In 1940, Byron left his parents and the small coal mining town of Carbon, Iowa to join the Navy. Mac, who speaks of his dad very lovingly, said of his father's service:?Dad joined the Navy in very early 1940. Typical story of a farm boy seeking adventure somewhere besides walking behind a team of plow horses.?
Byron attended Naval Training Command, Great Lakes, Ill., and reported aboard the battleship USS Colorado (BB-45) as a Machinist Mate. By the summer of 1941, Colorado returned from the Pacific, headed for the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton for a shipyard overhaul, for what the entire crew knew to be an impending war. After the overhaul was complete, Colorado and her crew got underway, headed toward Pearl Harbor. But the battleship turned-back for Bremerton shortly after departure when it suffered a major engineering problem.
While repairs were being made to Colorado, Byron took leave and returned home to Iowa. He had been home for three days when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. When Byron learned of the attack, he made his way back to the Colorado with three of his shipmates, driving three days non-stop.
Repairs were completed in 1942, and Colorado got underway and into the war waging in the Pacific. Byron saw action during the battles of Tarawa, Guam, Leyte Gulf, Mindoro, and the invasion of Okinawa. USS Colorado played a major role in the Pacific campaign through the rest of the war.
Byron was still stationed aboard Colorado when World War II ended, but not before the McKee family suffered a great personal loss.
Byron's brother, Willard, made the ultimate sacrifice for his country on April 27, 1945, two weeks before the surrender of Germany. The oldest of the six McKee siblings, and only 25 at the time of his death. Willard is buried at the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial in France and was awarded a Purple Heart.
In 1944, Byron married his high school sweetheart, Marvel Lola Davis. He served aboard USS Colorado until he left the Navy in 1946. That same year he and his wife welcomed a son, Darwin (Mac), and then joined the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF). A year later, Byron would transition from Soldier to Airman and into America's newest military branch -- the United States Air Force. Again, Byron became a part of military history.
Mac remembers his father as a Sailor, though he retired from the Air Force as Master Sergeant (E7). He recalls his Dad heading the crash boats at Langley AFB, Va., and taking servicemen out on the weekend to fish. During his childhood, Mac had a front row seat to American history. He saw the Panama Canal while his dad was stationed at Howard AFB, he met all the original Mercury Program astronauts while Byron as stationed at Langley, and Mac even remembers Navy astronaut Scott Carpenter's son attending his brother's birthday party.
By the time Mac was a teenager, the country was again at conflict. He was also aware that his family's history had already been tied to the Country's when his father served on the USS Colorado.
He says of the ship's fate: "If the Colorado had not returned to Bremerton, she would have been sitting right where her sister ship (USS West Virginia) had been moored -- at Pearl Harbor. My very existence may have been tied to that shaft malfunction. If dad had been killed at Pearl, my brother, our kids, and grandkids wouldn't be here.?