By Annie Nelson
San Diego is one of the hot spots for tourism and for our nation’s west coast Navy. People flock to San Diego for many reasons, the weather, the beauty, the Pacific Ocean, the sightseeing, sports and conventions. Whatever the reason, the city’s number one tourist attraction is the majestic USS Midway aircraft carrier. Commissioned in 1945, eight days after the surrender of Japan during WWII, and decommissioned in April 1992, the Midway Magic now has her permanent home in the San Diego Bay and still serves the country as a history museum.
While visiting the museum you get a sense of rich history, respect and love of country of all those who work on her who beam with pride. At the helm of this beauty is retired Rear Admiral John “Mac” McLauglin. After an amazing career in the Navy, Mac has served aboard the Midway for 18 years, guiding her safe passage as a tourist destination. Often, you will see Mac on the decks of the ship, his infectious smile, warm personality and twinkle in his eyes; you know he loves his job, the ship and all those who work aboard her. A true leader and the driving force behind the growth of the Midway and her outreach.
I have had the honor and pleasure of knowing Mac and wanted to share just a bit about his story as a veteran who truly continues to serve. We talked about his journey to get to the Midway and what makes her so special.
Raised in a military family, his father was a sailor in the Navy and at a very early age Mac too wanted to join the Navy. He ended up going to the U.S. Naval Academy and was commissioned an ensign in June 1972. He is not one to boast, so, as he says, “The rest is history.” I pushed a bit —,] asking him what the highlights of his career were. “A few highlights in my Naval career were getting my wings, flying helicopters, getting to command a squadron and a Naval Station, being selected for Flag rank, all the while staying married to the same girl the entire time!” A true accomplishment. His personal decorations include the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service, Navy Commendation and Navy Achievement Medals. His final role of active duty was Commander of the Naval Reserve Forces Command. Mac retired from the Navy in August 2003 and was hired as the Chief Operating Officer of the USS Midway that December.
The ship has become the most visited historic ship in the world. They have over 1 million guests annually, while also hosting 250 special events and 400 military ceremonies.
I asked Mac what led him to the Midway after he retired from the Navy. “When I retired from the Navy, I got a call from a Midway Board member asking me if I’d be interested in interviewing for the Midway CEO job. I interviewed and began work in December 2003, and the ship arrived in SD [San Diego] the next month.” As our conversation continued, I wondered if there were any similarities in both careers. According to Mac both careers involve the management of people and projects. The clothes you wear are different, but the leadership challenges of both careers are very similar.
I have been aboard the Midway many times for events, ceremonies and meetings. I find part of the charm of the Midway experience is due to the crew who share the rich history of the ship, her stories and magic with the guests. They share stories about each of the aircrafts on board, her battles, her milestones and so much more. I asked Mac about his staff because they all are very special. “The volunteers are the key to the great success Midway has enjoyed since we opened. San Diego has a rich demographic of retired veterans and many have volunteered to work on Midway since they retired. We like to call the Midway the best adult day care center in San Diego, and the enthusiasm and professionalism of our volunteer corps is the secret sauce of Midway Magic.”
He continued “The Midway is a LIVING tribute to the service of all veterans and we try to honor their service when they come aboard. We hope that the ship will remain a popular tourism venue long into the future so that everyone that comes aboard can understand the importance of service and sacrifice of many great Americans to ensure our freedoms are preserved for future generations.”
Speaking of the future, they do have big plans, “We are planning on building the largest veterans park on the West Coast of America. The park will surround the Midway and cover approximately 10 acres right here on the San Diego Bay. Our education programs continue to expand nationally, and our events’ after-hours business has become and will continue to grow its international audience.”
The legacy of Rear Admiral Mac Laughlin goes far beyond his Naval career; it is continuing to grow through his service as president and CEO of the USS Midway Museum and also in his son who is active duty in the U.S. Navy. A true, rich military family who exemplifies the dedication, sacrifice and love to these United States of America. While not everyone in our nation is friendly to our veteran community, you would never know that on the Midway. Patriotism is alive and strong aboard the ship, and it truly starts with its leader! If you have not given yourself the gift of a day on the Midway and you find yourself in San Diego, it is a must! You can learn more information about the ship and tours offered at midway.org.