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Happy 100th Birthday to Veteran Mel McKenney
2017-07-12

As time passes and stories of veterans of World War II fade, it is important to take the opportunity to hear them whenever we can.  The Town and Country is thankful to Paul C. Mamzic for sharing this story of Mel McKenney as this veteran celebrates his 100th birthday.

 

            Mr. Melville C. McKenney, WWII Veteran and a Pearl Harbor/Guadalcanal survivor, will celebrated his 100th birthday on Sunday, July 9th at the Green Lane Firehouse.

            Mel was born on July 6, 1917 in Sebasco, Maine.  He grew up the son of a

fisherman Mr. James Irvin McKenney, Jr., with two brothers Bill and Gerald, and four sisters Evelina, Verona, Adeline and Theresa.  His Mother Bessie Arita passed away during the birth of Mel's younger brother Gerald.  Mel and his family survived the years of the Great Depression by fishing and bartering their seafood for meats, vegetables and dairy. To help make ends meet, after eighth grade he went to work full time fishing with his father.  Mel decided at age 22 that the life of a fisherman was not for him and he wanted to make a new home for himself. Mel and his brother Bill enlisted in the Army.  Bill was assigned to the 5th Infantry in Panama and Mel joined the US Army, 25th Division.

            In December of 1939 Mel was sent to Oahu, Hawaii with the US Army 25th Division the "Tropic Lightning Division", 27th Infantry Regiment, Company G.  He trained in boot camp as an Infantry Rifleman.

            On the morning of Dec 7th 1941, Mel was in the Schofield barracks when he and his fellow soldiers heard numerous aircraft coming in low over Pearl Harbor.  The aircraft began strafing their barracks and destroyed most of the aircraft on the ground at Oahu and the other island air fields.  Mel's group took up their position on Diamond Head Beach to defend the island manning 50 caliber machine guns.

            Following the attack, the 25th Division began training in Hawaii for jungle warfare in preparation for the coming battles in the South Pacific. In June of 1942, Mel's division left for Guadalcanal via Australia and New Caledonia. 

            The 27th Infantry Regiment arrived at Guadalcanal on December 30, 1942.  Their mission was the final clearing of all enemy positions around Henderson Air Field which had been captured by the US Marines in August 1942 and had been under siege by Japanese forces since the capture.

            During their mission, Mel began suffering very high fevers and was diagnosed with Malaria.  As the 27th Infantry and Mel's Company G made the final push to drive the enemy toward the ocean and off of the Island, Mel passed out during battle on the banks of the Matanikau River.  He remembered nothing after that until awaking on a hospital ship to Caledonia.

            By December 1943, Mel had recovered sufficiently and received a full medical discharge from the Army.   Upon Mel's discharge, he had attained the rank of Corporal, Non-Commissioned Officer and was awarded three Bronze Stars, a US Medal for Foreign Duty and a Good Conduct Medal.  

            He journeyed by train from California to Missouri and finally, home to Portland, Maine. Arriving in the frigid December cold of Portland, he discovered that his clothing bag had been stolen and he had nothing but the light grade khaki shirt and trousers he was wearing. None of this mattered.  After four long years that included Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal and Malaria, he was happy just to finally make it home.

            He returned to Sebasco, Maine and went to work on the wharf at the fish factory.  He also continued fishing with his father. With his savings he bought a home in West Point, Maine.   His Father had been ill with heart trouble for some time and one day in 1944 had been warned by his doctor to go straight home to bed to rest. 

            Mel's Father ignored his doctor and demanded Mel take him with him to pull his lobster traps.  Mel's Father boarded the boat, sat on the stern and fell back, head first into the bay.  Mel pulled him from the water and he died on the shore in his arms; happy in his boots doing what he loved most.

            Not long after his Father's death, Mel saw a beautiful girl walking by the wharf.  It was his future wife Mary Travis on vacation with her boss and his wife from Pennsylvania.  Mel struck up a conversation with Mary and they kept in touch after she left town.  Mel soon decided to quit his job and left his house in West Point, Maine and ironically ended up in West Point, Pennsylvania, in 1945 where he stayed with Mary's brother Frank Travis.  Mel traveled frequently to West Chester, Pennsylvania to court Mary.

            Mel and Mary married in 1951 and moved to North Wales, Pennsylvania where they raised their three daughters Margaret, Theresa and Donna, all of whom still live in the North Penn area.   Mel worked for the Lansdale Tube Company for twenty years and in 1971 Mel started his own commercial cleaning business developing a long list of clients throughout the North Penn area.  Mel raised orchids in his backyard greenhouse and was extremely knowledgeable on the many species of orchids.

            In 1991 after forty years of marriage, Mel's wife Mary passed away in his arms, of congestive heart failure.

            Since 1996 Mel has lived with his daughter and son-in-law Margaret and Dino Colon in Green Lane, Pennsylvania.  Mel now has seven grandchildren and one great grandchild.

            Ironically, born a blue-baby with ricketts, the doctor advised his mother that Mel was not likely to live long.  After Ricketts, Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal and Malaria, Mel has also outlived most of his doctors, many whom had warned him to stop smoking and eat healthier.

            Mel attributes much of his longevity to always keeping a positive attitude regardless of the conditions around him and a motto to keep looking up, not down.


 

 

 

 

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