John McLaughlin

Obituary of John Anthony McLaughlin

In loving memory of a revered aviator. 

It is with heavy heart that we announce the passing of John Anthony McLaughlin, age 81. His distinguished career marked by exceptional courage and unwavering dedication leaves an indelible legacy in the annals of aviation history.

Born on April 1, 1942 John embraced a life long passion for flight and he channeled that determination into achieving his dream. Through John's illustrious career he flew countless missions for the US State Department.

While his professional achievements are nothing short of extraordinary, it is his character that truly set him apart.  Known for his humility, kindness and camraderie John was a true gentleman, who deeply loved his wife and family. In retirement John continued to inspire as a mentor and advocate for the aviation community. His wealth of knowledge and experience became a beacon for aspiring pilots.

As we bid farewell to John, we celebrate a life well lived and honor the memory of a truly exceptional individual, who exemplified courage, integrity and service. 

Visitation will be held from 5:00PM - 6:30PM, Wednesday  August 9th at Beckmen Williamson Funeral Home - Cocoa Beach. A memorial mass will be held on Thursday, August 10th, 10:30AM at Our Saviors Catholic Church in Cocoa Beach, Florida with Interment following at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens at 2:00PM - Leesburg Florida. 

John is survived by his wife Kim, son and wife; Robert Flynn McLaughlin and Allison, grandchildren Spencer and Sawyer, step daughter Sarah Webb and husband Mark and grandchildren Michael and Nolan. 

Fair winds and following seas dear John. May you continue to soar among the stars, watching over us all. 

A Tribute by Paul O'Sullivan:

In 1978, John left the CAB and joined the US State Departments Bureau of International Narcotics Matters as the bureaus Senior Aviation Advisor, and shortly after the Director of the Office of Aviation.  While there, John slowly converted the bureaus existing overseas counter narcotics aviation support program into a government owned, contractor operated operational counter narcotics aviation program focused on aerial eradication of illicit narcotic producing crops. 

By the mid-to-late 1980s, with State Department support, John built an aviation organization using “Crop Duster” pilots and crop duster aircraft to eradicate the overseas crops of marijuana, opium poppy, and Coca. During the 1980s, his men attacked these crops in Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Belize, and as far away as Burma and Pakistan.  In 1987, the organization now known as the DOS Air Wing, added contractor flown helicopter support for the joint State Department/Drug Enforcement Agency program of “Operation Snowcap” now providing helicopter interdiction operations against armed traffickers in Peru and Bolivia as well as aerial eradication operations.   

By 1992, the Air Wing had permanently manned overseas (called “Down Range” by the Air Wing) sites in Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Belize, and Guatemala.  These sites were integrated with host nation organizations and conducted counternarcotics operations under a bi-lateral agreement between the US Government (USG) and the respective host nation government.

In the mid 1990s, the DOS Air Wing consisted of over 70 aircraft, including aerial eradication aircraft, helicopters, and cargo aircraft, and conducted both aerial eradication operations and cocaine interdiction operations.

By 1998, the Air Wing was a major USG presence in Colombia, which was the worlds primary source of cocaine. John lead the Air Wing in destroying hundreds of thousands of hectares of coca, with his men flying against armed traffickers and left wing guerillas supporting the drug trade.  Johns hallmarks were leadership from the front, a fierce determination to eradicate drugs at their source, and loyalty to his men and women. 

John’s organization, the DOS Air Wing, was tasked in 1999 to stand up an assault helicopter battalion within the Colombian Army, a task he was well prepared for. This organization turned into the premier host nation army aviation unit in South America. It was a significant factor in the success of the major foreign policy initiative called “Plan Colombia”.

In 2002, as well as being heavily engaged in Colombia with counternarcotics operations, John was tasked to stand up a border security operation on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.  This unit was to be a joint host nation/USG aviation program to stop the flow of illegal arms, drugs, and personnel crossing freely between the two countries. This unit imposed control on what had previously been a wide open border.

John retired from Civil Service in 2003 after 25 years of running aviation operations in the field, often in hostile environments, coordinating with host nation officials for their support, and working with the State Department, congress, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (the office of the “Drug Czar”).  He built and led an organization that became a key part of the US counternarcotics strategy.  He provided the leadership necessary to needed to accomplish the organizations dangerous missions, and to take care of his men.

He was a boss, a mentor, and a friend to all of his men and women in the DOS Air Wing. he’ll be missed.  Godspeed, John

To read the full article, please click on the following link:

Washington Post Article - John McLaughlin

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A Memorial Tree was planted for John
We are deeply sorry for your loss ~ the staff at Beckman-Williamson - Cocoa Beach
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