World War II Honor Roll

John C. McLaughlin

Staff Sergeant, 
U.S. Army Air Force


728th Bomber Squadron
452nd Bomb Group

Entered the Service from: New Jersey
Died: March 29, 1944
Buried at: 
Awards: Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster

STAFF SERGEANT JOHN C. McLAUGHLIN of Haddon Heights NJ was born in Pennsylvania in 1924 to Henry and Jane McLaughlin. He was the youngest of three children, coming after Jane and Edward. The family had moved to Haddon Heights, New Jersey by April of 1924. John C. McLAughlin attended Haddon Heights High School for two years, leaving in 1940 to work as an apprentice at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. 

John McLaughlin enlisted in the Army on February 12, 1942 at Philadelphia PA. After qualifying for flight duty, he trained at the aerial gunnery school at Kingman AZ. He completed the course and was promoted to Sergeant in September of 1943. He was then sent to Salt Lake City UT to receive further training before being sent overseas. Sergeant McLaughlin served as a tail-gunner aboard a B-17G bomber, # 42-38124, nicknamed THE PASSIONATE WITCH. The pilot, First Lieutenant Robert M. Cook, named his plane after the 1941 novel "The Passionate Witch" authored by Thorne Smith. This novel was about a meek businessman marrying a beautiful witch, and inspired he film I Married A Witch, starring Frederic March and Veronica Lake. In the 1960's the popular TV show "Bewitched" was based upon this novel. 

Staff Sergeant McLaughlin was named by the 8th Air Force as having been the first American bomber gunner to shoot down an enemy fighter over Berlin, during the raid that took place on March 6, 1944. He was credited with shooting down a Focke-Wolfe FW-190, and also for shooting down another German fighter on the same mission.

Staff Sergeant McLaughlin was wounded on a mission to bomb Frankfurt, Germany on March 20, 1944, and returned to action after only three days. Returning from the Frankfurt mission, THE PASSIONATE WITCH landed at the emergency landing field at Dunsfold, England with severe battle damage. The bomber was repaired and was ready to return when a damaged RAF Lancaster with battle damage skidded on landing and collided with THE PASSIONATE WITCH. The Lancaster had been attacked by German fighters, during which RAF Sergeant Ronald Thomas was mortally wounded. Another B-17G, # 42-32082, was subsequently nicknamed THE PASSIONATE WITCH II.

On March 28, 1944 THE PASSIONATE WITCH II was shot down, and Staff Sergeant McLaughlin was listed as missing. This took place on the 24th mission undertaken by the 452nd Bomb Group. The target was the airfield at Chateudun, about 50 km west-northwest of Orleans, France.

PASSIONATE WITCH II received a direct hit from German anti-aircraft fire in the #4 fuel tank and exploded in mid-air. The right wing broke off, causing the plan to go into a downward spin. PASSIONATE WITCH II crashed 2 km south of the target. 

Five members of the ten-man crew were killed in the crash. They were co-pilot Second Lieutenant Ronald J. Casey, navigator Second Lieutenant John F. Oswalt, bombardier Second Lieutenant John A. Rowland; flight engineer Technical Sergeant Gerald H. Poplett; and gunners Staff Sergeant Fremont H. Granade and Staff Sergeant Carl A. Blichmann. Different accounts place Grandae in the ball turret and at the left and right waist positions, and place Blichmann in the ball turret and at the right waist. Five bodies were discovered shortly after the crash and in time were re-interred at the U.S. military cemetery at Solers in Melun, France.  

The pilot, First Lieutenant Robert M. Cook, radioman George A. Silva, waist gunner Richard L. Thayer and Staff Sergeant McLaughlin managed to bail out of the aircraft before it crashed, and were quickly taken prisoner. 

Margie Thayer Bolanger wrote in May of 2012:

John McLaughlin was with my father, Richard L. Thayer, on the Passionate Witch II during WWII who was one of three airmen that survived the crash over France at high noon on March 28, 1944. Dad spoke often of the war, his time in Stalag 17B, and the crash of their B17.

He also spoke so many times about "McLaughlin" who he liked so much and was one of his crew. It was certainly a miracle my father survived and when he landed just outside the German airfield they were bombing that day he was taken by two German guards who allowed him to go to Mr. McLaughlin. Mr. McLaughlin was laying on the ground, his parachute still attached, and obviously very wounded. He was bleeding from the mouth but when dad asked him if he was in pain he said no. He said, "Dick, will you light me a cigarette?" Dad helped him take a puff off the cigarette and then the Germans pushed dad away from him. Dad believed until his death, January 1, 2001 that McLaughlin died right there on the ground. We were interested to read he did survive a day in a hospital. 

We wanted to tell any family he might have that dad was with him and probably the last American he spoke to and that he was not in pain. Just something we would want to know if it had been our family. I do not believe Mr. McLaughlin was married but may have some family still in your area. 

Please know that every year on March 28, 1944 dad would say...... "Our wing went off at high noon and we lost some good men." He never forgot them and spoke of them often and made us feel we knew them too. We have a picture of the plane with its wing off going down. We found the picture in some old WW2 books.

Staff Sergeant McLaughlin died of wounds on March 29, 1944 in the hospital at Orleans, France. He had broken an arm and a leg, and was spitting blood, so it is likely that he died of internal injuries. Staff Sergeant McLaughlin was initially buried in the cemetery at Orleans and later re-interred in Solers.

First Lieutenant Cook was taken to Stalag Luft 1 at Barth-Vogelsang, Prussia 54-12. Staff Sergeant Silva and Staff Sergeant Thayer were sent to Stalag 17B at Braunau Gneikendorf, near the town of Krems, Austria. All three survived the war and returned to the United States.

Word of Staff Sergeant McLaughlin's death came in August 1944.  Surviving him were his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Henry J. McLaughlin of 1714 West High Street, Haddon Heights NJ, and a brother Edward J. McLaughlin, then serving overseas in the Navy. His death was reported in the August 24, 1944 edition of the Camden Courier-Post.

Photographs of the Passionate Witch - March 22, 1944

Photographs of the Passionate Witch - March 23, 1944

Passionate Witch was completely wrecked after being struck
on the runway by the British Lancaster bomber at right.

Photographs of the Passionate Witch II - March 28, 1944


Passionate Witch II falls from the skies after being hit by ant-aircraft fire near Chateaudun airfield, France on March 28, 1944. Note the bombs are already falling to the target.

Photographs of the Passionate Witch II - March 28, 1944


Crew Photograph of the Passionate Witch II - Christmas, 1943
Standing L-R: Sgt Dick Thayer, Right Waist Gunner/Assistant Armourer 
Sgt Hubert Roughton, Left Waist Gunner/Assistant Engineer
Sgt Gerald Poplett, Top Turret Gunner, Engineer
SSgt Carl (Herbie) Blichmann, Ball Turret Gunner, Assistant Radio
Sgt John McLaughlin, Tail Gunner/Armourer

Kneeling L-R: First Lt. Robert M. Cook, Pilot
Second Lt Ronald J. Casey, Co-Pilot
Second Lt John Rowland, Bombadier/Chin Turret Gunner
Second Lt John Oswalt, Navigator/Nose Gunner

Not in Picture: Fremont Granade (Roughton's replacement)
George Silva, Radio

Click Here for More about
Staff Sergeant Thayer

Prior to the crash, Sergeant Roughton was replaced by Staff Sergeant Granade, who is not pictured above. It appears that Granade may have been assigned to the ball turret, Staff Sergeant Blichmann moved to the right waist position and Sergeant Thayer shifted to the left waist.

Camden Courier-Post

April 21, 1944