With steadfast patriotism, members of the Evergreen Troop Support Group were in downtown Everett on Friday waving American flags. For at least 15 years, since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, they have staked out the northern corners of Hewitt and Colby avenues for lunchtime demonstrations. Last week, they honored one of their own.
Lynnwood’s John McKee, a 79-year-old Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, died April 8. He had suffered from lung cancer, said his wife, Audrey McKee. She was there Friday at the weekly show of support for the U.S. military, accepting condolences as she waved to passing cars.
Officer Mike Bernardi, of the Everett Police Department, was among passersby who stopped to pay respects. “Bless you,” Bernardi told McKee’s 80-year-old widow.
On the sidewalk was a sign Audrey McKee had made, a tribute to the man who until recently was among the small band of loyal flag-wavers. “In Memory of John H. McKee 1938-2018,” it said. Noting that McKee was a retired Air Force master sergeant and Vietnam veteran, it described him as “Loving husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother and friend.” There were also the words “Duty Honor Courage.”
“He was a great man,” said Eva Chapman, who held another sign: “Honoring John McKee American Patriot.” That hand-lettered sign was made by 85-year-old Arlene Noyes, of Everett, a longtime demonstrator who lost a brother in World War II.
With her husband, Cecil Chapman, Eva Chapman has been a regular Friday demonstrator for years. She said her brother, Melvin Lew, served in Vietnam. “People in America take it for granted,” she said. “If it weren’t for the military, we wouldn’t be here.” She recalled McKee as a proud American.
Cecil Chapman, 81, wore a cap that said “Cold War Veteran.” McKee gave it to him, he said.
“I thought to be a true veteran you had to serve in a time of war,” Chapman said. During his Army stint, 1955-58, Chapman was at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, Fort Lewis in Pierce County, Ladd Air Force Base in Alaska, and Fort Lee, Virginia. He is a veteran of the Cold War-era. John McKee bought him the hat that says so.
Information about McKee’s military service can be found on a Library of Congress Veterans History Project website. According to the database, John H. McKee, of Washington state, enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1958 and served until 1979, reaching the rank of master sergeant.
He was part of the Ground Electronics Engineering Installation Agency (GEEIA). While in Southeast Asia, he spent time at U-Tapao, an air base in Thailand, and at Da Nang, Vietnam. Later, in civilian life, he worked as a communications contractor.
Many members of the Evergreen Troop Support Group, the McKees among them, began displaying the stars and stripes in public places shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. They have demonstrated in Mukilteo, Edmonds and Lake Forest Park.
For years, there were counter-demonstrations by the group Everett Peace Action. Anti-war vigils were at noon Fridays on the southern corners of Hewitt and Colby. The two camps rarely engaged in polite conversation. Sometimes, shouts echoed across the street.
“I wouldn’t say we’re friends,” Kevin Moeller, who still waves a big flag on Fridays, told The Herald in 2005. Members of the troop support group said anti-war protesters haven’t shown up regularly for some time.
John McKee also spoke with Herald writers. In 2016, he said the group’s message goes beyond support for the military. “It’s supporting troops, police and all our first responders,” he said.
“John was a very straight-up guy,” said Marysville’s Dexter Mason, 77. Although not a veteran, Mason has been out waving a flag on Fridays for a dozen years. “We’d all like to have peace,” he said. “There are some good people here.”
In 2013, John McKee told a Herald writer, “We’re here to let the GIs know that somebody cares about them.” On Friday, the downtown patriots showed their care for him.
Audrey McKee said the Washington State Veterans Cemetery at Medical Lake will be her husband’s final resting place.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@herald net.com.