Joseph Victor McKenny

Joseph Victor McKenny - WWII Hero

Joseph Victor McKenny

Joseph Victor McKenny was a proud Merchant Marine and gave his life for his country May 4, 1943. The documents included below tell the story. He lost his life when the SS Oneida was sunk. For further information, click the link near the end of this page. If you knew Joseph, send an email to Patrick McKenney at email address PMCKENNEY@NACMA.NATO.INT in Brussels, Belgium. Pat will be happy to hear from you.

Picture of Joseph Victor McKenny.


Bad news via Postal Telegraph


His Purple Heart


His Purple Heart Certificate


Conspicuous Service recognized by State of New York


The following was read by Michele, Joseph's niece

Crossing the bar

Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have cross'd the bar.

by Alfred Tennyson

"Crossing the bar" refers to the death of a mariner. The phrase has its origin 
in the fact that most rivers and bays develop a sandbar across their entrances, 
and "crossing the bar" meant leaving the safety of the harbor for the unknown.

Pictured below are Patrick McKenney, Andree McKenney (Joseph's sister-in-law), Michele (Joseph's niece), and David and Hannah (children of Patrick McKenney)


17 APRIL 2003

We are gathered today in this beautiful site to honor the memory of Joseph
Victor  McKenny.

Some of us may recall the last time our family gathered here - fifty paces
down this  road.  In 1969 to bury my father and Joseph's brother, Commander
David Francis  McKenney.

While that day 34 years ago was a sad day for our family, I find our purpose
here today  not sad at all.  Today marks the end of a process that has taken
years to learn about  Joseph, the circumstances of his death and to mark his
memory and his sacrifice for his  nation indefinitely.  This hour will bring
our efforts to a successful close by blessing his  memory, providing Joseph
McKenney with his due military honors and then joining  together in prayer for
the well being of his soul.

In reaching this day, I would like to thank my family and friends for their
support and  patience, the hospitality of the Wilmington National Cemetery and
the participation of St.  Mary's Catholic Church, our former parish.  I would
like to also recognize Congressman  Michael McIntyre, whose office provided
valuable assistance resolving several  issues  regarding this matter. 
Finally, I would like to give a special thanks to the Military Order  of the
Purple Heart and the US Marine detail here today for the presentation of
military  honors.

Who was Joseph Victor McKenny?

I never met Joseph.  In fact, no one here today met Joseph either.  He died
before  almost all of us here today were born; died at a young age in the
service of his country  without the chance to live a long life that many of us
take for granted.

While I never met Joseph, I have learned a great deal about him.  Joseph was
born in  New York City as one of 5 children on Armistice Day, the real
Armistice Day - 11  November 1918.  That day marked the end of the first
terrible World War.  In recognition  of that great event, my grandparents gave
Joseph the middle name Victor, and later his  brothers and sister gave him the
nick name of Pershing, after Gen. John Joseph  Pershing, the Commander of the
US Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War  I.

Joseph grew up in a comfortable home with his parents and brothers and sister.
They  were a happy and close family.  Joseph's father immigrated from Dromara
in County  Down, Northern Ireland as a young man and taught his children to
respect the freedoms  that our nation offered those willing to respect its
laws.  Joseph's brothers and sister  grew to be hard working honorable adults
and Joseph was no exception.  We know little  about his childhood other than
generalities.  As the youngest child, he most likely had  the most attention
and the easiest childhood, and as most boys of Irish-American  descent in New
York City, he attended school as long as he could bear it.  With the 
opportunities that America offered and the ambitions of such children, the
teen-agers  were normally very eager to begin careers and make their place in
the world.

Again, Joseph was no exception.  He entered the merchant marine in 1936 in an 
administrative capacity serving upon commercial vessels sailing between New
York City  and South America and later Europe.  Joseph's dedication to his
work and his search  for more complex duties were soon recognized by his
superiors and he earned a series  of promotions and higher ratings.  Joseph
was awarded a rating as Chief Purser in 1940  at the age of 22, four years
following his entrance into the merchant marine.  Joseph  received high marks
from the masters of the ships upon which he served and was well  liked by his
colleagues and shipmates.  He was described as having a professional  manner
and a good sense of humor...  and had a very successful and promising life 
ahead of him.

With the entry of the Unites States into World War II, Joseph volunteered to
join the US  Navy and serve as a junior officer at sea.  However, due to an
acute shortage of  qualified ships' officers in the merchant marine, the US
Navy requested him to remain in  a civilian capacity and serve his nation in
the transportation of troops and material in  support of the war effort.  To
this end, Joseph enlisted in the US War Department's  Army Transport Service,
an arm of the US Army.  As to be expected he served  admirably aboard vessels
travelling in convoy to Europe with troops and supplies.

On his last voyage, he sailed aboard the US Army Transport Oneida, with a
cargo of  steel, aviation gasoline, explosives and foodstuffs, in a convoy
from New York City  through Guantanimo Bay, Cuba to Australia.  A few days
from port, the Oneida  developed engine trouble in heavy seas, began to take
on water and on 3 May 1943  dropped out of the convoy with two other
"stragglers".  During that evening, in a heavy  storm, the Oneida sighted a
German submarine, almost colliding with that enemy  vessel.  The Captain set a
course for land, Norfolk, VA, and then called the crew and  the gun crews to
general quarters to prepare for an attack from the submarine.  Military  gun
crews were to man their battle stations and civilians were to assemble at
their  muster stations;  all were to don life vests.   As time passed and the
storm worsened,  the captain relaxed general quarters as he thought that he
had eluded the enemy vessel  in the heavy rain and seas.

However, in the early morning hours of May 4, 1943, still in a violent storm,
two  torpedoes struck the Oneida, shaking the ship from stem to stern. The
Captain stated  that he barely had time to give a few superficial orders to
clear the ship  before it began  to sink headfirst into the sea.

The Captain last saw Joseph securing the ship's money and records, which were 
Joseph's responsibility in such a situation and ordered him off the ship, but
Joseph  remained in the cabins to assist others onto the deck.  It was this
action that delayed  Joseph in putting on his life saving jacket, which most
likely resulted in his death.

The Oneida sank 100 miles off the shore of Norfolk, VA about one and one-half
minutes  after the torpedo explosions.

Several US Navy vessels in the area saw the distress flares from the Oneida
and came  to its rescue.  Some of the crew were saved, but Joseph and 35 other
men of a crew of  62 were lost at sea.

Joseph Victor McKenny, a young man of only 23 years, honourable, dependable -
a  volunteer in the service and defence of his nation - died at his duty
station and in the  rescue of his shipmates in the darkness of 4 May 1943. 

Many Americans responded to the call to defend our nation.  They served
unselfishly  until their job was completed.  Some gave years of their lives
and some their life, itself.   Young men, honourable men, brave men.  Men like

Today, sixty years later, near the end of the generation that would remember
these  men, the memory and sacrifice of Joseph McKenny was almost forgotten. 
We now  stand near the stone that commemorates this man and his valiant
actions forever and  we give thanks for that life. 
Patrick McKenney

Memorial Services for Joseph Victor McKenny - Part 1


Memorial Services for Joseph Victor McKenny - Part 2



A thought


Memorial Marker for Joseph Victor McKenny.


Click for information on the SS Oneida

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