All Things Soldier: Colonel Mel McLemore — A True Officer And A Gentleman

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

On June 11, 2024, Col (Ret.) Melvin Jackson McLemore filed his last “flight plan” with “the Tower” and “flew home.” The references here to flight are not meant to be metaphorical. Very shortly before he died, his daughter Stormy, who was sitting by him at his bedside in Huntsville Hospital, heard him speak clearly in a voice that is unique to pilots instructing that the altimeter be checked. He said it twice, with his eyes closed, and it was said with unmistakable authority. Not long after, he woke up for a bit, and then he was gone. Stormy told this story at her dad’s funeral, and she and her sister, Deborah, had stories abounding of their adventures as Army brats living here and in Europe. Stormy went on to serve as a Chief Warrant Officer in the Army as a helicopter pilot, and Deborah as an Army Civilian Contractor. They credit their parents for instilling in them unshakable values and encouraging them in their careers.

When I started writing for Athens Now, Mel was one of the first vets I met at the Alabama Veterans Museum here in Athens. He knew my background as a protestor during Vietnam, and from the get-go he treated me with kindness and respect. So did his beautiful wife, Wanda, to whom he was married for 63 years.

One of the things that both daughters made clear was that they didn’t know at the time what a “big deal” Mel was. After all, “he was their dad.” He was a highly decorated combat pilot in Vietnam with hundreds of hours in the cockpit. He served in Signal, and before he retired from the Army, Mel was put in charge of Air Traffic Control for the entire United States Army. He spent 15 years after his retirement in the defense industry and worked here in Huntsville.

Mel was a passionate Alabama fan, and “Roll Tide” was a fitting end to his funeral service. He also loved Ford Mustangs and Chevy Corvettes, and if you look at some the McLemore Christmas cards of years gone by, there is a particularly shiny red Mustang that I am sure was cared for as carefully as his planes.

For ten years, Mel was the treasurer for the local Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 511, and was recognized as such by the National VVA for his service to our community. Mel also served on the Board of Directors of the AL Veterans Museum where he was an instrumental force in making the museum the wonderful institution it is today.

Limestone Chapel did the service, and put together a lovely online tribute to Mel, showcasing both his military career as well as his family life. I would encourage you to watch it, and there is one phrase that was part of the presentation that struck me. It is quoted below:

A soldier is free to be a hero.

It is courage which gives them honor,

And their sacrifice which gives us freedom.

As someone who went sideways in the ‘60s, it is the love, forgiveness, and acceptance from people like Mel that has been instrumental in my own personal healing, and I am forever grateful for having the opportunity to know Mel McLemore, a true officer and a gentleman.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner