In the 1960’s and 70’s air travel wasn’t as convenient as it is today. There were few cross-country flights and many flights hopped from mid-size city to mid-size city. In order to attend as many membership meetings and contract negotiations as possible, General President James R. Hoffa often flew in a small plane to get where he was needed. In fact, there’s one story from the book “Hoffa: Messages to the Membership” where he shared an experience of landing on a small runway in Wisconsin during a snowstorm – where you couldn’t tell the difference between the runway and the cow pasture.
Hoffa’s chief pilot – and savior that day – was Don McLott.
McLott served the Teamsters for decades, but few knew of his service to our country. McLott served as a First Lieutenant in the 8th Air Force, 351st Bomb Group of the 509th Bombardment Squadron from 1943 to 1945. During that time he flew a B-17 bomber on 36 missions – and survived two crashes – out of Polebrook, Northamptonshire, England. He also served in the 351st with actor Clark Gable.
Like many veterans of World War Two, McLott spoke little of his wartime service. However, on a wall in his home, McLott kept a piece of Nazi shrapnel that hit and killed his co-pilot on April 24, 1944 and led to one of his crash landings.
Seventy-five years ago today, McLott flew his 30th mission targeting Nazi gun emplacements near Caen, France. His missions continued on June 7, 8 and 10 in the drive to push the Nazis back from the coast – targeting tactical locations and airfields.
As a young man Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa knew McLott well. “Don McLott was a true hero,” Hoffa said. “He was always there for the Teamster members and served our nation and our union with dignity.”
Tens of thousands of Teamsters served our country during World War Two and many fought on the beaches of Normandy – and above – to defeat the scourge of Nazism and liberate Europe.
Today we honor them for their service and their sacrifice.
You can see the story of the 351st in a documentary called To Hell and Back: The 351st Bomb Group by clicking here.