Saturday, June 5, 2021

Profiles in Georgia National Guard Leadership: Brig. Gen. Andrew McKenna

 By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard


Brigadier General Andrew W.H. McKenna of Macon retired from the Georgia Army National Guard May 6, 1973 after more than 35 years’ service to the state and nation. A Soldier, World War II veteran, judge and state representative, McKenna left an enduring mark on the state of Georgia.

Early Life

Andrew McKenna was born in Macon, Ga. June 21, 1918. His parents, William and Mary McKenna were first generation Irish-Americans who married Oct. 24, 1905 in Macon,[1] William worked as a bookkeeper in a Jewelry shop while Mary cared for their seven children of whom Andrew was the youngest.[2]

In May 1927, Andrew’s older brother William McKenna Jr. joined the local National Guard unit Company C, 121st Infantry Regiment. This historic company, known as the Floyd Rifles, had served in the 151st Machine Gun Battalion in World War I. While still a student at Lanier High School, Andrew joined Company C June 5, 1936, 16 days shy of his 18th birthday[3]. At the time of Andrew’s enlistment, William was a sergeant, and in three years would be company first sergeant.[4] Under his brother’s tutelage, McKenna found a home in Company C and served through the enlisted ranks from private to platoon sergeant.[5]

On June 16, 1940, the 121st Infantry Regiment was accepted into federal service as part of the 30th Infantry Division and the McKenna brothers were soon on their way to Fort Jackson, S. C. where the regiment underwent sixteen weeks of training. By June the following year, the brothers were commissioned officers with William serving as a 1st lieutenant in Company F and Andrew, a newly commissioned 2nd lieutenant, as the executive officer of Company I.[6]

William and Andrew McKenna in the 121st Infantry Regiment in 1941. Georgia Guard Archives

While William McKenna would deploy to Europe with the 121st Infantry, Andrew was promoted to captain Dec. 14, 1942 and assigned as commanding officer of Company A, 939th APS Battalion. The following December he was assigned as commander of Company M, 330th Infantry Regiment of the 83rd Division.[7]

Company M was less than four months old when McKenna assumed command at Camp Atterbury, In. In the midst of live-fire training and field problems, McKenna married Helen Klinefelter April 7, 1943. The unit trained at Atterbury and Camp Breckenridge, Ky. before departing March 28, 1944, for Camp Shanks, N. Y. where the unit staged for one week before boarding the H.M.S. Orion. The next morning, McKenna and his Soldiers sailed out of New York Harbor passing the Statue of Liberty on their way to England. The Soldiers debarked April 18 in Liverpool. On June 19, McKenna and Company M boarded a Canadian LCT bound for Normandy Beach. The craft arrived off Omaha Beach the next morning but was unable to unload the Soldiers for nearly a week due to damage a storm had wreaked on the landing piers. Finally, the Soldiers went ashore June 27, 1944.[8]

Position of 3-330 and Company M near Carentan
 https://83rdinfdivdocs.org/units/330th-ir/map-overlays
Combat on the European Continent

McKenna’s first contact with the enemy came on July 4 in the Hedgerows of Normandy opposite the
17th SS Panzergrenadiers. Maneuvering into an orchard the next day, Company M endured heavy bombardment from German artillery. From then until July 25, Company M was in constant enemy contact from Tribehou to Remily-Sur-Luzon some 50 kilometers from Omaha Beach.

After rest and refit, the 83rd Division was on the move again, this time entering Brittany with the objective of taking the port city of Brest. The 83rd was reinforced by the 121st Infantry Regiment which was temporarily detached from the 8th Division.[9] For the first time since December 1942 Andrew was in the same division as his brother. Captain William McKenna, commanding company F, 121st Infantry Regiment had waded onto Omaha Beach July 4, 1944 the same day Andrew was engaged in his first contact with the enemy. On July 8, 1944, near La Haye du Puits, William perceived that hostile fire had ceased from a sector and moved forward to investigate. He advanced to a hedgerow which concealed a considerable force of German troops. Calling loudly for their surrender, he was rebuffed when the German commander ordered his Soldiers to open fire. Calmly, William secured a string of hand grenades and continued to advance within a few yards of the enemy where he destroyed the German strong point with hand grenades. For his actions, William was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star.[10]

 By mid-August, 1944, the 83rd Division had taken Dinard and St. Malo and were moving inexorably east towards Brest. Arriving in Guingamp, Company M came under heavy fire from Germans holding the town. Following a punishing concentrated fire from the company mortar section, Capt. Andrew McKenna walked forward and in a loud voice called upon the defenders to surrender. Presently, seventy German Soldiers, hands raised, moved dejectedly from their fighting positions and were taken into custody by Company M.[11]

Advancing to Brest, the 121st Infantry Regiment was returned to the 8th Division. Andrew McKenna and Company M assumed defensive positions across the bay from Brest and remained in position until the port city’s fall on Sept. 20. 

Martin Blumenson. Breakout and Pursuit. (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1984.) Map VIII


McKenna's company maneuvered from Northern France into Luxembourg and to the Hurtgen Forest where it was engaged in heavy fighting. On Dec. 10, 1944, Company M participated in the assault on the town of Strauss amidst a blinding snowstorm. Entering Strauss at 7:00 in the morning the 3-330th and Company M were encircled by the Germans. For two days the Americans held out against punishing German infantry and armor assaults before relief reached them. Instead of rest and refit the 83rd was hastily dispatched to the Ardennes in response to the German offensive. The 330th was in combat for 21 continuous days and the mortar platoon of Company M suffered severe casualties in the taking of Cherain Belgium.

For his actions in the Ardennes, Andrew McKenna was awarded the Silver Star.[12] That month he learned of the death of his brother William, who was felled by a sniper’s bullet while leading his troops on Christmas Day. William McKenna was posthumously awarded a second Silver Star in recognition of his bravery in the face of the enemy.[13]

McKenna led his company from the Rhineland to Central Germany earning two Bronze Stars and receiving two Purple Heart Medals before celebrating VE Day May 8, 1945 near Goslar. McKenna left active-duty Nov. 21, 1945 and entered the Officer Reserve Corps.[14]

Post War Reorganization, the 48th ID and the Georgia Assembly

Following World War II, McKenna was active in the effort to reorganize the Georgia National Guard. On Nov. 18, 1946, following the establishment of the 48th Infantry Division, McKenna received command of the newly organized Company C, 121st Infantry Regiment, his former unit.[15]

The 1948 MTOE of the 48th Infantry Division.

In 1949, McKenna earned his law degree from Mercer University.[16] That year he was promoted to major and appointed executive officer of the 1st Battalion 121st Infantry. As executive officer, McKenna supervised the range training of 121st Infantry units that competed for the William A. McKenna Award which was presented annually to the unit in the state the highest score in rifle marksmanship.[17]

ATLANTA, December 10, 1953 - At the request of Maj. Gen. Ernest Vandiver, the Adjutant General of Georgia, Governor Herman Talmadge signed legislation
authorizing commemorative license plates for the Georgia National Guard. Pictured at the signing are Lt. Col. Jack Murr, Vandiver, Brig. Gen. Jack Stoddard,
Talmadge, and Lt. Col. Andrew McKenna. Georgia National Guard Archives.

McKenna was appointed commander of the 1-121 June 25, 1951 and promoted to lieutenant colonel.[18] Later that year he was elected to the Georgia Assembly, the first of four terms he would serve. McKenna was a tireless advocate for the Ga. National Guard during his tenure as a state representative. In 1953 he supported the efforts of Maj. Gen. Ernest Vandiver, Georgia’s Adjutant General, in drafting a bill to establish a commemorative license plate honoring the national guard.[19] During his tenure in the Georgia General Assembly, McKenna served as chairman of the House Special Judiciary Committee and vice chair of the House Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee.[20]

On March 13, 1954, a tornado struck Macon destroying more than 400 homes, uprooting trees and carving an 8-mile path of destruction through Bibb County.[21] McKenna was one of the first Soldiers to arrive at the Macon Armory and over the next three days he directed the response efforts  of the 1-121. Nearly 300 of Georgia’s Citizen Soldiers assisted in clearing wreckage, providing security and facilitating traffic flow.[22]

From Infantry to Armor and From Battalion to Combat Command

In November 1955, the 48th Infantry Division was converted to form the 48th Armor Division. As part of the conversion, McKenna’s battalion was reorganized as the 162nd Tank Battalion and was equipped with the M-47 Patton Tank.[23] He commanded the 162nd until November 25, 1958 when he was named executive officer of the 48th Armor Division’s Combat Command B.[24]

Honorable discharge signed by Lt. Col. Andrew McKenna, commanding 162nd Tank Battalion. Georgia National Guard Archives.

Leaving the assembly in 1960 McKenna began a four-year stint as a judge in the Bibb County State Court and was a founding partner of the firm Melton, McKenna and House. On Nov 3, 1962 he was promoted to colonel and placed in command of the 1st Brigade, 48th AD.[25]

Colonel Andrew McKenna, 1962. Georgia National Guard Archives.

Throughout his career in the Ga. ARNG, McKenna was an active member of the National Guard Association of Georgia. He served on the board of directors and numerous committees while authoring several resolutions. In 1964 McKenna was elected president of the NGAGA and served in that capacity for three years.[26]

Brigadier General McKenna and the Emergency Operations Headquarters

Following a reorganization of the Georgia National Guard on Jan 1, 1968, and the inactivation of the 48th AD, McKenna was appointed to command the Georgia Emergency Operations Headquarters in Decatur. With nearly 1,800 Soldiers, the EOH was the direct forerunner of today’s 78th Troop Command and encompassed maintenance, signal, and transportation companies along with two military police battalions and the 116th Army Band.[27] Subsequent to his appointment, McKenna was promoted to brigadier general.[28]

Following the April 4, 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., National Guard units were activated in multiple states. In Georgia, a task force of National Guard Soldiers was activated as part of EOH plans developed by McKenna.[29] Nearly 1,000 Georgia Guardsmen staged at Dobbins Air Force Base but were ultimately not called to respond.

Brig. Gen. Andrew McKenna at Fort Stewart,
1968. Georgia National Guard Archives.
McKenna led the EOH through its first annual training in June and July 1968. Major General. George Hearn, Georgia’s Adjutant General, presided over the awards ceremony on the final day of AT where McKenna’s Soldiers were presented with medals signifying achievement and devotion to duty. In a final surprise presentation, Hearn called McKenna forward and presented him with the Georgia Distinctive Service Medal, the Ga. DoD’s highest decoration for the “leadership and tactical knowledge” he exhibited during the April 1968 response.[30]

Just three days later, McKenna executed an airlift of 402 Soldiers of the 170th and 176th MP Battalions from Fort Stewart to Dobbins Air Force Base. The July 9, 1968 airlift was conducted by seven C-124 Globemaster aircraft of the Georgia Air National Guard’s 165th Military Airlift Group. In addition to the military police, the aircraft delivered 35 military vehicles. Arriving at Dobbins, the MPs conducted riot control training and a capabilities demonstration for media representatives.[31]

The experience gained from the airlift was soon pressed into service as the Georgia National Guard was called to respond to civil unrest in Augusta. More than 2,000 Guardsmen were called to state active duty May 11-18, 1970 following furious protests and rioting that erupted over a 130-block area.[32] Three Ga. ANG C-124 transports delivered the 2nd Battalion 214th Field Artillery under the command of Col. John McGowan to Augusta May 12. The 2-214 joined Soldiers of the 878th Engineer Battalion and 1148th Transportation Company who had responded the previous day.

Georgia National Guard Soldiers of the 214th Field Artillery Regiment on duty in Augusta, Ga. May 11, 1970. Augusta Chronicle file photo.

Hearn dispatched Brig. Gen. McKenna to Augusta to take command of the growing response effort. Operating out of the 878th’s armory, McKenna quickly established a command center, communication network and a schedule of patrols to augment the Augusta Police Department. The response peaked May 13 as Soldiers of the 176th MP Battalion, 1-121st and 138th Medical Company arrived in support. When unrest erupted in Athens, more than 200 Soldiers of the 176th MP Battalion were redirected to the city along with the 1-214th Field Artillery. By May 14, the Georgia Guard began redeploying personnel to their home units though more than 1,500 remained on duty through the weekend. By May 18, all Guardsmen had returned home.

On May 1, 1971, the EOH was redesignated the 122nd Support Center, Rear.[33] On that day, McKenna was additionally assigned to command the newly created Alternate Command Section of the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment of the Ga. ARNG in Atlanta.[34] While the Alternate Command Section appointment ended in 1972, McKenna remained in command of the EOH until his retirement May 6, 1973.[35] During his retirement ceremony, McKenna was awarded the Georgia Commendation Medal promoted to the state rank of major general.

Returning to civilian life, McKenna continued to serve as a senior partner in the law firm of Melton, McKenna and House, Attorneys at- Law in Macon. His life was tragically cut short by a heart attack March 5, 1981. He is memorialized in Riverside Cemetery in his hometown of Macon. His beloved wife Helen died in 2002 and is also memorialized in Riverside Cemetery.

 



[1] Ancestry.com, Bibb County Georgia Court of Ordinary Marriages Book L 1905-1909 &1913. 34. Retrieved from https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/4766/images/40951_294487-00065?usePUB=true&usePUBJs=true&pId=124499

 

[2] Ancestry.com, 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Retrieved from https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4295804-00038?usePUB=true&usePUBJs=true&pId=7250017

 

[3] United States Army, Official Army National Guard Registry. (Washington D. C.: National Guard Bureau: 1966) 592.

 

[4] War Department, Official National Guard Register. (Washington D. C.: National Guard Bureau, 1943) 784.

 

[5] “Two Guard BG’s Retire.” The Georgia Guardsman, May-June 1973, 7.

[6] Historical and Pictorial Review 121st Infantry, 30th Infantry Division (Baton Rouge, La: Army & Navy Publishing Company, 1941) 82 and 92.

 

[9] The Gray Bonnet: Combat History of the 121st Infantry, 33.

 

[11] History of Company “M” 330th Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division. Retrieved from https://83rdinfdivdocs.org/documents/330th/various/330th_CoM_History.pdf

 

[12] GO +7 January 20, 1945.

 

[13] William Carraway. “In Memoriam: Capt. William McKenna, 121st Infantry Regiment.” Georgiaguard history.com, Dec. 25, 2019.

 

[14] United States Army, Official Army National Guard Registry. (Washington D. C.: National Guard Bureau: 1966) 592.

 

[15] “Company C, 121st Infantry Regiment.” The Georgia Guardsman, November 1950, 9.

 

[16] “’Andy’ McKenna Becomes Newest Ga. NG Brig General.” The Georgia Guardsman, Jan.-Apr. 1968, 9.

 

[17] “Vandiver, McKenna Trophies Awarded to 121st Inf Units at Big Fort Jackson Review.” The Georgia Guardsman, July August 1950, 13.

 

[18] “Lt. Col. Holden West Commands 162nd Tank Bn Replacing Lt. Col. Andrew McKenna, New CC B Exec.” The Georgia Guardsman, January, February 1959, 3.

 

[19]“Special National Guard Auto Tags Authorized Ga. Guardsmen in 1955.” The Georgia Guardsman, December 1953, 3.

 

[20] “Biography: BG Andrew W. H. McKenna.” Georgia National Guard Archives.

 

[21] “Macon Guardsmen Respond to Tornado Disaster Call.” The Georgia Guardsman, May, June 1954, 1.

 

[22] “Macon Units Answer Tornado Call.” The Georgia Guardsman, April 1954, 3.

 

[23] “Shift To Armor Provides New Assignments and Promotions.” The Georgia Guardsman, Oct, Nov, Dec 1955, 15.

 

[25] “McKenna, Evans Elevated to Colonel; Hutson, Haar, Genone get Commands.” The Georgia Guardsman, Sept.-Dec. 1962, 10.

[26] “NG Association Installs Rhodes, Names McKenna President-elect.” The Georgia Guardsman, Sept Oct 1964, 2.

 

[27] ”Reorganized and Re-trained Army Guardsmen Gird for Summer Training After Winter of Intensive Drills.” The Georgia Guardsman, Jan.-Apr. 1968, 3-4.

 

[28] “’Andy’ McKenna Becomes Newest Ga. NG Brig General.” The Georgia Guardsman, Jan.-Apr. 1968, 9.

 

[29] “Georgia Guardsmen on Standby Alert as Civil Disturbances Loomed.” The Georgia Guardsman, Jan.-Apr. 1968, 5.

 

[30] “Ga. Emergency Operations Headquarters Conducts Successful Airlift of MP’s.” The Georgia Guardsman. May-Aug 1968, 5.

 

[31] “Ga. Emergency Operations Headquarters Conducts Successful Airlift of MP’s.” The Georgia Guardsman. May-Aug 1968, 4.

 

[32] “Governor Sends 2,000 Ga. Guardsmen to Augusta and Athens to Restore Calm in Wake of May Civil Disturbances.” The Georgia Guardsman, Apr.-Jun. 1970, 8-9.

 

[33] NG ARO-207-02 RA Number 21-71, March 16, 1971.

 

[34] “Biography: BG Andrew W. H. McKenna.” Georgia National Guard Archives.

 

[35] “Two Guard BG’s Retire.” The Georgia Guardsman, May-June 1973, 7.

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