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This Week’s LION: Jack McGee-100 Years Strong!

The Lycoming County Board of Commissioners Meetings could be described as 99% mundane matters and 1% wow moments. The ‘wows’ generally catch me by surprise, such as line item 1.6, “Proclamation: Jack McKee 100th Birthday,” listed on the Tuesday, June 22nd agenda.

OK, I guess it is great that a guy hits the century mark, but who this Jack McGee that deserves a county proclamation? A surprisingly spry old man walked to the front podium when his name was called. After being welcomed, Commissioner Rick Mirabito read the proclamation declaring June 24th as “Jack McGee Day” in Lycoming County.

Jack was born in Williamsport in 1911 and, after high school, went on to Penn State to receive a bachelor’s degree in Business. Immediately after graduating, Jack enlisted (not drafted) as a Sergeant into the United States Army to serve as an engineer with the 361st Special Services Regiment. There were 117 of these Special Services regiments during World War II, and like their name, they were specialized support units. The 361st, which Jack McGee belonged to, was specially designated to build airfields to enable supplies to be flown into the troops.

Jack landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy in 1944, but not on D-Day itself; in fact, he said he was one of the last to land on Omaha because his unit’s job was to make air landings possible. There was a desperate need for facilities to be built so the Allied forces could continue their drive toward Berlin. The moment the airstrips were built, the cargo planes landed 24/7 to supply the Red Ball Express, a famous truck convoy that supplied the troops with food and fuel. This outfit was so renowned; it was featured in a 1952 film by the same name starring Sidney Poitier and Hugh O’Brian.

When the 361st’s work in Europe appeared to be completed, many of the regiment were being discharged. But Jack, being the youngest in his unit (yet in his 30s at the time), was transferred to the Philippines to rebuild crucial airstrips that the Japanese had destroyed. For his efforts on two fronts, Jack was awarded the Bronze Star.

After the war, Jack returned to marry his sweetheart Jeanne Decker, and they had two daughters, Barbara and Susan. Jack succeeded in his post-war years, first working two decades with Sears & Roebuck Co. and then went on to work at the Isaac Decker Furniture Company in Montgomery.

Jack suffered the loss of his daughter Susan and his wife Jeanne, who died at the age of 67. Many men are broken with such losses, but Jack continued to press on in his evening years, enjoying his two grandchildren and three great grandchildren, as well as finding great pleasure in catch/release fly fishing.

Mike McMunn, director of the Lycoming County Veterans Affairs Office, also presented Jack McGee, noting that honoring the last of the World War II veterans is very important. Mike presented a package of items from the Army Recruiting Office and told Jack that “they are looking for you!”

What all of us should be doing is looking up to a man who showed up when his country needed him, served faithfully, and then returned to live a full and productive professional life and, at the same time, raise a solid family. Not just that, but for a man who has hit 100 years of age, he looks more spry than some folks I have seen that are half that age. He also demonstrated humility in receiving all this attention and closed by thanking the commissioners for the honor that he deeply appreciated.

Jack McGee, we salute you. Thank you for your service and your shining example of a fulfilled life.

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