Never Met a Stranger: Remembering "Charlie Mac"

Updated: Jul 17

By T.W. Burger

Retired businessman, golfer, fisherman, and former bomber pilot Charles M. “Charlie Mac“ McMullen, 98, died at his Athens home early in the morning of Tuesday, July 13.

In early 2015, Charlie sat down for an interview with this writer for an ‘‘I was there“ article for a now-defunct WWII-themed magazine.

The piece was never published, but here it is:

Preface: As it did for so many, World War II happened while Charles “Charlie Mac“ McMullen was making other plans. He had been born on August 19, 1923 in Muscogee County, Ga., near Columbus. He was in high school, having, as he says, a hell of a time. He had a scholarship to play football for the University of Georgia, up in the hill country in Athens. He was aware of the war in Europe, of course. But then came Pearl Harbor, and everything was different.

BURGER: What made you decide it was time to sign up?

MCMULLEN: We were in school. It was the summer of ’42. The war had been on (in the Pacific) for six months, and the country had started drafting the year before. My high school friends said they were going downtown to take the cadet exam. I asked them what that was, and they said “So we can fly.” I liked the idea of flying better than infantry, so I went with the guys and took the test.

BURGER: How did you do?

MCMULLEN: They didn’t tell you anything except whether you passed or not, and I passed. At that point they were fighting hard to get the military together. They knew they needed an air force because they didn’t have one…In fact, at first, the military was training and didn’t even have guns for the trainees, just pieces of wood.

BURGER: Do you think the lack of proper equipment had bad consequences for those troops?

MCMULLEN: Well, those early guys caught a lot of flack in Africa, if I remember correctly. There were a lot of hard times, early in the war.

BURGER: Did you go into the service right away?

MCMULLEN: I was still in high school. I didn’t want to give up football. During the test period they told me to finish high school. So, that’s what I did. Then, in June of 1943, I took the same route as thousands and thousands of other guys; I signed up for the U.S. Army Air Corps.

BURGER: Did you go in as officers?

MCMULLEN: No, we joined as privates. We got the same basic training as everybody else, though our uniforms were slightly different.

BURGER: Were air cadets different in other ways?

MCMULLEN: We were in a cadet program rated above a private and paid us another 25 dollars a month.

BURGER: Where did you do your basic training?

MCMULLEN: They shipped us off to Keesler Field in Mississippi.

BURGER: Keesler was activated in June of 1941, six months before the war officially began for the U.S., and the first recruits arrived that August. So you were in one of the earlier classes. Keesler was not only a basic training center, but a springboard for recruits going into airplane and engine mechanics, aerial gunnery or aviation, is that correct?

MCMULLEN: Yes. I was pretty sure that if I washed out of the early training there they were going to make me a gunner.

BURGER: Keesler is near Biloxi, in southern Mississippi. What was it like down there?

MCMULLEN: It was July and August, and it was unbearably hot. We had PT at 11:30 in the morning. They always made us take our shirts off to do the PT, and we’d be rolling around in the sand and get it all over us. And then they made us put our shirts on with all that sand on us. They did anything they could think of to make us unhappy.

We would come in after working out in that heat and change our shirts to go to the mess hall. The shirts would be soaked. When we came back later and the shirts had dried out, they would be so stiff from all the salt