For his acts of valor during the Vietnam War, former Army medic Jim McCloughan will be the first person to receive the Medal of Honor from President Donald Trump. The official facts are impressive, as detailed in this Military.com article.
But talk to folks in his hometown of South Haven, Michigan, where he returned after service to teach and coach, and you’ll find that he’s been an inspiration in many other ways. His positive influence has rippled through the lives of thousands of students, faculty, and parents.
McCloughan taught sociology and psychology at South Haven High School until his retirement in 2008 earning him the Michigan Education Associations’ 40 years of Service Award. He was also the recipient of the Wolverine Conference Distinguished Service Award for 38 years of coaching football and baseball, in addition to 22 years of coaching wrestling.
“In the middle of combat, you have to keep your calm to do your job effectively. This mental discipline helped me as a teacher and coach,” says McCloughan.
“When things were down for our team, I would always say to myself, well, at least they’re not shooting at me.” Former soldiers from his company, students, faculty, and friends, all say the same thing—McCloughan’s humor (and his impressive singing) along with his remarkable ability to inspire the best in others, are what they remember most about him.
Many of his students credit him for shaping and guiding them. Says former South Haven High student James Brack, “Mr. McCloughan was my teacher and wrestling coach. He taught me to never give up, never surrender, and be the best person you could possibly be. I am who I am today because of him.”
“He is the type of man every student looked up to. He motivated you to bring the very best in both the classroom and on the mat. I would have ran through a wall for him and never questioned why.”
Lisa Rostar, Art Teacher at South Haven High School, worked with Jim for more than a decade. She says that Jim “coached the whole student” and that “students on his teams became model students, not only doing the right thing and giving their all on each assignment but intervening if they saw a student making poor choices."
Former students praised McCloughan as the kind of teacher that was meant to teach, and genuinely cared about every student. He was known for integrating life lessons into the subjects he taught, which made an impression on students such as Georgia Dulik-Lyons.
“Little did he know it but he was a history teacher too! Actually, it was history that only a veteran can give because you won't find it in any history book,” says Dulik-Lyons.
When asked about the impact he made on the lives of thousands of students, McCloughan says, “I always told my students that I am not the only teacher in this room -- you are all teachers as well. We are here to learn together.”
McCloughan’s collaborative, inclusive approach to coaching and teaching is modeled on his experiences in combat. He says, “Good leaders know how to listen effectively, and you have to listen well to understand the individual needs of your team. Just as in combat, we all have the same mission and goal, and being an effective listener helps us work together for a common purpose.”
Other students spoke of McCloughan’s influence throughout their whole life --from kindergarten into adulthood. One such student was John Malbone.
“He was my pee-wee baseball coach when I was five and then my varsity high school baseball coach.” Says Malbone. “When I returned after college, he gave me the great opportunity to coach the Rams with him.” He adds, “He dedicated his time to every team he coached and his energy and optimism helped me continue as a teacher and coach for my son. Coach was always in my corner no matter where my career path went. A true gem of a man.”
McCloughan was inducted into the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1993, the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 2003 and the the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame 2008. McCloughan was also a Michigan High School Athletic Association wrestling official for 25 years.
McCloughan’s Army awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device and Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, the Good Conduct Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with three Bronze Service Stars, the Army Valorous Unit Citation, National Defense Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with “60” Device, the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with palms and one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Combat Medical Badge, and the M16 Expert Rifle Badge.
He currently lives in South Haven, Michigan with his wife Chérie.