'Living legend' tells of duty in military

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A living legend gave his account of his service with the U.S. Air Force on Monday to cadets in the ROTC Air Force.

Retired Air Force Gen. Seth McKee spoke at Crisp Hall to at least 20 cadets at Southeast Missouri State University. McKee became one of only three four-star generals from Missouri, attending Southeast Missouri State University from 1934 to 1937. The 89-year-old veteran served nearly 40 years as a commanding officer through World War II, the Cold War and Vietnam War.

Cadet Devin Vitt now considers McKee to be one of the key figures in Air Force history, he said.

"He has one of the most remarkable lives I ever heard," Vitt said.

McKee said that his life was fulfilling.

"Believe me, you'll never get rich serving in the Army, but you will get rich from a deep sense of fulfillment for serving your country," he said. He served in the Army National Guard for three years before joining the Air Force in February 1938. McKee holds several exclusive bragging rights.

Starting his career as a test pilot, he flew about 130 different types of planes before his retirement.

"I probably flew more different types of aircraft than any Army general," McKee said.

By 1944, he was a colonel at 28 years old. He engaged in 69 combat missions during WWII, commanding the air units on D-Day at the Normandy invasion. He served in the first unit to use napalm in combat. McKee met several presidents and advised several joint chiefs of staff during the Cold War and Vietnam.

He noted three ways that the military should be involved in war: to prevent war, to protect and to win. Though he openly opposed the war in Vietnam, he did not state his preference in the war in Iraq. Instead, he offered one observation.

"We better finish this war in Iraq," McKee said. "There is no way we should pull out and not win that war."

Third year ROTC cadet Joshua Bohnert said that McKee's message of integrity hit him the most.

"They drill that into us here, but there's nothing like a living legend telling us that integrity comes first," he said.

McKee's positive attitude and motivation to do his best inspires cadets to dream of the possibilities, said Cadet Col. Vanessa Baudler, who is preparing to graduate from Southeast and join the Air Force as a nurse.

"I may always be needed, and I'll always take full advantage of the opportunities presented," she said.

ROTC officers accepted an offer from university officials to have McKee speak to the cadets, public relations officer Kevin Coyltt. McKee was already scheduled to participate in Homecoming 2005 festivities as an Alumni Merit Award Nominee in the College of Health and Human Services.


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