Veteran Salute: Vietnam vet uses artwork to share story of survival

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A Vietnam veteran said he was not shocked at all when he got his draft notice.

Dennis McKay was about a year out of high school at the time.

He says the draft notice was presented as a greeting from your neighbors, friends, and the president of the United States, however he could never prepare for what he was about to endure.

“There was people killed, and there was people wounded,” Vietnam veteran Dennis McKay said.

McKay wanted to make sure their sacrifices were never forgotten, so he spent years pulling together a book for his family.

“You step off the airplane, and the heat hits you, and you know you are not home,” McKay said.

He was a member of the Big Red One.

“We were there to survive and get through a year,” McKay said.

He documented much of his time in Vietnam by using his talent to create paintings.

One of the pieces of art depicts a search and destroy mission.

“Just going through a village, and see if there was ammunition, see if there was any type of explosives,” McKay said.

He said intelligence would show how the Vietcong was inside the villages, and they would destroy everything.

He remembers one mission when crews couldn’t get to their squadron so the soldiers slept in a bomb crater.

“We ran out of food, no water, luckily, it did rain, and we caught rain in our helmet and that was our drinking water,” McKay said.

As part of the engineer battalion, McKay spent many of his days here.

“That’s a crew like ours,” McKay said.

The road was Highway 13, but it was better known as Thunder Road.

“It was just an old dirt road, and then, we kept it going, then we had to mine sweep and open it up every day,” McKay said.

He said the Vietcong would come in every single night and plant more explosives, and sometimes the enemy came real close to base camp.

“I was on perimeter guard for the company, and we heard an explosion,” McKay said.

The explosion was at the officers club, and he said there were 50 people inside.

“We started by hand, we start digging them out,” McKay said.

He said eight people lost their lives that day.

McKay said no place was safe, and as they were moving through the jungle, they had to watch every step.

“You would hit a tripwire and this would fly, and actually hit you in the head, and actually kill you at that point,” McKay said.

He said then there were the ambushes, McKay said one time they were digging a foxhole when they got pounded.

“We started getting mortared, and then, the medic jumps in and people started screaming for medic and we had to hold the medic back because he wanted to get out and we are still getting shot at,” McKay said.

Even under heavy fire, the troops continued to carry their wounded comrades, including their Platoon Sgt.

“That’s us actually carrying him out, to the chopper, they were going to airlift him out at that point,” McKay said.

He and the other soldiers were awarded a medal for their bravery that day.

“Our blood was rushing, you were trying to hurry and help people because people were screaming for medics, there were a lot of people hurt,” McKay said.

He said its fateful memories like this that inspire him to continue to paint.

“I named this the 10,000 day war,” McKay said.

McKay said is so thankful he survived his time in the jungle.

“I did it, and I was just hoping I would come home, and I did,” McKay said.

Through his artwork and the things found in the pages of his book, McKay hopes his kids and grandkids will know what honoring that draft card truly meant.

“They’ve learned a lot, what I went through, as far as what it was like to actually be in a war,” McKay said.

McKay said one bright spot, was when the Bob Hope USO show came to entertain troops, and he got the special invite to carry the luggage of Raquel Welch.

He said he also got to sit on the front row for the show, and he said that was sure a welcomed change, compared to being shot at.

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