“I met Terry ‘Spike’ McKinsey in 1966. The country was chaotic and would get worse. But for Terry, the choices were always clear. He was guided by his love of God, family, good friends, and country. He didn’t have to tell you about it, he lived it!”
(Larry Walters, classmate from the Class of 1970 at the United States Naval Academy and long-time friend.)
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On a cloudy afternoon in January earlier this year, the three-volley rifle salute of the full military honor guard echoed at Willamette National Cemetery and a Marine Corps officer handed Anna McKinsey a flag which had draped the casket of her husband, Colonel Terry (Spike) McKinsey USMC (Retired). With a sudden roar, multiple fighter jets from the Portland Air Base flew over those of us gathered for our final farewell to this remarkable man.
The service at the cemetery followed a wonderful memorial mass at The Madeline Parish in NE Portland. It was filled with family and friends, including United States Naval Academy classmates who had traveled from all over the county to be there, members of the Oregon Air National Guard who served with him, pilots from Horizon Airlines where Terry served as Assistant Chief Pilot and just a slew of friends, who treasured their relationships with this family man born in Oregon City on September 11, 1946.
The gathering reflected the impact Spike had on all he met whether through family relationships, the Naval Academy, his professional life or the charitable work he avidly pursued in retirement.
The latter included work for Habitat for Humanity, Medical Teams International and serving as Vice President of Operation Healing – a non-profit that provides wounded veterans with outdoor experiences to aid in their rehabilitation. He also counseled troubled veterans in the Oregon State Prison system.
I first met Terry and his long-time friend and class-mate, Larry Walters, when we were on a 3/c mid-shipman (in Academy lingo “youngster”) cruise in the summer of 1967 between my freshman and sophomore year. Terry and Larry were also shipmates on their first-class midshipman cruise in the Mediterranean Sea on the USS Allagash -AO 97.
Larry flew out from South Carolina and was a pall bearer at the memorial service.
They were midshipmen from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, while I was in the Naval ROTC program at Oregon State and we were on the same Navy destroyer – the USS John R. Craig (DD 885) a WW II vintage “tin can.”
Thirty midshipman spent about eight weeks as the lowest status crew members, wearing our sailor dixie-cups with a blue band around them – swabbing decks, sweating on midnight watches in the boiler and engine rooms, standing watch as lookouts on the ship’s bridge and to the amusement of the crew, learning naval terminology – the walls are “bulkheads” and the stairs between deck levels are “ladders” which take you “topside” or “down below.”
We quickly discovered that Terry and I graduated from cross-town high school rivals – he West Linn High School and me Oregon City High School. Although he was two years older, I knew of Terry based on his athletic accomplishments at WLHS where he was an outstanding catcher on the baseball team.
He earned multiple letters by serving as the catcher for his cousin, Ed Danill, one of the best young pitchers in Oregon and known for his knuckleball which was not only incredibly difficult to hit, but also to catch.
According to his son, Mike, when Terry would periodically signal for a fast ball, Ed would “mess with his head” by throwing a wicked knuckleball, laughing as Terry struggled to contain it. Terry also played varsity baseball at the Academy.
As a result of that connection, we bonded, and the three of us and another midshipman from the University of Kansas named Ken Guest, hung out when we had liberty in San Diego – our home port – in Hawaii while docked at Pearl Harbor and in San Francisco while making a three-day port call.
Before continuing with Spike’s story, I should let you know why he garnered the title – Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter. Besides visiting and reviewing bars, pubs and breweries, each quarter on this blog, I “honor” an individual who may or may not have anything to do with bars or beers.
Past recipients- almost all of whom I have known personally – have included authors, athletes, media personalities, academicians and military veterans. They all have interesting stories, have notable achievements in their careers and deserve recognition for their contributions to make it a better world.
Four in the last category, who like Terry, distinguished themselves in their military service, include George GM “Jud” Blakely, my SAE fraternity brother at Oregon State who was awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, while serving as a USMC 2nd Lt. platoon commander in Viet Nam in 1966-7.
Ensign Doug Bomarito, who like Spike, graduated from the Naval Academy although earlier in the class of 1968, received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart while serving as patrol officer attached to Patrol Boats River (PBR) of a River Division near the Cambodian border in 1970.
Steve Lawrence, who while serving as an Army Second Lt. in Viet Nam received both a Silver Star (1968) and Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster in 1969.
And finally, my youngest brother, Retired Captain Rick Williams USN, who, after commissioning as an ensign, first served as a Navy hard-hat diver and concluded his twenty-five year career as skipper of the nuclear sub USS Spadefish (SSN-668).
The links embedded in their names above, will take you to their stories as related on Thebeerchaser.com.
But now back to Spike McKinsey with an important note before you read the remainder of this account – admittedly long, but required to adequately reflect the venerable life of this native Oregonian.
Note: At the end of this post, are two narratives – the first entitled “The Steamroller Escapade,” written by high school classmates and lifelong friends, Dave Lofgren and Mike Martindale in February 2019 to memorialize this incredible story when Terry was home on summer leave from Annapolis.
Regardless of whether you knew Spike personally, you will want to read the adventure involving the hi-jacked steamroller. It lends insightful credence to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s assertion: “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them!”
The other is a heartfelt tribute written by close friend and fellow aviator, Lyle Cabe, describing Terry’s background and leadership as a fighter pilot when they flew together in the Air National Guard. Both narratives are superbly written and I hope you read them to get more insight into why Spike McKinsey is held in such high esteem by all who knew him. I guarantee that you will enjoy them.
Terry and Larry both graduated from the USNA in 1970 and both took the Marine Corps option – Larry become a Marine infantry officer and Terry a Marine jet pilot after completing flight school in Pensacola.
After the 1967 cruise, I reconnected two years later when I visited both of them at the Academy while I was on a trip to Washington DC for the Reserve Officers’ Association National Convention my senior year in college.
We laughed on that visit as we recounted stories from the 3/c cruise, most notably, the illustrious, but misguided adventures we had in San Francisco.
After the formal Midshipman Ball at the St. Francis Hotel which we attended in dress whites, we changed into civilian clothes and rented a room in a cheap, high-rise hotel right in the heart of the City.
Since Terry was almost 21 and looked older because of his formidable physique, he bought the beverages which “nourished” us that evening and resulted in massive hangovers the next day – most notably for me since I had a morning watch and had to take a taxi back to the ship at the crack of dawn while the other three recovered until the noon checkout time.
Terry and Larry also chuckled at my naiveté for signing for the room at check-in and providing my VISA card. (I still can’t figure out why the hotel didn’t subsequently bill me for the desk lamp that we broke when one of us – I think Larry – stumbled into the table and it crashed to the floor.)
After his USMC service, in which Terry distinguished himself as a fighter pilot ( he earned the nickname “Spike” from his reputation for “hard” runway landings) he returned to Oregon in 1978 with his sweetheart, and now wife, Anna Kucynda, who he married right after graduation in the USNA Chapel.
He flew for the Oregon Air National Guard and as a result of his charismatic leadership skills, became the Base Commander from 1989 to 1985. (See Lyle’s commentary for a detailed description of that service.)
Flash forward to 1985 – almost twenty years since our summer on the John R. Craig. The four cruise buddies, after military service and being immersed in separate careers, had lost touch (except Larry who regularly visited with Terry and his family).
Larry served his six-year obligation in the Marine Corps. Two years after that, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve and also went on to retire as a colonel and served in Desert Storm.
It is easy to see how Larry and Terry’s friendship was so strong and lasted more than fifty years. They epitomized “The Few and the Proud.” Larry Walters has the same solid and outstanding character that personified his Academy classmate and friend.
I was working as the Business Manager at the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt law firm in downtown Portland. We were hiring an executive assistant and one of the applicants was a young man who worked in an administrative capacity at the Air Base.
One of his references was a Colonel Terry McKinsey and in the interview, I asked him if his commanding officer was a tall, blond guy who had flown fighters for the Marine Corps. He responded in the affirmative. I called the Air Base and asked the receptionist to connect me with Colonel McKinsey.
I identified myself only as Mr. Williams, but told Spike that I was checking references on one of his employees – we’ll call him John Doe, who had applied for a job at the law firm. Terry said he would be glad to respond and that John was a very good employee. The conversation then went like this:
Williams: “Colonel, while one of the reasons for this call is to check a reference on John Doe, I have concerns about using the information you provide based on lingering concerns about questionable activities during your 3/c midshipman cruise while on liberty in San Francisco.
Isn’t it true that you purchased hard liquor while you were still a minor and that you and your shipmates broke a hotel room lamp, left the room in a mess when you left, and didn’t even leave the maid a tip for cleaning it up?
Thirty seconds of silence followed.
McKinsey: “Don Williams, you SOB! How have you been after all these years? When are we going to get together?”
Well, we did get together for a subsequent lunch which was incredibly meaningful for all of us there. As background, Terry after graduating from West Linn HS, enlisted in the Army but had the dream of attending one of the military academies. He ended up receiving appointments from Congressman Wendell Wyatt to both West Point and Annapolis, but chose the latter.
He had never met the Congressman, who became a named partner at the law firm after he retired from Congress.
Larry Paulson and I asked Wendell if he would join us for lunch with his former Academy appointee. Larry, another partner in the law firm who was a Brigadier General and the Chief of Staff for the Air National Guard, worked with Terry in the Guard before retiring. Before being promoted to General, he was the lead Staff Judge Advocate. After Schwabe, he became the Executive Director of the Port of Vancouver before retiring in 2012.
We had a wonderful lunch and it was memorable hearing Terry express his appreciation to the Congressman and Wendell reciprocating by telling Spike how his outstanding service and patriotism had totally affirmed Wyatt’s decision to make the appointment in 1965. The conversation was particularly poignant since Wendell was also a fighter pilot – in the South Pacific during WW II.
It would be easy to go on – and I will with two final examples which help convey Terry’s personality, his zest for life and his impact on all he met. But perhaps this excerpt from his obituary sums it up the most eloquently:
“During his 72 years, Spike’s undeniable strength, unconditional kindness, and unquestionable integrity made a lasting impact on his friends, colleagues, and family….. Spike lived a life true to his values. He stood for what is right and didn’t hesitate to step in when he saw injustice in action. He loved fishing, baseball, ice cream, 1950s pop music, and the country he served with all his heart.”
My wife and I recently returned from a week in Phoenix and sat behind an off-duty Horizon Airlines pilot who was flying back to Portland with his family. Terry had served as Assistant Chief Pilot and voluntarily retired in 2010 to prevent a young pilot from losing his job due to budget cuts.
Since the pilot in front of us was about my vintage, I asked him if he knew Terry McKinsey. His immediate reply: “I along with all the other pilots, loved Spike McKinsey and I was terribly saddened that I could not attend his memorial service because I was flying.”
And finally, the story I referenced earlier as eloquently written by Terry’s close high school friends, Dave Lofgren and Mike Martindale, entitled “The Steamroller Escapade.” The caper involved Terry, Dave and Mike – all former WLHS classmates. I remember hearing Spike relate it on our summer cruise and every time I now read it, I can’t help but laugh again at the multiple images it evokes.
(By the way, Dave could not remember the name of the Police Chief who made the decision you will read about below in 1968, but thanks to Cheryl at the West Linn Library Research Desk, I learned that it was the late Chief John Stephens. He deserves credit for his judgment and common sense which could have otherwise jeopardized Terry’s graduation from USNA and a stellar career in the military afterwards.)
Terry passed away after a short illness which he handled with the grace and courage that characterized his life. Spike’s surviving family includes Anna and his sister, Julie.
Also his daughter and son, who are a wonderful credit to the family life and the values he and Anna instilled – Krista (husband Mike) and Michael. Terry and Anna’s three grandsons, Ezra, Eli and Leo also participated in the Mass of Christian Burial at The Madeline Parish.
You can honor Spike’s memory with a gift to the Coastal Conservation Association of Washington to support salmon conservation work.
And as aside, the moving service and celebration of Spike’s life reminded me not to procrastinate when things seem busy and to make past, but cherished relationships, a priority. I had skimmed over Spike’s number in my i-Phone multiple times during the last few years with the intention to call him and schedule another lunch or a beer. That opportunity was lost when Larry called and told me that he was flying out for our friend’s memorial service.
And as a result, after some on-line research and a number of phone calls, reconnected with Ken Guest – the fourth midshipman who none of us had seen or talked to since disembarking from the John R. Craig for the last time at the end of the summer in 1967.
Ken, served four years active duty as a naval surface line officer and had a successful thirty-five year career as a dentist in Salina, Kansas before retiring.
Besides a long phone call I had with him, we reconnected with Larry by e-mails and relived old memories, all of them involving Terry McKinsey.
We also lamented the fact that our first ship was decommissioned on 27 July 1979 and the John R. Craig was ignominiously sunk as a target in naval war exercises off the coast of California on 6 June 1980. And by the way, neither Ken nor Larry admitted to being the one responsible for the broken lamp……!
The Steamroller Escapade
(By Dave Lofgren and Mike Martindale – February 2019)
Terry McKinsey had come home to Gladstone, Oregon following his plebe year at the United States Naval Academy. It was summer and Terry (who had not yet been christened “Spike”), our friend Mike Martindale and I went into Portland on Friday night to hit a few night clubs and bars.
We drove past our alma mater, West Linn High School, on the way and we noticed a steamroller parked in a gravel lot near the school.
The steamroller reminded us of the time our friend Billy Wrigglesworth’s older brother Jim had gotten drunk and stolen an army tank from the Lake Oswego Oregon National Guard Armory. He drove the tank three miles to the Marylhurst University campus and pointed the tank gun at the administrative building before being arrested and thrown in jail. The story of the stolen tank became a legend known to young and old as the most incredibly brazen and stupid stunt anyone had ever heard of.
Marylhurst University was a few miles past the high school and when we drove by we couldn’t stop laughing about someone stealing a tank. By the time we got to Portland our minds were fully consumed with the tank and Billy’s brother’s heroics and we began thinking…
…..Bolstered by a few beers, but intoxicated with the vision of the tank legend and feeling very brazen and stupid ourselves, we decided to create our own legend. We left Portland and headed for the steamroller.
When we got to the high school the steamroller was still sitting there. It was a big, diesel-powered compaction roller with a huge front drum and giant rear wheels beckoning us to jump on and start it up. Mike Martindale had a gorgeous cousin named “Teri” who lived up the hill behind the school and we decided the only proper course of action at that point was to steal the steamroller and drive it up the hill to Teri’s house.
We parked our car near the steamroller and climbed up into the cab and discovered to our great (mis)fortune a key in the ignition. We turned the key to “on” and “VARROOOM” the big diesel-powered beast started up! It was about 1:30 in the morning and as dark and quiet as night in the suburbs should be when we jammed it into gear.
McKinsey, in the best naval tradition of Admiral David Farragut at the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864, shouted, “DAMN THE TORPEDOES – FULL SPEED AHEAD!” and the big machine started lurching across the parking lot with a loud “CHUG-CHUG, CRUNCH-CRUNCH, RUMBLE-RUMBLE, GRIND-GRIND” sound that must have been heard several blocks away.
We got to the road in a couple minutes and when we tried to turn the machine onto the road and up the hill toward Teri’s it just kept crawling straight ahead, across the road and into someone’s back yard.
We were hollering and whooping it up and headed straight for a tall hedge when suddenly flashing lights appeared from the road below the high school. Martindale saw the lights first and yelled “SHIT! – COPS!” and we killed the engine and bailed out of the cab onto the neighbor’s yard. We all ran off in different directions and hid behind bushes but it didn’t take long to get caught.
The officer parked his patrol car next to ours and then sat there and waited us out, knowing we eventually had to come back to our car. We tried sneaking back to the car one at a time but the officer spotted us easily and invited us to join him in the back of his car. It was very late and the officer was very pissed off. He gave us a lecture about waking up the entire neighborhood on a joyride with a steamroller that didn’t belong to us and told us we were in deep shit.
He told us he should take us to jail but since it was the middle of the night he would let us go on our own recognizance if we promised to appear in front of the West Linn Police Chief at 8:00 AM the next morning. This was, of course, promised.
We got home about 3:00 AM. At 7:00 AM the next morning we told our parents we were going to play tennis. They knew that was BS from our obvious hangovers and the fact that casual slacks and button-down shirts weren’t exactly tennis attire but that was our story when we left with tennis rackets in hand for the West Linn Police Department.
When we arrived at the police department, a not-so-friendly female officer told us the police chief would see us in a few minutes. The chief let us sit there for a good fifteen or twenty minutes wondering what our punishment would be. Then he summoned us into his office.
The chief told us to sit down. He asked us a few questions about driving a steam roller that didn’t belong to us in the middle of the night in a quiet neighborhood and “read us the riot act” for our behavior. He said the resident who called the police on us and whose yard we had driven onto wasn’t going to press charges because we hadn’t destroyed his hedge or done major damage to his yard.
The chief was looking at the report the officer who captured us had filed and seemed to be trying to decide what kind of punishment would be appropriate when he suddenly asked, “Which one of you is from the U. S. Naval Academy?” Terry was sitting between Mike and me and he jumped to his feet and shouted, “Me Sir!”
The chief told Terry to approach his desk and Terry snapped to attention in front of him. He asked Terry a few questions about the Naval Academy to which Terry barked out replies and then the chief said, “Mr. McKinsey do you think taking a steam roller for a drunken joy ride onto someone’s yard in the middle of the night would be looked upon favorably by your commanding officer at the Academy?” Terry was standing stiff as a stone statue and loudly replied “No sir! He would not, sir!” to the chief’s question.
After a few more questions that elicited similar sharp responses from Terry the chief told him he could sit back down. He asked Mike and me a few perfunctory questions about our joy ride. Then he informed us in his most authoritative manner that he admired Mr. McKinsey’s patriotism and desire to become a naval officer.
He said he did not want to jeopardize Terry’s future as an officer and he would not be pressing charges against us or informing the Naval Academy of Mr. McKinsey’s behavior.
He told us that Mr. McKinsey had saved our asses and we had him and ONLY him to thank for not receiving punishments. Then he told us we were free to go but if he ever saw us in his office again he would “throw the book at us”.
That, as Mike Martindale and I recall, was the “The Steamroller Escapade”. We never did see Mike’s cousin Teri which in hindsight was probably a good thing. We did manage to play tennis later that morning with splitting headaches.
Mike and I still owe our pal Terry (“Spike”) McKinsey a beer for saving our asses that day and I can still see the flashing lights coming over the hill and hear the “chug-chug, crunch-crunch, rumble-rumble, grind-grind” of the steamroller as it traveled across the gravel parking lot.
I’ll bet Terry can still hear it, too.
A Tribute to Spike McKinsey
by Lyle Cabe
Forty years of being friends and comrades in arms provides many stories and characterizations to draw from to describe Terry “Spike” McKinsey. Spike [the flying call-sign for how he landed airplanes], was unique in many ways, one of which is that he served in all four branches of the service – Army, Navy, Marines and he finished his military career flying F-15 Eagles for the Air Force.
Spike’s character and integrity are what really sets him apart. I have described him as John Wayne, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger all wrapped up into one fine gentleman. There are stories to support each personification, but not enough room in this writing to describe each.
A few years later, as the 142d Fighter Wing transitioned to the F4 Phantom, because of Spike’s Marine F4 experience, he was made an Instructor Pilot. This began his supervisory role in the unit which led him all the way to a seven-year stint as the Commander of the Wing.
Throughout the years of our friendship, we learned that we both loved beer. I am a self-proclaimed IPA snob; however, Spike had a propensity towards German Lager. This is most likely because in the mid-1980s he was selected to be the Flying Operations supervisor for the first ever Air National Guard, Air Sovereignty Alert in Western Germany.
The Air Force unit was upgrading to a newer jet and the ANG was tasked to set up, train and execute Alert for six months on the East/West border of Germany. This was the tip of the sword and if it wasn’t done right it was an international incident. Spike was tasked with ensuring that aircrew on alert were trained and up to the task. The day came for the ANG to start alert and Spike was the flight lead for the armed F4 alert aircraft that were to ensure the sovereignty of West Germany air space.
Within a couple hours of starting the alert, the Scramble Klaxon went off with the warning that MIGs were heading toward them. The F4s scrambled flawlessly and the MIGs were turned around, returning to their base. They were testing the changeover of Alert responsibility — Spike and the Air National Guard stood tall in the big spot light.
I think Spike loved fishing more than flying as we have spent many a day together, wetting lines. We’ve had days where we have caught fish and we’ve had days when we were blanked, yet the fellowship of being together was always the high point of the day.
We always toasted each other, at the end of the day, with a victory or defeat beer. The toast was always, clinking our beers together, “to a gentleman and a scholar” to which Spike would always retort “and damn few of us left”. Well there are even fewer now that he is gone.
(Lyle Cabe, after Basic Training, was first an Admin. Specialist in the 123d Fighter Squadron, received a direct commission, went to pilot training and retired as the Commander of the 142d Fighter Wing where he flew with Spike. His last temporary duty assignment was commanding 400 OreANG members in Prince Sultan AB, Saudi Arabia – flying combat missions into Iraq.)