Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Gone But Not Forgotten

By Ed Mechenbier, '64

Kevin.jpg Kevin Joseph McManus: Type the words Kevin McManus into Google and you'll find several talented and famous people share the name…a photographer, trombone player and teacher, a rather poor vocalist, and even a movie model maker for Star Wars. But our Kevin Joseph McManus was very unique. The 1964 Polaris has these words written by a classmate and you get the first hints of a truly talented man. “Mac blew into Colorado on a big wind from THE city, swearing by New York as the beginning, end and most of the middle of everything. For instance, he knows more ways to get out of class, how to get on more trips (pure boondoggles-no work), sleep through more formations and yet make people think he's doing a better job than a dozen others combined.” He was a Wing Weenie with grades high enough to keep him on the Superintendent's list.

After pilot training and the F-4C Conversion Course, Kevin joined several of us '64 grads in the UK, where we “volunteered” for Vietnam. Kevin and I were soon joined as a crew, he to keep this new First Lieutenant Aircraft Commander alive and out of trouble. We were in fact, the only all Lieutenant Phantom crew in the theater flying over 100 combat sorties together including 79.5 over North Vietnam. Oh yes, somewhere in there was an R&R to Hawaii to marry a high school sweetheart. T'was to be a Shamrock marriage made by wee Leprechauns in Heaven with a McCahill and a McManus tying the knot on St Patrick's Day. Well, they jumped the gun and got married a couple of days early so he could get back to DaNang and Mary Jane home to Long Island. The wedding reception would be held later when Kevin finished his tour. However, fate stepped in the way when the crew of Chisel 04 ran into some barrage flak 30 miles northeast of Hanoi. Few people can identify a specific person to whom they literally owe their life. I am one. On 14 June 1967 we were on a bombing mission when his end of the airplane was hit and caught fire. I was trying to wrestle the plane to the Gulf of Tonkin, but this wonderful gentleman six feet behind me made a startlingly simple observation. “Ed, I don't think we're going to make it.” He said it twice, to which I replied, “Bail Out, Kevin, Bail Out.” I always told him if he heard the second “Bail Out” he would be second out. He paused long enough to say, “Sayonara Ed” and we went out of what was now just a huge orange fireball together.

The next five years, eight months and four days don't have a lot to commend them, but Kevin truly served with distinction and honor “under difficult circumstances.” He was our French teacher, our New York geography coach and, when we could make playing cards, a bridge player extraordinaire. He was literally a “rock” for years when we were in two man cells providing key support to our communication links. We spent four years of our six years as POWs together in a 9x9 cell. You learn a lot spending 24 hours a day with one person. I can't begin to tell all the funny and sad tales about those years together, but Kevin lived the USAF Core Values, (Integrity First, Service before Self, and Excellence in All We Do) long before they were codified. He never waivered from his adherence to the Code of Conduct and never shirked from doing what was asked of him in the face of torture or discomfort. He always had that quiet air about him that said, this is temporary and I'll survive. He also knew this world was temporary and the real life is in the hereafter.

He was a success in his marriage and family life as well. He and Mary Jane raised seven wonderful children, but somehow fell short of the 16 they intended. Kevin knew success as a military officer, a senior business executive, husband and father.

There were many pictures of Kevin Joseph Patrick McManus at the funeral home and the Mass the next day all showing a smiling, confident, happy man. When I last visited with him a few weeks before his passing, he was smiling though the morphine drip did little to ease the constant pain. He was the epitome of a people person, always asking about others and trying to be helpful in so many ways. He was a gardener and a carpenter. He was a man into life, but not into himself. This Kevin McManus is no longer in our world, but he remains in our hearts and lives every day. I still thank God every day for Kevin having saved my life, and I met several people at his services who recounted how he enriched their lives in so many ways. As we did nightly in the POW camps, 2-2, 3-3, 2-2, 1-2, 4-5. Good Night Kevin, God Bless You.
Editor's Note: Kevin J. McManus passed away on 31 July 2008. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, with full military honors.
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