In 1945, B.F. McKinney inches away from immortality

Photo by Terry Lewis

Photo by Terry Lewis

ALBANY, Ga. -- B.F. McKinney remembers the moment like yesterday.

As a Marine Corps sergeant, McKinney was standing on the deck of the USS Missouri when the historic photo of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur signing Japanese surrender documents was taken.

In the background are rows of U.S. sailors, soldiers and Marines.

McKinney, 92, held the photo Monday, then pointed to where he was standing -- one-half an inch off the right hand margin of the photo.

"Yep, I was right there," McKinney said, tapping his kitchen table just off the photo."I was just one man away from being immortal."

McKinney, joined the Marines in 1942 and, after graduating in the top four among his platoon of 72 an Parris Island, was allowed to choose Sea School.

"I spent the first few months as a gunner on the battleship New York before my unit was transferred to the heavy cruiser Chicago, McKinney recalled. "I was lucky. I wasn't carrying a rifle and all our action was at sea."

McKinney and his buddies mounted a 20 mm anti-aircraft battery on the cruiser's superstructure.

"We had five- and eight-inch guns firing right over our heads," McKinney recalled. "We were up forward near the bridge, because that was normally the first place the Japs would target.

"We also did a lot of land shelling. When we left an area, everything was burning. We then pulled out and began the disarmament of the islands around Japan. We also blockaded the island. If it moved, we sunk it. Nothing got in or out of there."

In early August, the ship's crew first heard rumors of something big happening at Hiroshima. Less than a week later, there was more rumors.

"When the word came down we had dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki, we knew the war was over," McKinney said. "We went to Tokyo and began occupation. The war was over, things settled down and I was happy not being shot at anymore."

It wasn't until he was on his way home did McKinney learn that there was a fellow Albanian on the Chicago.

"John Hollowell and I were on the Chicago, traveled thousands of miles together and never met until we were both on the same train coming home from California," McKinney said with a chuckle. "He was in the boiler room and I was topside all that time."

McKinney lived in Orlando for a while before returning to Albany in 1956, selling canned meat products for the Lykes Company. In the late '50s he became a partner in Sawyer-McKinney before retiring in the mid-'70s.