Jim McClure, two term Oak Park president, recalls WWII

Back from Honor Flight to D.C., McClure talks of his years in the Navy and as Oak Park's president

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By Ashley Lisenby

Digital Editor

Laying on a round wooden table in the Evanston retirement apartment he shares with wife Lynn, is a picture of Jim McClure standing with the other 91 World War II veterans who traveled from Chicago to Washington, D.C. on Oct. 2 as a part of a trip sponsored by non-profit organization Honor Flight Chicago.

McClure, an OPRF grad, First United Church leader and, twice elected, Oak Park's village president, is 93 now and lives at Westminster Place, a senior living facility managed by Presbyterian Homes.

Even with the assurance from Honor Flight that nothing had been cancelled because of the federal government shutdown, McClure and his daughter and guardian for the trip, Julie Giegler woke up at 3:30 a.m. the morning of the flight, unsure of what the day would bring.

Giegler, who wrote a detailed description of the events of the trip, described the journey from Chicago Midway Airport to Dulles International Airport as smooth, full of helpful volunteers and plenty of bathroom breaks.

Upon arriving at the gates in front of the World War II memorial Giegler writes that they were prompted not to talk to the press and the process of moving past the gates to see the memorial was one she called "chaotic." But once inside McClure took the opportunity to remember the historic moments the memorial commemorates.

"I never had any combat," said McClure, who ascended Navy ranks from seamen to captain on ships sent out to track enemy submarines.

But danger was never far off.

"The big danger were the kamikazes. The Navy had no answer to the kamikazes," said McClure recalling air strikes of Japanese fighter jets.

"It's funny, in grade school I decided I wanted to be a Navy officer," said McClure and after completing a degree in law and economics from the University of Chicago in 1942 he volunteered for the Navy's V7 program to become trained as an officer.

He first became a seaman apprentice at Notre Dame and then returned to Chicago for Midshipmen school in Tower Hall, near the Water Tower on Chicago Avenue. After three months of training in Chicago he went to a training center in Miami and then boarded USS SC 1025, a submarine chaser that held 24 seamen and three officers. McClure became the third officer in command.

"What they used sub chasers for was to mark the line of landing boats," said McClure. The 110-foot long wooden ships are also historically known for destroying German and Japanese submarines during WWII.

In the course of a year McClure traveled from Miami to Puget Sound to Dutch Harbor to Pearl Harbor, where he was an executive officer on a ship that was a part of the Hawaiian sea frontier, to the Marshall Islands, where he became captain of the ship for eight months.

"When the Marshall Island Invasion went forward we didn't have a radar on our ship, so we couldn't go. So, I never had combat of any kind," said McClure. "I was trained to track submarines."

He returned to Miami to receive more training on how to operate Destroyer Escorts, a ship that could carry about 300 seamen and 12 officers. Eventually he was assigned to the USS Weber, a ship that would be stationed in Japan toward the end of the war.

McClure took time at the memorial to point out to his daughter the places he had been while stationed in Japan.

Before the Navy McClure attended Oak Park and River Forest High School and was an Eagle Scout with Troop 16, of which his sons and grandson were also members.

Many years after the war, in 1973, McClure ran for village president of Oak Park and, with the backing of the VMA, won without ever having been a trustee. He served two terms between 1973 and 1981 with the promise of continuing Oak Park's efforts at racial diversity. J.R. Christianson, village president from 1953 to 1961, and David Pope, president from 2005 to 2013, have been the only other two-term presidents since the adoption of the Village Manager form of government in the 1950s.

Even now, as a resident of a predominantly white senior community, McClure said he spent the last 12 years trying to "get the community's first minority member." His efforts were successful.

"I see something I know I can't tolerate, and I have to do something about it," said McClure. "We are all children of God."

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