GM3 Darwin L Mckee U.S. Navy (1964-1967)
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GM3 Darwin L Mckee
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WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
I planned on making the military a career for years. I knew I would eventually get drafted into the Army in a couple years and knew I didn’t care for that.
My dad had been Navy 6 years, Army Air Corps for 2 years and USAF for 13
I was about 3 weeks short of being 18 so took the papers I needed signed by my dad to enlist. Thought the old man would break a leg getting to a pen to sign.
I went to Des Moines to take a physical and test to get in the Navy. After the test a LT came out and asked which one of us was McKee. My first thought was I must of flunked the test. Then he said “You scored real well on the test for not being a high school graduate”. Don’t know what I scored but it was good enough to get in!
After taking the oath we ended up taking a three day train ride to San Diego. We stopped at a lot of places picking up other guys on their way to Navy boot. Places like, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona etc. It turned out to be a troop train like the ones that used to roll through Iowa in WWII.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
Out of boot camp I was offered EN OJT (On the Job Training) or TM. If I wanted to extend my three year enlistment to six years I could go Hospital Corpsman which would mean going green. I turned it all down so I was sent to NTC Mess cooking.
I pulled my tour of Mess cooking, which I kind of liked. I thought of maybe even becoming a cook but I held off.
I was then assigned to NTC Base Police. It was very good, clean work. Most of the time I stood at gate watches, all spit polished with AJ squared away uniforms, checking ID’s, saluting the officers. Occasionally we had to deal with drunk and out of line sailors!
Then I got orders for Vietnam & ended up with Camp Tien Sha Security. Which means the Navy got me into green after all!
One year later, I was assigned orders to the USS Loyalty MSO 457 out of Long Beach. I was a GMG striker and made GMG3. I could have gone SK3 at test time as I had all requirements filled out for both GM & SK. I elected to take the GMG 3&2 test.
I was offered missile school, but that would mean having to ship over for 6 more years.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
I was assigned to Camp Security on Camp Tien Sha. We were standing outer perimeter and tower watches, going on occasional patrols. The Camp came under fire several times during my tour. Sometimes a single shot or two and sometimes hundreds of rounds incoming, including an occasional mortar.
The closest I came to getting shot was when we were under red alert and I was making my way to my GQ bunker. An automatic weapon, probably AK-47, opened up on me from an old abandoned Buddhist temple just outside our perimeter fence. Several rounds hit right in front of me and I was sprayed by the dirt they kicked up. I dove to the ground and cut my hand on a piece of broken glass. I crawled in behind a stack of plywood and let go with two 20 round clips into the old temple with my M-14 automatic rifle.
The Camp once had a scare of a siege by NVA & VC moving in on us. The Camp CO called for a Naval Call Fire to deal with the enemy spotted on the other side of Monkey Mountain. Jet fighters from Da Nang also came in and no enemy made it to our side of the mountain. It was a little unnerving not knowing if we were gonna have to fight a full scale battle or not or watching the projectiles going overhead and hoping they didn’t drop one short. Our bunkers shook from the shells hitting on other side of mountain.
I seriously don’t think we had enough people to hold them off if they would have made it to our side of Monkey Mountain. Most of the time we just returned fire at the other rifle flashes!
I even had a grenade bounce off my bunker one night with the pin still in it.
WHICH, OF THE VESSELS OR DUTY STATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
That’s a tough one. I consider my hitch in 3 sections. I was a on a Kiddy cruise which got extended 2 1/2 months.
My 1st year consisted of boot camp, mess cooking & NTC Base Police. That year was my introduction to real adult time. Several trips to Tijuana. (go figure!) It was really good duty but not much good for any kind of advancement.
Second year was as far from the Navy as most sailors short of Corpsman serving with the Marines will be. I never dreamed of being “in country” during a war or right in the middle of the shooting side of it up close. It was the scariest time of my life but also the proudest time of my life looking back on it.
During my time there your main concern was surviving and looking after your shipmates. I didn’t have any urge to return but never regretted being part of the first Navy to provide their own security. We were pioneers of what eventually became the MA Rate of today.
My third & final period was actually being in the Navy aboard a ship. I choose a MSO because it was a small ship with a small crew. I was actually able to work in a rate & pass the test for GMG 3&2. It was a great ship and a tight crew. I had a lot of experiences that I hadn’t been able to partake of in my first two years in the Navy. I got to be a helmsman, help fire a 40mm gun-mount, that I even got to be Gun Captain on. I even helped running out sweep gear for mine sweeping. I loved standing mid-watches at sea. It was quiet and peaceful.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
First one was while standing gate watch at NTC San Diego. A guy came into our gate, white as a ghost, telling about an old man half a block up the street bleeding and hurt. The PO on the gate told me to go with him and check it out. There was an all-night laundromat and the old guy who ran it was laying in the parking lot covered in blood. He had been stabbed and robbed. He was still breathing but not able to respond to me talking to him. I kept him company, continually talking to him, until the ambulance arrived. He died en route to the hospital and I found out later he was a retired Chief. That was the first time I saw a bleeding and dying person.
Next time I saw bleeding and dying persons was in Vietnam. I was visiting a buddy at the Da Nang hospital and I was starting to leave when a couple dust offs came in loaded with wounded Marines. I pitched in to help with stretchers into the ER. I don’t know how many made it because they were really tore up.
A more pleasant thing was the house three of us built for a family down in Son Sa village who had lost their dad – a RVN Captain who was KIA. Those kind of things never make it back with the news media.
And my 15 minutes of fame was when Ann Margaret with Johnny Rivers band came to Camp Tien Sha to entertain the troops. I got to dance with her on stage. The picture ended up in Stag Magazine in 1966! (See opposite)
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
I would say no. I was just doing my job to the best of my ability never thought too much about medals and such. Maybe I was a little naive. I didn’t even know we got a ribbon for serving in Vietnam much less three or more that were available just for being “in country”.
One thing we did talk about a few times was not getting a “cheap” Purple Heart for some scratch in an accident. That could be unlucky for the long run.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
The ribbon that is my pick would be the first one received, the National Defense Medal. That one says I took an oath to defend the nation and I was part of a select group of people to do so. Without that one no others would have came along.
I am also proud of my Navy Expert Rifleman, because you have to earn those by yourself.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
The person who stands out as my biggest impact my naval service would be one who was not even there with me – my father. He was a 21 year career man as I said before. My first 15 years of life was with the military as what’s called “military brat”.
I learned a lot from the old man including how to stand a helm watch and follow a compass heading when I was just 14 years old.
As far as the Navy itself, CS2 Barry Watt aboard the USS Loyalty. He was someone I always admired. I am still friends with him. He retired as a CSC and he actually grew up 20 miles from where I now live.
My close buddy in Vietnam, YN3 Rogers. We got away with far more than we should have but it was a hell of a ride anyway. We still talk on the phone after almost 45 years past our last tour in Vietnam.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
One night running for my red alert bunker on Tien Sha I fell into a roll of concertina wire some idiots strung out in the wrong place. Damn thing wrapped around me like a boa constrictor. Took three guys to get me untangled. Lucky it was chilly and I had on a jacket. It took me awhile to get out of the wire.
Similar thing happened to another guy who was making it to his bunker during heavy monsoon rains & walked into a flooded hole clear over his head.
We shaved half of a guy’s moustache off one night while he was passed out. Just half! LOL
Another time aboard the USS Loyalty (MSO 457) during war games, we were all in civilian clothes playing the part of a Russian trawler. No hull numbers, just a Russian insignia on the stack and flying the Cycle & Hammer flag. A destroyer not in on the game, laid off our starboard side on our way out to the games and sent light for us to identify ourselves. Our old man sent back flashing light “Yankee Go Home” I thought “Oh shit, we’re about to become splinters in the water”.
There are a few more things that even I can’t begin to put in this section!
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
I didn’t really follow any particular career right after getting out.
I worked for Oscar Mayer boning hams, picnics and blades. I then worked for American Beef gutting cattle; Osmundson Manufacturing running a 2000 degree furnace and die making Farm disc blades; a local Natural Gas Company laying line, setting tanks and piping houses and lining chimneys; City Light and Water of Poplar Bluff Missouri laying lines both water and sewer, reading meters and running service lines; I also worked for same city as Assistant Building Inspector, Compliance Officer and new street construction inspector.
In 1977 I bought into one-third of the family business. McKee Jewelry Inc. in Perry Iowa. My dad was retiring and my brother asked me to buy in with him. I did that for 24 years until my health forced me to retire. We were retail jewelers who sold fine jewelry, watches and clocks. Also did custom casting & made a lot of our own jewelry. I did in-store watch, jewelry and clock repair.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS? NTWS and ATWS are the only groups I belong to. I never joined the VFW when I got out of the service. At that time a lot of the older vets for some reason didn’t welcome Vietnam Vets with open arms. I know some of the reasons and didn’t think it was worth arguing over. They have recently changed a lot of their old hang ups but it’s mostly because their numbers are fast disappearing.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
I think military training helps you to learn how to work as a team and helps to show you leadership from both being in charge and being under others. I learned a lot by observing both good and bad leaders. I have worked for a lot of people after my Navy hitch and eventually running my own business.
My military time definitely gave me a leg up that I would have not had if hadn’t served!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Do the best job you can. With the economy today, give plenty consideration to staying in. Many of us who served just one hitch and got out will tell you that they regret not staying for the twenty. No matter if your in the service or out in the civilian world, there will always be things to be dealt with that you don’t care for.
If you do stay in, remember to save some money for your retirement. Not a bad idea whether you’re in or out.
Navy is hard on married life and it takes a special couple to deal with it. The main reason I got out was I knew she couldn’t handle it. It lasted twenty-two years but it wouldn’t have lasted more than two years if I had of stayed in.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
I have made a lot of new friends that I never would have without this site. From meeting in person, on the phone, email and on the different threads. There is a connection that all Navy people have with each other that just isn’t there with those who never served.
The young folks who are still in are a treat. It’s great to see how the Navy of today is different from when us old-salts were in.
Very interesting to see how the ladies have entered into all of the jobs in the Navy which were not available during my time.
I’ve also been kept up to date on the latest VA rulings for us Vietnam Vets.