West Virginia war hero and legend Brig. Gen. (ret.) James Kemp McLaughlin lived to be 101 years old.

The Braxton County native, who founded the West Virginia Air National Guard, was saluted by Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, The Adjutant General of West Virginia in a letter.

"In the United States military, we prioritize scholarly aptitude and encourage our Soldiers and Airmen to be well versed in the history of their respective service, our past leaders and the impacts they have made. The same rings true for all West Virginians, who should know and understand the giants among us who paved the way for how we live, work and succeed as a state.

"Before the U.S. Air Force was its own separate branch, Kemp McLaughlin, a native of Braxton County, was setting a course for excellence in service through the U.S. Army Air Corps as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot. His legacy and contributions to American air superiority and the State of West Virginia should not be overlooked and today, on his 101st birthday, we pay tribute to him."

McLaughlin had been in the service less than a year when the attacks struck Pearl Harbor on his birthday. By 1942, McLaughlin had concluded training and was sent to Europe to join the ranks of the Mighty 8th, or what is known as the Eighth Air Force, the unit assigned to carry out strategic bombing campaigns in France, Germany, and the Low Countries during World War II, according to Hoyer.

He took part in some of the most pivotal air raids in the country's history, as he served as a lead bomber in the mission to attack ball-bearing factories in Schweinfurt, Germany. Hoyer also said in his letter that McLaughlin also took part in raids to bomb facilities in Norway, halting the German’s efforts to produce an atomic bomb and provided air support to ground troops, clearing a path for ensuing battles to take place.

McLaughlin retired brigadier general in 1977 after being named the WVANG's first commander in 1947. He also served roles in the civilian community as a Kanawha County Commissioner from 1962 to 1968 and was appointed to the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1974 to 1976.

"Today and every day, we in the West Virginia National Guard are thankful for the selfless service of Brig. Gen. (ret.) James Kemp McLaughlin and wish him a happy 101st birthday," Hoyer said.

"May we never lose focus of the contributions of one of our most revered veterans and West Virginia heroes."