Following his childhood interest in the art of Asia, McLaughlin was able
to travel abroad and provide service to his country, while fostering his
language skills and his knowledge in the art, culture, and philosophies of
Japan. McLaughlin served in the United States Navy from 1917-1921 during
World War I. He married Florence Emerson from Wakefield Massachusetts in
1928 and sold real-estate in Boston and Chicago during the 1930s. Then the
couple moved to Japan in 1935 and McLaughlin studied Japanese art and
language, which was a rare opportunity for an American during this time.
Upon returning to Boston in 1938, McLaughlin and his wife opened an art gallery called The Tokaido, Inc. Here they sold Japanese prints and imported objects from China and Japan. McLaughlin studied Japanese at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu in 1941 and continued his service to the United States as a language officer translating Japanese for the US Marine Corps until 1942. McLaughlin became involved in intelligence in China, Burma, and India, winning the Bronze Star for meritorious service in 1945.
McLaughlin and his wife moved to Dana Point in Southern California where he became one of the few American abstract artists. He began painting later in his life, not until 1938 as a self-taught artist, never receiving any formal training. His many experiences, working with Japanese and Japanese-Americans, traveling abroad, and viewing Chinese and Japanese works of art, all further developed the philosophy of life that would be the driving force behind his paintings.