen different assignments all across the globe. McLin sensed America's call in 1940 before the start of WWII and signed up for the Army Air Corps. He went to radio operator and mechanics school and when WWII began he remained in the U.S. He taught cadets everything they needed to know to communicate in aircraft overseas with tools to make things as realistic as possible. McLin said there were "operating systems and mockups from aircraft and so forth so that a student could be acquainted with what he was going to face when he got into an aircraft."
And McLin can't imagine how the war would have ended without the highly valuable radio communication equipment. "We couldn't have won the war without communications. Communications are vital to coordinate movements," he said.
And back then radio technology came with plenty of challenges. "Our point to point communications world wide were determined by the conditions in the air," he said, "daytime, nighttime, storms, sunspot activity, they all interfered with our communications."
After the end of WWII there was a new battle brewing, the Cold War with Russia. And his job was to monitor Russian activity in case of an attack. "We had our radar systems set up in western Germany so we could detect an invasion by the Russian Air Force, early warning," he told us.
And the Russians occupied many areas in Europe creating a hostile environment for U.S. Troops. They interrupted a supply mission McLin was helping carry out for U.S. forces in Berlin in 1953. "They closed up the roads to Berlin. They wouldn't let us drive in our vehicles to do regular business," he said, "then we had to fly supplies in there with the airlift system we devised."
Even a trip to the movie theater to in Vienna, Austria became volatile when a drunken Russian troop armed with a sub machine gun and pistols barreled his way in while American forces were trying to enjoy the show. McLin said, "they could do anything they wanted and they were always armed."
McLin moved around to other bases and eventually back to the U.S. in Montana but his mission remained the same. "What we were afraid of was an invasion by Russian aircraft," he said.
Fortunately that invasion never came. But strained relations between the U.S. and Russia have him concerned. He said, "that would be a terrible thing to start a war with Russia."
After 21 years McLin retired from the Air Force in 1961 and his service came with much sacrifice, moving his family all around the world. His daughter changed schools 9 times from first through twelfth grades. But his family was supportive. He said, "my wife was a champ. She really helped me out a lot. It's nice to have your family with you too."
And he says he's proud of his service. "I felt it was important. Our jobs were important as far as protecting the United States. I had a mission and I was happy with it."
And there's no place he'd rather be. "People might gripe on things happening in the United States but this is heaven on earth right here in our country," he said.
And that's what makes John McLin an East Texas Hero.