Wally Mckee

  Wally Mckee 

  by

             Mike Capron        

 

I met Wally In 1962 during an evening of sharing stories while we were trying to get adjusted to college routine. Our stories were about Charlie Russell and his paintings and his book “Trails Plowed Under”.  Wally was explaining to me the story behind the painting “When Horse Flesh Comes High”.   I thought the painting was about some horse thieves that were being chased by the law and the one dismounting was stopping to help his friend who had his horse shot out from under him. 

 Wally said, “No you got it all backwards.  The man that looks like he is getting off, is actually getting on and leaving his partner to fend for himself”.

I said.”How do you know that Wally” ?

Wally said, “Because both reins are on the same side of the horse and he is an Indian or half breed, because he is getting on the Indian side.  He caught the horse or was holding the horse by both reins and didn’t want to waste time adjusting the reins to the proper side, which he could do after mounting and leaving the scene of opposing gunfire. 

Wally loved this painting along with many other Russell paintings.   In 1962 these prints weren’t available to young college students. I had been a Russell fan for the last couple years and had been studying and coping his pen and inks since the first time I flunked algebra in high school. I hadn’t ever copied one of his oil paintings but I wanted to………this looked like a good excuse to copy a Russell painting………….so I said that I could copy this painting.   I copied it and we made a trade . It still hangs in Wally’s living room or at least it was there the last time I was in Wally’s living room.  This was the beginning of nearly 60 years of Amigoship.

Adventure was the main reason Wally bothered to breath.  It didn’t take much to talk Wally into going on an adventure.  We went to Mexico for a month to help his friend Jesus Seputhala ..sp… to help him with a windmill project. I don’t remember any money being involved, but we saw lots of the Sierra Madre Mountains and we learned a lot about living in adobe houses with wood heat and eating lots of beans, chili and tortillias.  Lots of wagons and teams but not many gasoline filling stations.

We were working and running with Ligon Machine and Tool Works at the time. We were young and climbing windmills wasn’t a worry to us, so running around the countryside working on Windmills was a big adventure to us. We made one trip to Montana to buy used windmills and take them back to Texas to sell. We didn’t make any money on that little excursion either but we saw lots of Charlie Russell art and studied lots of his country that he painted.  We barely made it back to Texas. A couple insurance agents liked our hats and we were out of money to buy gas, so we sold our hats for enough gas money to get back home. Gas was cheap back then and the insurance agents saw a couple windmillers in distress.    We should have got a job selling Insurance when we got back home and quite the windmill truck.   But that didn’t sound very exciting ……..

The 60’s were a busy time for us, lots of excitement….Wally was doing a great job of making a college student. I was busy chasing dreams and having a great time. The draft board found me and said I needed to come take a physical and see if I was qualified for the armed services. I took my physical and passed. They said I had 30 days before I was to report for duty. I told them that I was a business man and needed more time to get my business lined out so I could join the Army. They said I had 30 days unless I wanted to join the Marine Corps.  I told Wally let’s go talk to this Marine Recruiter. The Marine told us that we didn’t have to do anything for 6 months if we would join the Marines for 3 years, and he would guarantee us lots of scenic travel time and plenty of excitement.  I told Wally that this sounded like the best deal to me and  the recruiter told us that we could join on the buddy system and stay together for the full 3 years.

Well almost but not quite, at least we were together for 10 days in boot camp. I could fill a book  on the stories of the next 3 years…………..We stayed in touch by letters, and crossed trails as much as possible………plenty of action.  He went overseas ahead of me and his first letter was  from the Philippines when they were on BLT…….he said they went on a practice mission on one of the Islands and were on sweep crossing some rice paddies…….all very peaceful until one of the water buffalos that was pulling a blow and a Philippine farmer took offense at Wally’s  A-gunner and got him down in the rice and mud, working him over pretty good. Wally said all he could do was get a tail hold of the Water buffalo and drag him off his partner.  Worked out just fine, but Wally couldn’t turn loose of the tail as the bull was wanting some of Wally now, but the buffalo finally saw the A-gunner running down the rice paddy dike and Wally turned him loose to chase the A-gunner, which was a loosing deal for the water buffalo, as the A-gunner was speedy and out running the water buffalo easy. Wally said the A-gunner was from Detroit and he didn’t think there was a car in this kids home town that could beat him for the length of two rice paddies.

I was a couple months behind Wally going to Viet Nam, I had to finish Communications School while Wally was in country with I-3/5.  They were busy with in country operations and during one of these………I think it was Operations Hastings that they ran into a Battalion size ambush of the NVA.   After 3 days and nights of fighting off the NVA and trying to chop a LZ  so they could get airlifted out, it didn’t take much to get them out of there, as their were only eleven of them left, out of 250. Wally was one of them. He was a gunner on a 3.5 rocket launcher.  I got a letter from him when they were stationed in Da Nang after Hastings.  I was stationed on a hill near Ke Sahn and had to go to Da Nang just after they were moved their in order to regroup. I got off a C-135 cargo plane at the airstrip in Da Nang with a Lance Corporal, as we were sent there on Battery business, we were with Whiskey Battery 1/13.   I took care of our business and went to looking for Wally and I 3/5.   That was like looking for a black hair on a black dog, no telling where it was. Lots of Marines and green uniforms in Da Nang in 1967.  We lucked onto a mailman on a motor scooter and we ask him where I 3/5 was ?  He said there was no longer a I 3/5.  He asked, “Who You Looking For?”………..I said corporal JW Mckee…….He said, “You Mean Ole Tex .”   I said sure sounds like him…….he said,”get on and I will take you to him.”  I don’t think we both got on that Vespa motor scooter, but we went to a NCO Club and the mailman said, “He will be in There,”  He was…!!!!!!!  And we had the best visit since bootcamp was the last time we had seen each other.  I had to fly out for Ke Sahn the next day but we found each other later in Okinawa when he was headed home and I was there for R&R…We had another large time and he went stateside and I went back to the DMZ.   Not once did he relate to me his experience in the ambush………it was just part of the war.

We didn’t see each other until our discharge in May of 1968 in Las Cruces, New Mexico.   We were at the Stardust in Las Cruces enjoying some civilian liberties when an old friend walked up and we invited him to sit down. He said he would but he was not very good company at the moment.  He said he was very nervous about the present situation. We said why, life is good, home from Viet Nam and enjoying the freedom of America with friends. He said well all easy for you all to say, but I just graduated from college and now the draft board has me and wants me to join the Army.   We went to applauding and congratulating  him for finishing college, but he said that he wasn’t too excited about the draft situation and the war in Viet Nam. We told him not to worry, we had the solution for that. Just sit down and have a beer with us and then tomorrow go down to your Marine Corps Recruiting office and tell the recruiting officer that you want to become a Marine and you have a college degree. He will be so excited and he will send you to Officer Candidate School. You will become an officer in the USMC and they will send you places full of excitement that you never would believe existed.    He did exactly that, which surprised Wally and I.  We didn’t hear form him for a year and both of us got a 8x11 manila envelope with an 8x10 photo of our friend in full combat uniform with M60 and double banderlo around his chest, he was a lieutenant in Viet Nam, didn’t say what outfit he was with, but it did say……Next Time I See Wally Mckee and Mike Capron I am going to kick their ass.

By That Time Wally and I had become All-American Welders and had gone to Biruit Lebanon and Australia.   I had returned from Australia and was engaged to marry Anne Wilson. Just before the wedding, we were all sitting in a porch swing and Anne was in-between Wally and me. Wally was trying to talk me into not marrying Anne. He said, look how Skip went off and got married and we haven’t heard from him since.  Wally moved in with Anne and  I when we got married.  

Wally was living a life of American dreams, hard work welding long hours on pipelines all over America. Becoming acquainted with lots of welders and Bars everywhere they were working.  During this time Anne and I were working near the Guadalupe Mountains and didn’t have much communications with Wally a few letters but no phones. Wally got married to Kay and they had a little girl named Shelly. We saw Wally very little during this time. They got divorced and not sure all the details but or how long he stayed single.   Not real sure how Gayle showed up or when but shortly after we got to seeing each other more often, even though it was with great effort to get together.  One time Wally and Gayle came to see us when we were working for the Six Bar Ranch north of Van Horn 50 miles. They drove all night through a snowstorm to come see us at Six Bar. The neighbors told us later that they saw a single set of tracks in the snow  coming from Orla Highway and they went from fence line to fence line on the highway. 

Gayle had to be tough as Wally didn’t change many of his single man’s habits when he married Gayle. Gayle would get upset with Wally working all day and drinking until late at night, come home and go to bed, get up go to work and do the same the next day. Gail thought she would make it easier for Wally to spend the night, so she just moved all his clothes out into stacks in the front yard. That way he wouldn’t even have to come into the house, just change clothes and go back to work. Didn’t bother Wally, he just changed clothes in the front yard and went back to work.   It finally embarrassed Gail so much, she said the neighbors got to coming out on the porches to watch Wally change clothes, so she moved him back in the house.  

We all loved Gayle, she could see the humorous side of Wally and tell many stories of their escapades. We were going to the Music Festival of David and Bonnie Ligon when it was in the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces. There was a gate guard with a list of guest and they check your name off the list when you drove through the gate.  Anne and I got Wally and Gayle and were headed to the festival, when we got to the gate guard,  he asked for our names and I told him Mike and Anne Capron and Mr. and Mrs. Wally Mckee………Gayle said, “Not so fast Michael Wayne.”  Turned out Gayle had got upset with Wally and tried to scare him with divorce papers, and they were served faster that Gayle thought possible………..We got in and had a wonderful time. 

Things got smoother and smoother as the years went by, but Gayle had lots of Wally stories. They were together always and Wally wouldn’t  think of being without her.  They bought some land at Maybank TX., moved in and got a little bunch of good looking cows. Happy good times, when phones got into being a personal piece of equipment we talked every Sunday evening.

Anne and I could tell Gayle was aging faster than Wally and we knew that it was going to be hard for Wally if Gayle made the first step to eternity. Gayle went to be with the Good Lord last spring and Wally wasn’t long following her footsteps. I have faith they are together again and I can’t wait to hear the next chapter of Wally and Gayle.

 

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