Before the Wright brothers’ bicycle shop on South Williams Street was declared a National Historic Landmark, it was just another old Dayton building slated for demolition.
“It was on the list of buildings to be cleared away,” recalled Roger McClure, a retired Air Force colonel from Springfield who helped turn the cycle shop into the national attraction it is today.
That was the better part of 28 years ago. It’s just taken this long for McClure to allow Aviation Trail Inc. to honor him for his efforts.
About as modest as Orville and Wilbur were innovative, McClure, 79, recently received the Trailblazer Award from Aviation Trail as an individual who’s advanced an aspect of aviation in the Miami Valley.
As retired Aviation Trail trustee Floyd Koller explained, he wanted to nominate McClure twice before for the award.
“Both times, he said he wouldn’t accept,” Koller said.
McClure is credited with ensuring the high quality of the shop’s current state, and also for his help developing Aviation Trail’s parachute museum. (The parachute, it turns out, was another local invention.)
“He has more zeal for the success of Aviation Trail than anyone I know,” Koller said.
Aviation Trail was established in 1981 to champion the region’s rich aviation heritage, which had been largely neglected until then.
The nonprofit organization eventually turned the cycle shop — along with the adjacent Hoover Block building, where the Wrights had a printing business — over to the National Park Service in the early 1990s.
“It’s nice to know and think that maybe I had some small little part in making that happen,” McClure said.
Henry Ford already had pilfered two prime Wright sites in Dayton — their actual house and a later bike shop — for his Greenfield Village in Michigan.
“Dayton was not really good at preserving its aviation heritage,” McClure said, “which allowed Henry Ford to come in and buy them.”
But, the empty shop on Williams Street, which Aviation Trail discovered shortly before McClure joined the group in 1985, proved to be a monumental find.
“It was the location where they first got interested in flight,” McClure said.
McClure came to be instrumental in refurbishing period items for display in the shop and obtaining artifacts for it that were owned by the Wrights.
Born and raised in Springfield, where his father worked as a custodian for the city schools, McClure’s entire 30-year career in the Air Force was made possible by the Wright brothers.
After all, had there been no Wright Flyer, there would’ve been no F-100 or B-52 — two types of aircraft McClure flew.
McClure spent his last four years at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, retiring in 1986 as head of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s aircraft division.
“It was good to be back,” he said, explaining that his wife of almost 58 years, Carol McKenna, is from Springfield as well. They settled in Dayton.
A 1951 graduate of Springfield High and a 1955 graduate of Ohio State University, McClure joined an air force in 1956 that was hungry for new pilots.
In 1969, he flew into combat as an adviser to the Royal Thai Air Force, which flew a fighter version of the United States’ prop-driven T-28 Trojan trainer.
“Comparatively speaking, it flies low and slow, but it was very effective in Southeast Asia because a lot of the targets were small,” he said.
Even now, McClure didn’t want to elaborate about his role in Thailand — a part of the Vietnam War that remains cloaked in secrecy. But, in the early 1970s, he was flying missions over North Vietnam itself as a B-52 pilot.
During his two tours, he received “a number of decorations.”
“I can’t even remember them all,” McClure said, ever modest. “I guess I did get the Purple Heart.”