Meeting John MacLachlan and his wonderful daughter Jean at Sunrise Seniors Assisted Living was such a pleasure. Listening to John’s stories left me smiling and appreciative at the same time. Thank God for brave young Americans such as John D. MacLachlan.
You’re in the Army Now
John was born May 31, 1922 in Grand Forks, North Dakota and grew up in nearby Lakota graduating from Lakota High School in 1940. Following high school, John worked in a local grocery store but being proficient in math he landed a bank position in Lakota where he worked for several years. After December 7, 1941 as America’s war effort cranked up, at age 20 John decided he must serve his country, thus he signed up with the U.S. Army Air Force on February 23, 1943.
448th Bombardment Group
Excelling in mathematics, he pursued becoming a navigator, hence he was sent to Santa Ana, California for Basic and Pre Flight Training and then to Las Vegas for Aerial Gunnery School. John’s navigation training took him to Mather Field, California, Ellington, Texas, Peterson Field and Colorado Springs, Colorado. John’s extensive navigation schooling included four months of B-24 Liberator bomber flight training. Finally after a year of training, on May 15, 1944, John departed for Norfolk, England to join the 448th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 714th Bomb Squadron of the 8th Air Force.
The 448th Bomber Group was a group of B-24 Liberators that flew 262 missions over occupied Europe. These strategic bombing missions over Germany and France aimed to destroy vital industrial sites, aircraft bases and support the advance of ground forces. While the accomplishments of the 448th were great dropping 15,286 tons of bombs, the supreme sacrifices made by its members were immense. A total of 85 men were killed in action, another 119 men were either injured or died of wounds, and another 875 men were listed as missing in action. A total of 146 aircraft were lost with 98 missing in action and 48 more abandoned or salvaged.
Dual Sack Shot Down
John, at age 22, and his crew flew 13 bombing missions in their B-24 Liberator nicknamed “Dual Sack” over Germany. Every mission, German anti-aircraft gunners blasted away at them and German Messerschmitt fighter planes tried shooting them down. John said, “at times you just couldn’t help but pucker up knowing that at any minute it’s over”. It was on their 13th mission that anti-aircraft flak seriously damaged their B-24 causing pilot Ron Fox to expertly limp “Dual Sack” towards Sweden. As they descended over Denmark, with German gunners blasting away, running low on fuel and with no brakes, they managed to crash land at Malmo, Sweden. By the grace of God and their pilot’s excellent skills, they escaped without a scratch.
Secretary of War’s Deep Regret
Little did the crew members know, but their parents each received devastating telegrams informing them that their sons were missing in action. John’s parents received their telegram on July 7, 1944 and it took another 10 days before they received a letter from the War Department explaining that their son was being held in Sweden, a neutral country and that all internees are receiving food, clothing and are well cared for. For 10 excruciating days, John’s family did not know if he was dead or alive. What a tremendous relief it was when they received that 2nd notice.
The Swedish people embraced these warriors and soon John was living comfortably in Granna, Sweden. Their time was spent riding bicycles and exploring the country side as welcomed visitors; a major change of pace from their harrowing bombing missions. John had the great fortune of living adjacent to a wonderful Swedish family, Mr. and Mrs. Norstedt and their two young daughters, Brita and Ulla. John was like a big brother to those girls and they became life long friends exchanging Christmas cards to this day and even having a chance to visit each other.
Life After War
After Nazi Germany’s defeat, John was sent back to America where he began training for “Operation Downfall”, which was designed to assault Japan. However, “Enola Gay’s” atomic bomb changed everything resulting in Emperor Hirohito’s unconditional surrender on August 15, 1945. Lieutenant John D. MacLachlan was honorably discharged on December 19, 1945. Meanwhile, John’s family had moved to Ellensburg, Washington and that’s exactly where he went next.
Soon, as John stated, “banking caught his eye” perhaps because his sister worked at a local bank and John managed to get a job there, which was a perfect fit. John spent his career in banking advancing to Vice President with Bank of America in San Gabriel, California. Early in his career, while living in Hollywood, a friend asked him to go to the Sunset Bowling Alley to watch a lady friend bowl in her league. John said, “My roving eyes spotted a beautiful woman named Amy Monroe”. I asked John what attracted you to her and with a grin and a twinkle in his eye he replied, “Her behind”! He found her very attractive and soon began dating, which led to John’s marriage proposal. John and Amy were married August 1, 1948 in the Little Brown Church of the Valley… the same church where Ronald and Nancy Reagan were married. While fulfilling their marriage vows, John still chuckles over hearing a passing motorist yell out, “Sucker!”
They went on to have two daughters and two grandchildren. They bought a North Hollywood home in 1951 and lived there until John’s daughter Jean moved him to Sunrise Assisted Living here in Valencia this year. Jean has lived in Santa Clarita since 1979. John retired in 1976, “America’s Bicentennial” and he continued his hobbies bowling and playing golf. Sadly, Amy passed away in 2009. In John’s well appointed Sunrise apartment he proudly displays his fine military memorabilia. His decorations include the Air Medal w/Oak Leaf, American Campaign Medal and World War II Victory Medal. John D. MacLachlan is a proud American warrior.
Bill Reynolds is one of the “Boys of ‘67,” Charlie Company, 4th/47th, 9th Infantry Division and director of veterans affairs for The Signal.