With sunny skies and not a rain cloud in sight, Saturday was a perfect day to go for a joyride.
Keith McClary carefully helps his elderly father, Jack, into a motorcycle sidecar. His son, Steven, and neighbor Mark Taylor also assist him, making sure he is comfortable. Keith McClary then puts a black and maroon jacket that the elder McClary has had for years, and a new, custom-made motorcycle vest over it. Last, but not least, he positions his father’s oxygen tank in the sidecar before the motorcycle rider and at least 50 other bikers descend down Jack McClary’s quiet, suburban street 10 minutes later.
Jack McClary, a 100-year-old World War II veteran, was the star of the show Saturday for the second annual Jack’s Ride. Sponsored by the Milan chapter of the Iron Circle Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club, the event gives Jack McClary, a former motorcycle rider, another chance to relive his biker days, complete with a ride in an Indian motorcycle, the same brand he used to have.
Taylor, a member of ICLEMC and the organizer of Jack’s Ride, said when he bought a bike three years ago, Jack McClary mentioned he was a former motorcyclist. Last year, Taylor decided to let Jack McClary ride with him.
“It was only gonna be a ride around the neighborhood, but I put it out there about needing a sidecar and I got such a response that we had over 70 bikes,” he said. “I took him on a ride, and he loved it.”
The motorcycle club would ride out to Tecumseh, about a half hour away from Milan. ICLEMC took the same route this year, but added another half hour to the ride if Jack McClary was up for it. After taking a short break at a Harley-Davidson store in Tecumseh, the group drove another 30 minutes to a Harley-Davidson in Cement City and then back home to Milan.
Taylor, who is a part-time contract guard for the U.S. Marshal Service, believes at least 100 bikers eventually showed up to this year’s joyride.
“Being able to give back is the biggest part of it,” he said on organizing the event. “I get the thrill of doing it, but it’s not for me, it’s for Jack.”
A war hero
During World War II, Jack McClary served in the Army as an artillery officer under Gen. Mark Clark, who would become the youngest man to hold the position of lieutenant general in the war. Keith McClary said he believes his father was drafted around 1939 and served until the war was over in 1945.
Jack McClary began his military career in the southern U.S. for artillery training on drones that were gasoline-powered remote-controlled aircraft streamers. After that, he went to Europe during the Italian campaign, where he became an artillery observer.
“He was up on mountaintops calling out information to the crew working underneath him that were relaying data by radio and telephone,” Keith McClary said.
Jack McClary played a major role in the Battles of Monte Cassino, four months of battles in 1944 that are among the bloodiest engagements in the Italian campaign during World War II. After attempting to beat the Germans during earlier battles in the Liri Valley and Anzio, the Allies’ goal was to capture the western portion of the Gustav Line, a defensive line, and the Catholic Abbey of Monte Cassino.
Keith McClary said his father was fighting in the middle of the two mountaintops of the Apennine Mountains, calling out data that he heard from German soldiers. Gen. Clark soon found out that Jack McClary was the only artillery trainer in the 5th Army, eventually training soldiers on how to use weapons on convoys.
When telling his son the story, Jack McClary joked that he and his crew were in the mountains so long, that he was able to grow a beard.
The artillery officer would later become a captain and awarded the Bronze Star.
Keith McClary said his father did not talk about the war when he was growing up, and has only started hearing about his adventures about three years ago when Jack McClary would talk to other veterans.
“I’m learning more about my dad in the last couple of years than I have my entire life,” he said.
After the war, Jack McClary got married to his childhood sweetheart and studied business at the University of Michigan, where he graduated with a 4.0 grade point average.
He went into a career in hospital finance, becoming the chief financial officer at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, as well as St. Paul-Ramsey Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. To get to work, Jack McClary would ride his Indian motorcycle.
Keith McClary said his father retired about 20 years ago, and he and his mother moved back to Michigan and settled in Milan. His mother died in 2014 from complications of Parkinson’s disease.
Now, Jack McClary is dealing with his own health problems, as he is legally blind and has to carry an oxygen tank because of a lung affection that permanently damaged his lungs. At one point, he became bedridden.
When Jack McClary was admitted to the hospital and rehab last year, that is when his son moved in and became his full-time caretaker. With the help of Keith McClary and physical therapists, Jack McClary can walk with a cane, sometimes taking a walk around the block with his son.
“It’s not too often you get to take an 100-year-old veteran on a ride”, said Dan “Griz” Kofahl, the motorcycle rider that drove with Jack McClary. “It’s exciting.”