Jim McKinney is a Navy man. So was his father and so is his son.
Jim was a career naval officer who served during the Cold War as a commodore of a squadron of hydrofoil boats in Key West equipped with Harpoon, ship-to-ship guided missiles. His father, Adm. Eugene McKinney, was skipper of two World War II submarines: the USS Salmon and the USS Skate. He received three Navy Crosses and a Silver Star for Valor for the combat missions he made. Brad, Jim’s oldest son, is the commander of the Explosive Ordinance Department at the Navy’s facility at Panama Beach.
Jim joined the Navy in 1955 as a swabbie to get his military obligation out of the way before going to collage. Because he made good grades on his entrance exams he ended up at the Naval Academy Preparatory School. A year later he enrolled at the academy.
“I have no idea whether the fact that my father was an admiral at the time had anything to do with me getting into the academy,” he said.
Four years later, in 1960, Ensign James McKinney graduated from the Naval Academy and went to sea aboard the destroyer Black (DD-666) stationed in Long Beach, Calif.
“It was during my first tour of duty aboard the USS Black I distinguished myself. I was instrumental in forcing a Soviet submarine to surface,” the 73-year-old North Port, Fla. resident who lives in Heron Creek subdivision said. “The primary duty of a destroyer was anti-submarine warfare. We were equipped with a sonar system that allowed us to go out searching for Soviet subs.
“It was 1961 and the Black was sailing in the Sea of Japan with a carrier task force, a hunter-killer group, looking for enemy subs. We caught up to what was believed to be a submerged Soviet submarine and stayed with it for three days,” McKinney said. “We knew it would soon have to surface to recharge its batteries or send up a snorkel to breath air to keep the engines going submerged.
“The Soviet sub sent up its snorkel. The snorkel had a flap on the top that precluded a wave from coming over the top and ingesting the sea water into the system. I was the chief engineer aboard destroyer at the time and also in charge of fire control aboard ship.
“I approached the captain and told him if he would allow me I could attach a nozzle to a high pressure hose and douse the flapper valve with sea water which would close the flap and prevent the crew of the Soviet sub from recharging its batteries. He thought about that for a while and decided that might be considered an aggressive act on our part. A while later he told me, ‘Go ahead and do it.’
“We were about 150 feet away from the snorkel dousing it with water when the sub surfaced just about daybreak. The skipper of the Soviet submarine had no other alternative but to surface. He had no idea we had forced him to the surface with our hoses,” McKinney said.
“Our crew was cheering as the Soviet sub came up. We took pictures of the submarine to prove we had accomplished our mission. The admiral in command of the 7th Fleet promised to give the commander of any ship that forced a Soviet sub to surface a rare case of Scotch whiskey. Shortly after we docked at 7th Fleet headquarters in Yokosuka, Japan the admiral came down to the dock and presented our skipper with his case of Scotch. My commanding officer set one of the bottles aside for Ensign McKinney,” he recalled with a smile.
Some years later, in the mid 1960s, Lt. McKinney was serving as Naval Attache in Caracas, Venezuela when he barely escaped capture and probable death at the hands of FALN Communist insurgents.
At that time in Venezuela the FALN were kidnapping and assenting U.S. military officials to draw publicity to their cause. McKinney and his family were living in the former Venezuelan Minister of Defense’s home on the outskirts of the capital city. It had a 12 foot block wall around it and steel bars on the windows of the home.
“One morning in the summer of 1965 I was summoned to the U.S. Ambassador’s office for a closed-door briefing by the CIA station chief,” he said. “I was told I was going to be targeted for assassination in the coming days by FALN insurgents.
“I was provided a bullet-proof sedan and an armed driver plus a Venezuelan Marine would ride ‘shotgun’ with me in the front seat. In addition, I was given a .45 pistol to carry in my attache case and a semi-automatic shotgun and plenty of ammunition to keep at home.
“One evening a few days later I received a phone call from someone who said he was with the FALN. The caller said the Venezuelan Marina at the front gate had been captured and the house was surrounded by insurgents. I sent my wife and two young sons upstairs to a more secure bedroom.
“I attempted to call the Marine guard at the American embassy for help only to find that I couldn’t get through on the phone line,” McKinney said. Our two young German shepherds were barking their heads off at voices outside the house. Expecting an imminent attack I posted myself with my pistol and shotgun at the only entrance the insurgents could use to get in the house.
“At this point a roving patrol truck with a dozen armed Venezuelan soldiers miraculously appeared out of the night and engaged the insurgents. There was a lot of shouting and short shooting skirmish then total silence. Two FALN insurgents were killed and six were captured.
McKinney spent two years in Key West in the mid ’80s as commander of a squadron of hydrofoil ships each equipped with eight Harpoon ship-to-ship missiles that could sink an air craft carrier or a battleship 90 miles away.
“These were like gold plated PT boats used in World War II. They were 170-feet long, could reach speeds approaching 60 mph and run along like this for 10 hours,” he explained. “It just so happened that Key West was 90 miles from Havana Harbor.
“We could set at dockside in Key West and take out one of Castro’s ships in Havana Harbor. If our hydrofoils hadn’t been there the Navy would have had to send a carrier battle group to Key West. Rather than using a sledge hammer to swat a fly the Navy used our hydrofoils instead of the carrier group.”
Much of the time in Key West, McKinney and his hydrofoils chased cigar boats running marijuana from a mother ship off shore to the beach.
“We worked closely with the Coast Guard helping them run down drug runners. The Coast Guard didn’t have anything fast enough to catch these cigar boats so we volunteered our hydrofoils,” McKinney said. “We were able to track down the mother ship and make many drug busts. We painted a green marijuana leaf on the side of our hydrofoils for each bust.”
He wrapped up his 34 year Navy career in 1989 as commander of the Amphibious School in Little Creek, Va. After decades in the military, McKinney got a teaching certificate and taught math in high school and middle school in the Virginia Beach area for eight years.
He and his wife, Betty, moved to Florida in 1997. They came to Heron Creek in 2000 after living down in the Fort Myers area several years. The couple have three grown children: Amanda, their daughter, teaches school; Michael, their youngest son is in the communications business; and Brad, their oldest, is a Navy captain.
Name: James Bradley McKinney
D.O.B: 8 Feb. 1937
Hometown: Honolulu, HI
Current: North Port, Fla.
Entered Service: 1955
Rank: Navy Captain
Unit: USS Black, USS Radford, USS Farragut, USS Wimble, Hydrofoil Squadron Two
Commendations: Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Bronze Star, US Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation, Legion of Merit Award, Joint Service Commendation Medal
This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011. It is republished with permission.