Brig. Gen. Vincent Cousin, Embassy of France in the United States defense attaché, presents retired Gen. Seth McKee, with The Legion of Honor in the Rank of Chevalier on Nov. 5 in Scottsdale, Ariz. Air Force photo by A1C Pedro Mota?
Seth Jefferson McKee, who was the four-star head of North American Air Defense Command from 1969-1973, headed US Forces, Japan, and was a World War II combat pilot with two aerial victories, died in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Dec. 26, 2016, at the age of 100.
McKee, born in McGehee, Ark,. started his military career in 1935. He joined the Missouri National Guard, ostensibly to earn money for a medical education, but became an aviation cadet and earned his wings in 1939.
He trained to fly the P-38 Lightning and was a test pilot at Knoxville Field, Ala., and then Orlando, Fla. He finagled an assignment to Europe and got into WWII, flying many bomber escort missions. On D-Day, as a Lieutenant Colonel, he led a group of 40 P-38s providing air cover for troops on the beaches at Normandy, and before his death was counted the highest-ranking survivor of Operation Overlord. During the war, he flew 69 missions and shot down two enemy aircraft, telling an interviewer in 2014 that his aircraft was hit at least once on every mission. He was an accomplished attack pilot, destroying numerous armored vehicles, trains, artillery, airfields, and other ground targets. McKee was named commander of the 370th Fighter Group in England in November, 1944.
After the war, McKee completed his college education and held a number of operations and staff positions, rising through the ranks and being selected for a number of assignments with the office of the Chief of Staff. He returned to Europe as a technical advisor to the Italian Air Force and later as the commander of the 36th Fighter Bomber Group. After more stints at the Pentagon, in 1956 he was deputy commander of the 308th Bombardment Wing at Hunter AFB, Ga., and then commanded the 2nd Bombardment Wing. A few years later, he was assigned to Headquarters of Strategic Air Command, Offutt AFB, Neb., as deputy director of plans, and continued between the Pentagon and the field commanding aerospace divisions.
In 1966, he took command of US Forces, Japan, and 5th Air Force. Two years later, he was made assistant vice chief of staff, and in 1969 received his fourth star and became head of NORAD and US Aerospace Defense Command, then headquartered at Ent AFB, Colo.
In addition to the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross and 10 Air Medals, McKee received numerous decorations from allied nations. In November 2016, he was made a Chevalier in the National Order of the French Legion of Honor, that country’s highest honor.