A life of Service

Ken McKenna - A Life of Service

Ken McKenna – A journey through the decades

On April 19th, 1940, the world welcomed an extraordinary man, Ken McKenna. From his early years as an apprentice to his role in the Vietnam War and his continued commitment to a veteran support organization, Ken’s journey has been one of resilience, compassion, and above all else, community.

At the ripe young age of 15, Ken began his professional journey by leaving school and pursuing an apprenticeship. His determination led him from Maryborough to Brisbane, where he continued to master his skills as a tradesman.

A pivotal moment in his youth occurred a year later, when he was selected to carry the Olympic torch in the Olympic relay from Cairns to Melbourne. He ran one mile overnight to represent his community, but little did Ken know that 67 years later, a similar event would take place.

At 23, Ken made the decision to join the Royal Australian Navy. Contrary to popular belief, he found the whole process surprisingly easy. His training led him to Vietnam in the 1970s, where he served with the Australian Navy Helicopter Flight. While Ken was occasionally called upon to fly as a gunner, his primary focus was maintaining the weaponry, showcasing both his technical expertise and commitment to the mission.

The unit he served with in Vietnam, the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam 1967-1971, joined forces with the US Army’s 135th Assault Helicopter Company, forming the Experimental Military Unit (EMU), an unlikely collaboration that made military history. The unit received a Unit Citation for Gallantry and Ken was awarded a Naval Board Commendation – an unexpected acknowledgment that left a lasting impression on him.

Upon returning to Australia, Ken continued his work in the Navy, applying his technical skills across various aircrafts.

After putting down the tools and retiring from active service, Ken sought a way to continue supporting his fellow servicemen and their families. He found his calling with the Legacy Club, a support organization for widows and the families of veterans. The group was formed 100 years ago when a soldier promised his dying friend that he would look after his wife and kids.

Ken has been a dedicated member of the Toowoomba Legacy Club for 17 years and has not only served on the board but also contributed to the organization significantly in other areas during his four years as Vice President.

Ken took charge of planning monthly meetings at the Legacy Club, which generally involved morning teas, general chit-chat, and card games. Beyond all the logistics, he also played a crucial part in creating a supportive environment for widows, often going the extra mile by driving them to and from club gatherings.

Reflecting on his time with the Toowoomba Legacy Club, Ken emphasized the importance of fellowship, enjoyment, and just having a good time.

Ken’s trifecta was all combined earlier this year in a touching full-circle moment from his youth. In June, Ken participated in The Legacy Centenary Torch Relay. After traveling through London, the torch touched down in Australia and traveled to all 44 Legacy Clubs – including Toowoomba. Ken received the torch at Picnic Point, the torch’s first stop in Toowoomba, and passed it on to the next recipient.

As Ken’s journey continues, he has not just passed two monumental torches onto others, but he has also passed his commitment to service onto the next generation. His son, a dedicated Brisbane Fire Brigade worker, carries on the McKenna legacy today, ensuring the spirit of service lives on within the family.

Ken McKenna’s journey serves as a testament to the enduring impact one individual can have when driven by a sense of duty, compassion, and a desire to make a difference in the lives of others.

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