I was born in Tulare, California, on November 5, 1921 to Charles H. and Bertha McKinney. My dad, a carpenter, and my mom, a homemaker, had five children.
We felt the effects of the Depression in many ways, one especially, in that we had to put cardboard in our shoes to prevent the bottom of our feet from being punctured by the sticker veins common in the area. We grew chickens and had a vegetable garden, which helped to feed the family. I attended Roosevelt Elementary School, Central Grammar School, and Tulare Union High School, where I graduated in 1940. During my last two years in high school, I worked weekends and summers at Lampe Lumber company, where I applied my business education to reading blueprints, taking material lists from the blueprints, quoting costs, selling merchandise, and performing basic bookkeeping duties.
Three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I enlisted in the Army Air Corp and was sent to Tucson, Arizona, where I was assigned to a headquarters squadron at Davis Munson Field. The squadron commander knowing of my previous work experience assigned me to a bookkeeping detail. I didn't want to be doing this. I wanted to fly.
While eating at the mess hall, one day, I became acquainted with some of the gunnery crew from the B17 squadron. They told me the crew was shorthanded and suggested that I transfer over. My squadron commanding officer said, "No!" I was later assigned duty in the school's office where I screened for qualifying personnel to be sent to the different schools. When I noticed that the quota for aerial gunnery school wasn't filled, I spoke with the captain at the school's office and volunteered to go, but he said that I would still need my squadron commanding officer's approval for release. My commanding officer remembered my having previously requested a change of duty, so he told the captain, "If he wants to go that bad, take him!" I left the next morning for Las Vegas, and spent six weeks in flight training school as an aerial gunner. I later signed up for glider pilot training, which is what I wanted to be doing all along.
Flying gliders can be hazardous, especially when on landing. The glider is towed into the air by another plane, and then left to its pilot's devices. After the success of my first night landing in a cargo glider, it was my friend Alfred Heren's turn to fly. He noticed that his wristwatch had stopped running and asked to borrow mine. I pulled it off, handed it to him, and said, "You'd better give it back to me in one piece!" then I left. The next morning, I learned that he had crashed on landing, so I immediately went to see him at the hospital. The doctors had amputated his right leg, thus ending his career as a pilot. Although it was soon after surgery, and he was still out of it, he handed me pieces of metal and glass saying, "Here's your watch!" I still have my watch, in pieces, 60 years later.
In all I flew 18 to 20 missions in Germany, France, Holland, England, Sicily, and North Africa with the 82nd Airborne and the 101st airborne units. I walked away from 6 crash landings, but somehow, I was never wounded.
After serving in Africa, Italy, and Europe during WWII, and experiencing combat, I was glad to receive my discharge as a First Lieutenant and return home. I married Dorothy Damron in 1946, and we had one son, Dennis. I moved my family to Modesto, California, and we were gone several years, but we returned to Tulare in 1984. My wife passed away in February 2003 after 56 years of marriage. In 1948, I became one of 30 charter members of the Captain Manuel Toledo AMVETS Post 56. Only three of the original members are living.
When I was in high school, I learned the basics of business: honesty, diligence, and consideration, getting along with others. After entering the military, I made it a point to know the right officers and enlisted men and to get along with all of them. I believe that our academic and life experiences work together to provide us with a means for experiencing a full and successful life.