November 30,2005

When C.A. "Mack" McKinney went to Capitol Hill, he got results.

For 34 years, the retired Marine Corps sergeant major dedicated his life to bettering the lives of service personnel. He fought for better military compensation and benefits and rarely came up short.

McKinney died Nov. 15 at age 80, and will be laid to rest Thursday in Arlington National Cemetery. He left behind a legacy of service that touched many in Jacksonville and across the country.

"I've known Mack for many, many years," said Paul Siverson of Jacksonville, a retired Marine sergeant major who was honored in 2004 by the Non-Commissioned Officers Association with the Mack McKinney Award. "The most outstanding American you'd ever want to meet, a marvelous person. We lost a true patriot."

It's nearly impossible to call McKinney anything but. A decorated combat veteran who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, McKinney retired from the Marines in 1971 and then spent the rest of his life pushing for legislation that would aid active-duty military, retirees and veterans.

"He started in D.C. and didn't even have an office," said Michael Rooney of Jacksonville, a retired sergeant major and McKinney award winner. "He started walking the halls over there and became known by all the congressmen."

Working with organizations such as the NCOA, the Marine Corps League and the Fleet Reserve Association, McKinney is credited with convincing congressional leaders to authorize two consecutive double-digit pay raises for military personnel in the late 1970s.

According an article published in 2000 by Navy Times, McKinney helped increase hazard pay for enlisted members to a level on par with officers in the mid-1980s in part by arguing "if a lieutenant is jumping out of an airplane, there was probably a sergeant behind him pushing." Known for his sense of humor and his knowledge of pertinent issues, McKinney was well respected by members of the country's two major political parties.

"He carried a big stick in the halls of Congress," said Siverson. "People listened to him. When Mack spoke, he caught everybody's ear. It's because he knew what he wanted and knew how to go about doing it.

"Anything that comes up that affects active duty forces and their family, Mack had his hand in it. Mack was in everything. I thought I knew a lot, and then he'd be telling me things I didn't even know about."

Joe Houle, a retired sergeant major from Jacksonville, knew McKinney since the twilight of his Marine Corps career and considered him a mentor. Houle won the McKinney award in 1999.

"To me, and to all of us recipients who have ever received the Mack McKinney Award, we feel very privileged to be associated that closely with a man who has given so much to this country," Houle said. "He was a Marine's Marine. He was a person who got up in the morning looking forward to taking care of his Marines."

McKinney, who lived in Alexandria, Va., is survived by his wife of 52 years, three children, six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

The best way to honor McKinney's life is to ensure that active-duty military and veterans continue to have a strong voice, Siverson said.

"He's going to be sorely missed," he said. "Not only by us who knew him very well here in Jacksonville. It's a deep loss for us, but even the people who don't really know him will feel it down the line unless someone goes in there and steps to the plate and hits a home run the way Mack did."

Contact staff writer Chris Mazzolini at or at 353-1171, Ext. 229.