Second Lieutenant George Noyes McLennan

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Insignia of VMF-223, "Bulldogs"
Insignia of VMF-223, “Bulldogs”

Service Number: O-010613

Birth and Early Life:
George McLennan was born on January 15, 1919. He was the son of Katherine and Donald McLennan, and quickly dropped his first name in favor of his middle. Although Noyes grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois, he attended Los Alamos Ranch School and The Hotchkiss School before enrolling at Yale University.  McLennan was active in Delta Kappa Epsilon, Book & Snake, and captained the hockey team before graduating with his BA in 1941.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
McLennan joined the Navy on July 18, 1941. He was stationed at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn before being appointed an aviation cadet in November. He was under instruction at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville when Pearl Harbor was attacked; McLennan completed his training and was appointed a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve on May 23, 1942. Three days later, he married Margaretta FitzGerald Purves in Hewlett, New York; in another three days he was in San Diego with the Second Marine Aircraft Wing.

Wartime Service:
Lieutenant McLennan was assigned to VMF-223 as the pilot of an F4F Wildcat fighter in June, 1942. He spent the next two months training with his new outfit, earning the nickname “Scotty” (due to his heritage) and gaining a reputation for excellence in aerial tactics. “Every night the squadron would gather to pool its pet ideas about tactics,” reported LIFE magazine. “Scotty McLennan figured out a way of turning back on a target after a pass from above, which became one of Fighting 23’s best maneuvers.” His squadron boarded the USS Long Island on August 2 and set sail for the South Pacific.

On August 20, McLennan touched down on the recently captured airstrip known as Henderson Field, Guadalcanal. He was tapped to fly on the first combat patrol on August 21, which ran into a flight of six Zeros. McLennan’s shots went wide, but he managed to escape serious damage – two of the four planes on the flight were so badly shot up that they crash-landed back at base.

The next two days passed without contact, and McLennan was grounded during the next big enemy raid due to a lack of available aircraft. His first victory came on August 29, when he and Captain Marion Carl teamed up to bring down a twin-engined Japanese bomber. Placed on alert status at 0030 the following morning, McLennan waited in his cockpit until 1145, when the daily air raid – “Tojo Time” – was anticipated. By 1230, the alert fighters were tangling with the enemy raiders, and McLennan added two Zeros to his tally.

McLennan continued flying patrols, raids, and interceptions for the next two weeks. On September 11, he knocked down another bomber on the noon raid. Scotty was one shared kill away from joining the ranks of Bulldog aces.

Date Of Loss:
Lieutenant McLennan was airborne by 0945 on September 13, 1942. He paired up with Second Lieutenant Hyde Phillips to take on a group of Zeros near the base; the action was described by correspondent Richard Tregaskis in his book Guadalcanal Diary.

One Wildcat [came] diving down like a comet from the clouds, with two Zeros on his tail. He was moving faster than they, and as he pulled out of his dive and streaked across the water, he left them behind. They gave up the chase and pulled sharply back up into the sky…

After losing the Zeros (and thinking he had accounted for at least one), Phillips brought his damaged aircraft back to level. He was relieved to see Scotty McLennan alongside, but relief turned to shock as McLennan’s Wildcat fell away on one wing and slammed into the jungle south of the airfield.

On October 2 Major John L. Smith, the commanding officer of VMF-223, was himself shot down behind enemy lines. While hiking back to Henderson Field, he passed the twisted wreck of a Wildcat. It was McLennan’s fighter; the young pilot’s body was still in the cockpit. (1)

Sirs,

The boys who were at “E” Base, Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, during the summer of 1941, remember “Scotty” McLennan (Yale Unit) as the lean, curly-headed guy with an impudent grin, and the green phaeton V-8 which could always accommodate another guy bound for town. The “Leathernecks” have lost a mighty good man.

J. W. Nichols, Pensacola, Fla. (2)

Scotty McLennan was awarded a posthumous promotion to Captain and a Navy Cross:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Second Lieutenant Noyes McLennan (MCSN: 0-10613), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as a Pilot in Marine Fighting Squadron TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-THREE (VMF-223), Marine Air Group TWENTY-THREE (MAG-23), FIRST Marine Aircraft Wing, in aerial combat with enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands from 20 August 1942 to 13 September 1942. Unassisted and facing overwhelming odds, Second Lieutenant McLennan bravely and skillfully attacked a force of enemy aircraft, shooting down four; and with the aid of another fighter pilot, a fifth Japanese plane was destroyed. Second Lieutenant McLennan’s expert airmanship, quick resourcefulness and undaunted courage were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Next Of Kin:
Wife, Mrs. Margaretta McLellan
(After the war, Margaretta remarried Scotty’s brother, Donald.)

Status Of Remains:
Unknown

Memorial:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
_____
NOTES:
(1) Wilcox, Richard. Captain Smith and his Fighting 223. LIFE Magazine, December 7, 1942. It is not known what efforts were made to recover McLennan’s remains.
(2) Letter to the editor, LIFE Magazine, December 28, 1942.

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