BRANCH OF SERVICE:
1969 - 1971
SUMMARY OF SERVICE:
Dale H. McKinney served in the Army as a Sergeant E5 in 1969-1971. Stationed in Vietnam, he spent much of his time in a combat unit far away from the base. The Army would send about 20 men out for 30 days on a long-range reconnaissance patrol. The soldiers’ uniforms were the only clothes they had with them and in the jungle heat and humidity, clothing can get quite pungent. Occasionally when they encountered a river or stream, they were able to wash up. “We carried our own water, food, personal items and ammunition for ourselves and sometimes others. I also carried a radio, one of three in the platoon. Backpacks varied from 35 to 50 pounds,” said McKinney.
For food, McKinney and his fellow soldiers had dehydrated LRRP rations to mix with water to make a hotdish. The men had access to C4 plastic to use for explosives which they also utilized to warm up their meals. The fire from the C4 was so hot the flame surpassed the typical yellow or blue flame and went directly to white. People thought they were crazy to use this highly flammable substance to heat up their meals. But these rations were considerably better from the food other soldiers had, as many ate c-rations leftover from WW2.
“Though we were out on patrol, it really wasn’t constant warfare where we were. Our mission was to hide, observe and report movement and let the line company be the aggressor,” said McKinney. “During a month, there would only be about two to three days of combat lasting only about an hour or less. Once a 105-artillery ammunition detonated just 25 feet from me, and I’ve had ringing in my ear ever since.” Other soldiers on combat’s front line saw a much darker side of war.
Their form of communication was vastly different from today’s world. Most soldiers, family and friends communicated by letters. After McKinney was drafted, his son Kris was born in the United States, and he tried to call his wife Linda. The phone connection was so bad back then, he couldn’t really hear anything, so they continued to rely on written correspondence.
McKinney was fortunate to receive care packages on a regular basis. Some of his fellow soldiers never received any letters or packages at all, so he shared his treats with the others. The boxes he received were packed with pages of the Des Moines Register newspapers as stuffing to protect the contents. The “stuffing” became an education source to McKinney and other soldiers to hear what was happening in the outside world.
However, they learned some of news reporting was based on misinformation. There were stories that napalm wasn’t being used anymore which wasn’t true, and it continued to be used in Vietnam. Napalm, a highly flammable sticky substance used in bombs, was consistently used during the war. Napalm flamethrowers were used to burn down jungles. The substance burns longer than gasoline and sticks to its targets, including humans. A Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph often referred to as “the Napalm girl” depicts a naked child running after being burned during a napalm attack. Veterans were sometimes victims of napalm as well. This resulted in long-term physical and psychological effects on the enemy, as well as American soldiers in the war.
Too many Veterans gave their lives in Viet Nam. There remains an on-going battle with the side impacts of their service. Many currently suffer from PTSD, and many more of them suffer from the side effects of exposure to Agent Orange. The federal government and the VA continue to research health issues that are attributed to exposure to this dangerous chemical.
After he returned from service, McKinney received his Bachelor of Architecture from Iowa State University in 1975. He practiced architecture in Iowa for 40+ years, applying his Vietnam leadership skills in business. He was the owner of M+ Architects in Sioux City for 14 years, which was a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB). He merged his business with Stone Group Architects (SGA) in 2018 and retired shortly after. McKinney is honored at the Hinton and Gladbrook, Iowa Veterans Memorials.
A few years ago, McKinney and 17 of his fellow Veterans met in Branson, MO. Though 40+ years had passed since they saw each other, he said it felt like they had just seen each other yesterday. Today, they continue to meet electronically through video zoom meetings.