MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. – Leaders can prove themselves at any point – during times of great need or stress, helping to set an organization on stable ground. Then there are those who lead from the start by establishing a path to success for all those who follow. Current leaders from Madigan Army Medical Center and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., gathered at the Dental Clinic #3 on Lewis Main to memorialize it for the base’s first dentist, Col. Earle J. McClung on April 15.
“As I have come to find out more about Col. McClung, I have felt such a bond and such a spirit of thankfulness to him for what he's done,” said Col. Kendall Mower, the commander of Joint Base Lewis-McChord Dental Activity, at the ceremony. “I was amazed at what I learned that he had done for this installation and for the Army Dental Corps.”
McClung was born in Ritzville, Wash., in 1891, attended the area’s dental college, the North Pacific College of Oregon School of Dentistry and joined the Army in 1917.
He was the first dentist on then Camp Lewis just six years after the Army stood up its Dental Corps.
“As Camp Lewis was hurrying and being put together almost overnight. He was here establishing a dental clinic that could serve the needs of those who are going overseas to fight our battles. And not only did he help prepare them, he joined them in France and then later in occupied Germany after the war ended,” said Mower.
After WWI, McClung was assigned to Chilkoot Barracks (Fort William H. Seward) in Alaska where he set up the first dental clinic there as he did in Washington.
“He had a circuit that he traveled taking care of not only the soldiers,” noted Mower, “but, also the local population.”
Members of the McClung family were in attendance at the ceremony, to include one of his two children, Bill, who helped Mower unveil the plaque dedicated to his father.
Both McClung sons attended West Point and joined the Air Force. At the ceremony, Bill treated anyone near him to stories of his family’s generations of illustrious military service including its near misses with disastrous events. His great grandfather was in the 7th Cavalry, Custer’s unit, but left before the Battle of Little Bighorn and his parents took an assignment that moved them off Hawaii just prior to Pearl Harbor’s bombing that drew the U.S. into World War II.
Despite escaping that brush with history unscathed, the colonel’s career had many unexpected turns.
In the last third of his career, McClung specialized in making maxillofacial prosthetics, namely fake eyeballs.
He was so invested in making a good product for his patients that he would have his wife, Beatrice, critique his work over lunch with a patient. If she couldn’t tell which one was the prosthetic eye, he knew he’d gotten it right.
Upon hearing this story, one of the ceremony’s attendees, Spc. Seth McCord, shared his appreciation of Col. McClung with his son Bill.
“As medical professionals, we're grateful to people like that, that paved the way, laid the foundation and just provided the excellent care, because that's been passed down. That work ethic has come down through the ranks and it's still affecting us today. We're still trying to replicate that and offer the best service possible,” said McCord.
McClung was offered the position of chief of the Dental Corps as a general officer in 1940. But, after counseling with his wife and family, they decided to turn down the opportunity and return to the Pacific Northwest.
“Through his career, he continued to teach, mentor and train, and take care of the service members that he encountered. Over a 34-year career, he trained hundreds of dentists, of hygienists, of dental assistants and other staff members who would work and serve our nation's finest,” said Mower.
After retirement from the Army, McClung went on to teach at the University of Washington, training still more dentists. He also continued to stay connected to the dental clinic that now bears his name, attending its dedication ceremony in the 1970s.
The long reach of McClung’s career will now, with the naming of the clinic highlighting his contributions to Army and local dentistry, provide an enduring example of a dedicated professional.
“I'm amazed at the humility, the service and the character that he exuded throughout the entirety of his career,” summarized Mower. “That is why this building is being memorialized after him. There literally has not been another individual that I can think of that is more deserving of this honor.”
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