Remembering Cape native, four-star general McKee

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Gen. Seth McKee passed away at the age of 100 the day after Christmas, but his legacy will forever remain with us. His reach extended far -- throughout the nation and across the seas -- but we are proud of his Cape Girardeau roots.

The four-star general was a Cape Girardeau Central High School graduate of the class of 1934 and attended Southeast Missouri State University from 1934 to 1937. Throughout his life, he regularly returned home to speak and inspire many.

A military pilot, McKee "led a group of fighter planes providing air cover for troops invading the beach at Normandy, France, in 1944," flying 69 missions during the war. Not one to embrace fear despite danger, his bravery may have been matched only by his self-awareness, for he said, "I knew I was the best fighter pilot in the war and I was pretty lucky."

There was no rank in the Air Force that he did not hold, he served under six presidents and when he retired in 1973, he was a commander of the North American Air Defense Command, the famed "NORAD."

Not only was McKee well-respected as a military man, but McKee, the man, was equally respected -- from musicians to historians to writers. They found him engaging and funny and, as Cape Girardeau musician Jerry Ford described him, "just like a guy on the street."

McKee's accomplishments and conquests soar higher than we can detail here as we remember this Air Force pilot, but we would be remiss not to mention what he may have considered his highest honor: "It was love at first sight on my part," he told a friend about his relationship with his wife, Sally, a former Florida beauty queen, "but it took her a little longer."

Among his numerous honors is one that came just 10 days before his death. Southeast's Board of Regents approved a resolution honoring him and his "exemplary" military career and expressing gratitude on behalf of the university community.

McKee has a wide-ranging list of things for which he had reason to be proud, and we will ever be proud to call him one of our own. Fly on, Gen. McKee. Fly on.

On a sad note, last week Cape Girardeau also lost Seth's brother Pat, who died Thursday. Pat has been remembered for being a longtime educator in the community and participant on public boards. He also ran unsuccessfully for Congress. Ford, a friend of the family, wrote to the newspaper, "Pat was a quiet, gentle man. He was a serious educator and always helped those less fortunate than him."

We offer our condolences to the McKee family.

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