General Chester (Chet) McKeen’s experience in the military goes back to 1942 and spans more than three decades. His awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster and three Presidential Unit Citations. He served two tours in Europe and two tours in Vietnam. Now in his 90s and enjoying retirement at The Stayton at Museum Way, McKeen has been inducted into The Army Ordnance Hall of Fame and is proud to have three of his eight grandsons serving with notable rank as well: one as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, another as a Navy Lieutenant, and one as a Marine Lieutenant. For McKeen, Veterans Day is a significant time to reflect and pay tribute to those who serve the nation.
“I was a sophomore in college at the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana and already had experience with ROTC when I decided to enlist in October 1942,” said McKeen. “My dad was very supportive of my decision to serve, but my mom was not too happy about it. Regardless, I completed Ordnance Officer Candidate School (OCS) by June 1943 and received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the Ordnance Corps.”
McKeen was assigned to the 362nd Anti-Aircraft Ordnance Company and did training in Cape Cod. He remained with that group throughout WWII and was deployed to Iwo Jima to support the Marines. McKeen later served two separate tours in Vietnam once in 1960 and then a second time in 1970. He was instrumental in establishing a program to modernize 34 WWII ammunition plants, and from 1972 until 1975, he was in charge of all material procurement for the Army. That meant he was responsible for thousands of contractors in Vietnam handling everything from ship and engine repairs to trucking outfits and operations of ports and depots.
“One major point in my military career was when I was put on a special project for the Secretary of the Army in 1974 and successfully increased the production rates of battle tanks being made from 15 a month to more than 100 a month while also rebuilding older M60 tanks and transforming M48A1 tanks into M60s,” recalls McKeen. “That was a difficult task, and my work doing that was recognized with the Legion of Merit award.”
McKeen’s last assignment as Commanding General of the Tank Automotive Command in Michigan earned him the Distinguished Service Medal, one of the highest honors. After retiring from the Army in 1977, he went to work in Iran with Bell Helicopter until the Iranian Revolution of 1979 ended that project. McKeen returned to serve as Bell’s Vice President of Materiel until 1989. After that, he founded two successful corporations of his own and worked with those for 12 years. Now he enjoys being officially retired at The Stayton and continuing to travel with his wife, Sally.
“During my military service, I just did what I was supposed to do and did it as well as possible,” said McKeen. “I simply never caused any trouble and was successful at the tasks that were given to me. During WWII particularly, I was among the youngest, but that wasn’t something I even thought about at the time. I moved up throughout my military career and was given great responsibility mostly in the logistical nature. ”
McKeen believes that it is important for people to remember that freedom is not free, and no one realizes that more fully than a veteran. Yet, veterans also know that what they do is worth every pain and every trouble or difficult experience. Veterans Day is about acknowledging that.
“We are so proud to have such amazing veterans like Mr. McKeen call The Stayton home,” said Scott Polzin, Executive Director for The Stayton at Museum Way. “It is essential that we take time to hear about their stories and experiences, not only on Veterans Day, but often, and remind them how much we appreciate their service and sacrifices.”
In honor of Veterans Day, The Stayton at Museum Way hosted decorated combat veteran and best-selling author Donovan Campbell for an exclusive Red Carpet Speaker Series™ event. Campbell discussed his experiences as a former U.S. Marine Platoon Commander during his missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and how he became a successful Fortune 500 executive and New York Times best-selling author after his intense military service.
In addition, attendees had the opportunity to get copies of Campbell’s New York Times best-selling book Joker One, his story of courage, leadership and brotherhood, and have him sign them after the presentation.
Images courtesy of Chet McKeen