Local veteran turns 98

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William McKenney, a Madison County veteran, celebrated his 98th birthday on Tuesday.

Another local Madison County hero has celebrated an important milestone.

On Tuesday, William McKenney celebrated his 98th birthday surrounded by loved ones.

McKenney was 19-years-old when he was drafted into World War II in the 1940s.

"I didn't fight," McKenney explained about his time in World War II. "I'm a peace-lover."

He became a private first class and worked as someone who unloaded ammunition from allied ships.

Those skills stuck.

"He's very good now at loading and unloading the trunk of the car," Nancy McKenney, his daughter, joked.

"I went to some exciting places, and sometimes I had some exciting experiences for myself, and sometimes I just saw the remains of what was left, and someone else had experienced it," McKenney said.

One of McKenney's most significant moments during World War II was when he found himself on Omaha Beach in Normandy, just one day after D Day on June 6, 1944.

"It was one of the biggest days in American military history," McKenney said of D Day. "… I was lucky enough that I didn't get there until the seventh."

Despite the fact Germans were no longer shooting while troops unloaded onto the Omaha Beach when McKenney got there, there was still fighting going on further inland. So, McKenney, a part of the 517th Port Battalion, began to unload supply ships. As the fighting raged on, those who were further inland began to run out of ammunition.

There were ships offshore which held ammunition, but they were fighting dangerous waves and could not easily be unloaded.

McKenney said he and others in his crew received the call to unload the vessels even with the dangerous waves. Try as they might, McKenney said they could not unload anything from the ships.

Bad luck followed them back to shore.

On their way back, they hit a German landmine.

Two were killed in the explosion, and McKenney was wounded.

The veteran said he spent the rest of the war in a hospital recovering from his injuries.

A previous Register article outlines the injuries McKenney sustained: the wrist and elbow of his left arm were broken, and he acquired radial paralysis. He had to have multiple surgeries and months of therapy.

"I believe I was in the hospital for 245 days," McKenney said. By the time McKenney was released from the hospital, the war was over, and he was discharged.

The one thing McKenney remembers the most about the war was getting the Ruptured Duck pin, an honorable discharge pin.

"During the war… That's what everybody wanted… That means you're now a civilian, and no soldier can tell you what to do," McKenney said.

McKenney was originally from Falmouth, but he used the GI bill for injured veterans to attend the University of Kentucky once he returned home. He got both a bachelor's and a master's degree. Years later, he attended Florida State University, where he earned his Ph.D. in education. He taught at Georgia Southern University for a few years, but he said his wife soon became homesick and wanted to return to Kentucky.

McKenney then began a 20-year-long employment with Eastern Kentucky University teaching education classes.

McKenney now lives at Telford Terrace in Richmond and is visited regularly by his daughter.

On Tuesday, the celebration of his 98th birthday was momentous.

Family and friends gathered at Baldwin Farms to help McKenney usher in the next year of his life, with many more happy years wished upon him.

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