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World War II veteran McCauley has unique place in history

Elk & Elk Military Salute honoree helped CBJ founder John H. McConnell at the start

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

It's a story that is part of Columbus -- and Blue Jackets -- lore. 

When John H. McConnell decided to open his steel business in 1955, he took out a $600 loan using his Oldsmobile as collateral. Soon, that business would blossom into Worthington Industries, a billion-dollar company that became one of Columbus' corporate titans. 

And eventually, with the growing city calling out for its first entry into one of the four major sports, McConnell stepped to the table to help make the Blue Jackets happen, leading a group of investors who secured the team before becoming the franchise's majority owner, chairman and governor. 

Lawrence McCauley can confirm the story's humble beginnings thanks to the unique role he played in it. McCauley saw McConnell walk into his branch of Ohio National Bank on the 1955 day it all began and immediately recognized a kindred spirit. 

Both were hard-working men from humble beginnings who grew up during the Great Depression -- McCauley as one of seven kids from Lancaster, Ohio, and McConnell the son of a steel worker from Pughtown, W.Va. Both were World War II veterans, with McCauley one of the heroic Americans who stormed the beach at Normandy and McConnell serving on the U.S.S. Saratoga in the Pacific theater.  

They even shared a name, in a way, as the two would go on to call each other "Mac" given their similar surnames until McConnell's passing in 2008. 

In other words, it didn't take McCauley long on that 1955 day to come to a handshake deal with McConnell on that $600 loan. 

"He landed in our parking lot of the bank," McCauley, now 96 and living in Lewis Center, told BlueJackets.com. "He comes in the door and I said, 'Come over here,' sat him down at the desk and we hit it off right then. He needed 600 bucks, and I loaned him the 600 bucks." 

The rest, as they say, is history. And for his part in the history of our country, McCauley was chosen as the Blue Jackets' Elk & Elk Military Salute honoree during the first home game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, standing beside Leo Welsh for the national anthem during Game 3 of the Tampa Bay series and then being honored by a standing ovation in the arena during one of the first-period media timeouts.

ELK & ELK MILITARY SALUTES: Read about the Blue Jackets' season-long salutes to service

Throughout the game, he'd be visited by fans from across the arena, none more notable than McConnell's son, current Blue Jackets majority owner and governor John P. McConnell, as well as team president and alternate governor Mike Priest.  

"John Jr. came over and wrapped his arm around me," McCauley said. "He says, 'My old man just thought you were the best.' That made me feel good." 

It's high praise coming from that source, but deserved for McCauley, whose role in one of the most significant military conflicts in world history has made him an American hero. 

Heading overseas 

McCauley graduated from Lancaster St. Mary School in 1941 and planned to work for the railroad when the Pearl Harbor attack happened in December of that year. Like many young men of that era, including all four of his brothers, he signed up for service. 

"These guys were all lining up," said McCauley's son, Tom. "I think the thought was, 'We were going to stop this aggression, but most importantly, we're going to protect Lancaster, Ohio, and my mother and father.'" 

McCauley went through basic training and was sent to New York City to wait to head overseas when he met a fellow soldier who asked if he was related to one of his commanders, John McCauley. That was, of course, his brother, so he told the soldier to tell John they should meet on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral the next morning at 8 a.m.  

By that time, his boat was sailing by the Statue of Liberty, as the unit had gotten the call to head to Britain in the middle of the night. Upon arrival in Gloucestershire, they began training for the invasion of France. Finally, that started June 6, 1944 - D-Day.  

McCauley arrived on Omaha Beach and was among the American forces who fought the German opposition for days until the beach was secured. He can still remember the moment he reached the top of the hill overlooking the English Channel.  

"You pulled yourself up, still flat on your belly," he said, "and I thought, 'This is the best grass I've ever felt in my life.'" 

Of course, the fighting didn't stop from there. McCauley and his unit continued battling through the hedgerows of France, then fought against the Germans in Belgium in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest.  

On Nov. 26, 1944, McCauley penned a hand-written note that was delivered back to the family in Lancaster. The dateline read "Somewhere in Belgium," and spoke of how difficult it would be to be away from the family for Christmas.  

"May we all be together again very soon and the world as peaceful and quiet as the stalls in Bethlehem," he wrote. 

Shortly thereafter, McCauley's unit was involved as the Battle of the Bulge began. As the American forces soldiered on, finally, they entered Germany and advanced toward Berlin. On April 11, 1945, the U.S. 9th Armored Infantry Battalion from the 6th Armored Division, part of the U.S. Third Army featuring McCauley, arrived at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp and liberated those who were held there.  

Less than a month later, Germany surrendered. McCauley drove his halftrack down the Champs-Élysées in Paris for V-E Day, and French youngsters attempted to barter locally made cognac for cigarettes with the American troops, then headed back to Ohio with victory assured. Upon taking the train to Columbus, he needed a ride back to Lancaster and approached the driver of a coal truck headed that way. 

"I wrapped my duffel bag around his headlight and he said, 'How far you going, son?'" McCauley remembers. "I said, 'Lancaster.' We talked all the way down there and he pulled right up to the house. It was 3 o'clock in the morning, I took the key out of the mailbox, unlocked the door and went straight upstairs. Dad said, 'Is that you, son?' I said, 'That's me.' I jumped right on top of him and gave him a bear hug." 

McCauley finished his military service with four campaign stripes, four bronze stars and one silver star. He attended Ohio University on the GI Bill and eventually settled in Upper Arlington with his wife MaryAnn, raising eight children.  

75 Years Later 

McCauley's acts of heroism haven't been forgotten, and that was driven home last month when he and Tom visited New Orleans for an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy.  

He was welcomed warmly as he wore his Eisenhower jacket through John Glenn International Airport and then later that night at dinner at Galatoire's on Bourbon Street, where patrons offered to buy his dinner.  

A day-long program at the National World War II Museum on June 6 featured speakers and a gathering of veterans. But the real treat came at lunch, where the McCauleys were seated with Jeanine and Annie, two survivors of the Holocaust who attended the anniversary festivities.  

As it turns out, Annie had been held at Buchenwald and was one of those liberated by McCauley and his fellow American soldiers in April, 1945. The two had an instant bond as a result, holding hands throughout the lunch.  

"This lady has the most calm, serene feel and look to her like every single day that she had after (Buchenwald) was on borrowed time," Tom McCauley said. "She was just wonderful." 

"It was very, very, very wonderful," Lawrence said of the trip. "It was a great gathering." 

For all McCauley did, such recognition is assuredly deserved. From the battlefields of World War II to picking up his life in central Ohio, McCauley fought for the American dream and then lived it.  

It was the same for McConnell, of whom McCauley has fond memories. When he thinks about the man who brought the Blue Jackets to central Ohio, one word comes to mind. 

"Determination," McCauley said. "If he wanted to do something, he'd do it." 

And with McCauley's help, in the form of one $600 loan born from a bond the two shared of their similar experiences, he did just that. 

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