While young people today plan their life after college — an exciting career, an advanced degree, or maybe travel, John McKeon ‘63, like many young adults at the time, received his fate in the mailbox.
“Kathy and I graduated from the University of Dayton, married two weeks later on August 17, 1968. When we returned from our honeymoon, I received notice to report for a physical. Translated, this pretty much meant ‘get ready to go’ — you will be serving.” John and Kathy started their married life apart as John soon entered the military.
John was employed at Data Corporation working on priority contracts for the government. His company pushed hard to keep him. His job deferment was denied and in January 1969, he became part of a new family — the U.S. Army.
“I had a great job, a wife, a great life. It was heaven on earth. That all changed when I joined the Army. My dad served in WWII and I was almost a year old before my father saw me. I knew the sacrifices an entire family endures when someone leaves to serve in the military.”
John began his basic training in Ft. Jackson, SC, taking one day at a time until getting his permanent assignment. He vividly recalls the words of his senior Drill Sergeant Nine, “Gentleman, Private McKeon is going to Vietnam.”
“I traveled from Ft. Lewis to McChord AFB to Anchorage, to Yakota AFB Japan, to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam to my final destination, Long Binh, Vietnam. Oh my God, what a different world, what a different place. And everything that went with it. My tour lasted a year.”
“I was a lot safer than a lot of the guys over there, but there were times when there were rounds going over the top — our rounds going out, their rounds coming in. You could hear them whistle and we were praying that one wouldn’t come straight at us. When things were going on, I’d hunker down in a bunker. I wanted to live.”
John made it through his tour of duty, but there were no parades or celebrations when he came home. “We were told, when you get to wherever you are going, get out of those uniforms — it is not safe on the streets.”
His family planned a small welcome home event, and that was enough for him. He knows that he was one of the fortunate ones. “I made it home, but Bill didn’t.”
John is still visibly shaken when he speaks of his good buddy, William Kerry Taylor ‘64. They became good friends at UD. After school, they went their separate ways. Bill got his Master’s degree and then put in his active duty.
“Bill went through advanced ROTC and may have graduated first in his class. He had everything going for him — he was so smart, he was the best husband, the best dad,” said McKeon.
On June 5, 1971. Bill was on patrol when he was killed by a sniper in the Thua Thein province of South Vietnam, and was awarded the Purple Heart.
John has a poster hanging in his garage that he looks at every day.
“It reminds me of the many great guys we lost. We cannot forget the sacrifices made by so many people,” he said. “I made it home, to cherish each day, hug my wife and count my blessings.”
-- This story was published on Nov. 12, 2020.