You might say E.K. McClain Jr., 95, has lived a charmed life. The Waco resident is surrounded by a loving family: two boys and an adopted girl; six grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. He started a business after serving in World War II and Korea that still thrives in Waco today. He enjoyed nearly 54 years of marriage before his wife passed, and McClain has his sister very near — in fact, they reside together at the Stilwell Retirement Residence and share meals every day.
McClain was born and raised in Star City, Arkansas, in "a little town where everybody knows everybody," he said. Growing up in the Great Depression, he pressed clothes in a job he held while attending high school, like many young people did in those days. He did have a rich uncle, but during the Depression, the family — which included five sisters — received some assistance that helped them get food.
School was not his favorite activity. An admitted "uncooperative student," part of his senior high school year was spent meeting under the trees on benches while the school was being built. "I don’t remember what we did when it rained," he said. He graduated with a "D." "I didn’t deserve a D," he said. "They just wanted to get rid of me," he recalled, laughing.
McClain wasn’t yet 21 when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps on Jan. 2, 1942. Although many details have now been forgotten or left behind, his memory is strong enough to remember some of his story. His family said he never talked about it.
His first round of service with the Marines was served in the South Pacific. Still under that charm, he was sent to Wellington, New Zealand, which he described as "a little bit of heaven." And it was, for many of the Americans who came to be there.
"All the men in New Zealand were away fighting in Europe," he said. "They had a lot of pretty girls there!"
From 1942 to 1944, sources estimate there were between 15,000 and 45,000 American troops in New Zealand, where a major American supply base provided a substantial amount of food and supplies to South Pacific forces.
It was also a respite for American troops that had invaded islands in the South Pacific. Exhausted and frightened, they got some much needed R&R before heading off to their next battle. Published material notes that many American women also served in New Zealand, as well, with nurses to aid the sick and the Red Cross to provide entertainment and dances.
McClain believes he served with the 2nd Base Depot, a supply unit for the 2nd Marines. His stint wasn’t that hard, he said. And he had a girlfriend while he was there, which most likely helped with homesickness.
Service at Tinian Island
He spent 15 months in New Zealand before heading to Pearl Harbor briefly before they went to Tinian Island, an island in the Marianas located just three miles south of Saipan. It was also the location from which the airplanes flew that dropped the atomic bombs over Japan.
McClain says he never saw any battle because they wouldn’t land on an island until the 2nd Marines went in first to ensure security. From there, his job was easy, he said, and he spent much time "running around in a jeep."
He also went to nearby Guam, located about 30 miles from Tinian. He recalls being there on Christmas Eve. "They had the best cigars in Guam," he said.
In 1946, he was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant from the Marine Corps and went to work for a time. He also married on Oct. 30, 1947, to Juanita Clementine "Clemmie" Saint.
Awarded two Bronze Stars
In 1950, McClain was recalled and joined the Army Reserve in Arkansas, leaving the Marine Corps behind for an increase in pay. He went to chemical warfare school at Fort Sam Houston before heading to Inchon, Korea, when he was assigned to active duty.
McClain doesn’t remember much about his time in Korea (except for the cold); his paperwork shows he worked with the 46th T Truck Co., possibly with the 5th Army Division. While he was there, McClain recalls he had two or three different jobs and worked in the motor pool as a supply sergeant.
Because he was a newbie, "they gave all the bad jobs to me," he said. But while he was there, he earned two Bronze Stars and the Korean Service Medal, though he cannot remember why.
He was honorably discharged from the Army as a sergeant in 1953. In all, he served approximately six years, four with the Marines and two with the Army.
McClain attend Draughon Business School in Little Rock, Arkansas, before moving to Waco to form a partnership with a fellow service buddy. It was a business management service for doctors, and he worked as co-partner until he was 80. The business still thrives today.
Like many veterans of his era, McClain would have no problem serving again: "I would volunteer again if they’d take me."