It’s never too late to graduate
Published 5:37 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2022
My dad once told me that the best things in life are those worth waiting for.
But can you imagine waiting 80 years to be awarded a high school diploma? That worthy ambition, which most of us only spend 17-to-18 years to achieve, became a reality just recently for a Texas man.
And to add the icing on the cake, it happened on his 98th birthday.
Weldon Edward McClane received his diploma on May 24 from Sadler-Southmayd High School, located in the tiny Texas town of Sadler (less than 350 residents) which is north of the Dallas / Fort Worth metro area.
Ironically, McClane’s great granddaughter graduated from high school this year.
When he was just 16 years old, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor – an attack that changed the course of history and McClane’s life.
“I dropped out of school and tried to get in the Navy, but I was too young,” McClane told the NBC – Channel 5 affiliate in Dallas / Fort Worth.
He would eventually be drafted into the Army and was among those in the Greatest Generation who landed on the beaches of Normandy in June of 1944.
As we paused on Monday of this week to remember the 78th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, I discovered more about McClane’s life and service to his country on a blog written by Pierre Fallet and posted at www.normandyamericanheroes.com.
Once enlisted into the US Army, McClane was sent to Camp Butner in North Carolina to start his military training. He trained with the 78th Infantry Division known as the “Lightning Division”. While he was on leave, he was ordered to report to Baltimore.
“I was there three days then sent to Boston. The second day there, we were put on a ship to England,” McClane said.
He arrived in England prior to D-Day. It was there that the Allied Forces were positioning manpower and weapons to launch an attack against Germany who had invaded and taken control of France. McClane and his unit – the 297th Engineer Combat Battalion – were among the second wave of troops to invade the beaches of Normandy.
“I was in England on D-Day. We went to the docks and were waiting for our boat,” McClane recalled. “The boat came in and had a huge hole. They took wounded and dead off the boat. We were assigned another boat that night right after sundown and still on D-Day. We left for France and as we got close, the boat had to zigzag around the wreckage and there were bodies floating around. We were amazed at all the bodies, it was terrible.”
McClane said his first job was to locate and remove land mines on the beach. Later, the 297th Engineer Combat Battalion set up its Command Post near the city of Saint-Lô. There, McClane had the mission to evacuate civilians from the areas around the city.
“Our mission was hauling civilians out during the battle….away from the battle to areas we controlled,” he said. “I didn’t see the fighting go on but could very well hear a lot of it just inside the city limits.”
On July 30, 1944, “A” Company of the 297th Engineer Battalion was ordered to build a Bailey Bridge for the 3rd Armored Division at Gavray-sur-Sienne. While they were working on it, German planes flew over and made attempts to destroy it, wounding Private First-Class Weldon E. McClane during the night of the 31st July to the 1st of August.
“I was working under the bridge and we were told to clear the bridge,” McClane stated. “I remember a large shell coming in, but it hit the water and didn’t damage the bridge. I was shot from a machine gun from the plane—strafed. A guy in front of me was hit in both shoulders. I was hit in the leg and arm—back of my leg. They dropped a bomb after he went past us and I was hit with shrapnel—all in the same leg. I still have problems with my leg.”
McClane remembered being taken to a field hospital at daylight. He was later transported to a hospital in London and then to a rehabilitation center. But McClane’s time on the front lines of battle wasn’t over.
“The Battle of the Bulge had just started and if your blood was a little warm you went right back to the front. So I was sent back,” he said.
When World War II ended, McClane returned to Texas, but not to continue his education.
“I came back and worked for the Dixie Plant business that my father-in-law owned—we grew and shipped out plants,” he said. “Then I bought a laundromat in Sadler. Then went to Ft. Worth and worked for Convair and built B36s. Later, my father-in-law gave me the plant business but the trains quit running and put us out of business. I started working as a lineman for Grayson Collin Electric and retired from there.”
So, this man fought and shed blood to protect the freedoms we all enjoy today, and then came home to resume a normal life and raise a family. He, like my father – US Army PFC Hinton “Ray” Bryant, a foot soldier in General George C. Patton’s famed Third Army in World War II that saw action during the Battle of the Bulge – were mere teenagers who were drafted or volunteered for service to protect and serve our great nation.
Yes, Mr. McClure, you deserve that high school diploma and so much more! Thank you for your service!!
Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at email@example.com or 252-332-7207.