One Marine generation helps another

Lucy McClain’s weathered hands tell the story.

The wrinkles and scars serve as a reminder of when the 86-year-old worked as a Marine mechanic on Corsair airplane engines during World War II.

But the hands that once fine-tuned some of the military’s finest fighter planes have slowed down. They can’t twist and turn tools very well anymore.

They clamp onto a walker pretty well.

They can still open the stubborn storm door.

But when the water heater broke down a few weeks ago, it was cold sponge showers and buckets of freezing water to rinse off. Those hands were no match for that heater.

That’s when the Clark County Senior Citizen Advocate Program contacted Lou Salazar, a plumber with Local 525, to get McClain a new heater and some hot water.

Salazar’s union volunteers members through the Community Action Program to provide low-income seniors with free plumbing and air conditioning work on the weekends.

When Salazar, who served in Vietnam with the 1st Marine Recon Battalion, found out McClain was a fellow Marine, he had to help.

"We hit it off," he said. "Somebody needed to hear this story because you’re not going to find many World War II veterans. When you find a lady who was in the Marine Corps, that makes it extra special."

Leaking water caused the floor to rot through and McClain’s old heater to sink through the floor.

One plumber’s foot went through the floorboards Monday. They had to rebuild that part of the floor and install a new heater, Salazar added. But it’s an expensive endeavor that draws from union dues that pay for the community fund.

"Like everybody else, we’re running out of funds," he said. "We don’t want to bring the program to an end.

"We do good work."

And the demand for such work is high. They get upward of 60 calls a day for people such as McClain, who has lived in Las Vegas for 28 years.

She has no children. She was engaged once, many years ago, but she didn’t get along with her fiance’s mother, so she called it off.

"My mother didn’t get along with her mother-in-law, and I saw what it did to my parents," she said. "I decided I’d better not."

A photo of a beaming 20-year-old McClain taken when she graduated from boot camp in Oklahoma sits on a desk in her mobile home on Lamb Boulevard. Her pink cheeks are flushed with excitement.

Her bunk in the barracks at the Naval Air Station Miramar — now the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar — in San Diego overlooked the bay. She watched as the USS Shangri-La returned from victory in Japan.

At the time when Rosie the Riveter was the dominant image of women helping the war effort, McClain wanted to be a pilot.

"Rosie worked in the factories," McClain was quick to point out. "I worked on the base."

But an inner ear problem combined with motion sickness made it impossible to get certified as a pilot.

"I wanted to fly, but I couldn’t fly," she said. "I could take off and land, but I could not get a license. If I turned my head too much one way I’d black out for about three seconds."

So, she became a mechanic.

"I wanted to be as close to airplanes as possible."

Contact Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@review or 702-383-0279.

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