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World War II veteran, alumnus Calvin McKee knighted by Republic of France

Learn more about Calvin McKee and how his brother-in-law, Thomas Russell (BS ’57), designated a generous gift earlier this year to TU veteran initiatives in McKee’s honor.

University of Tulsa alumnus Calvin McKee was appointed to the rank of Chevalier (Knight) in the Legion of Honor by the Republic of France at a special ceremony in August at the Helmerich Center for American Research. McKee (BS ’48) was recognized for his bravery and contributions to the liberation of France during World War II as a member of the U.S. Army 18th Airborne Corps. He joins French National Order of the Legion of Honor — the highest civilian honor granted by the Republic of France and the country’s most prestigious award for two centuries.

calvin mckee

McKee left TU during his junior year in 1942 to voluntarily enlist in the U.S. Army. After basic training, he completed parachute jump school and airborne divisional intelligence school. McKee arrived in Rome in 1944 as a member of the First Airborne Task Force and jumped with the first wave of paratroopers that drove the Nazis out of southern France. His unit helped liberate the French citizens from Nazi occupation and tyranny, and he was promoted to staff sergeant and master sergeant by the age of 21. He served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France Belgium, Holland and Germany.

When McKee departed France for the United States, he transported top secret airborne plans for America’s expected fall 1945 invasion of Japan. He volunteered to stay in the service and intended to invade Japan as a member of the Office of Strategic Services, now the Central Intelligence Agency. When World War II ended in 1945, McKee was honorably discharged at the age of 22 and formally credited with participation in five WWII battle campaigns. He returned to TU and finished his degree in petroleum engineering. His niece, Karin Brandenburg, spent one and a half years researching McKee’s records in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

“Calvin lived by three principles of war: He is not a hero, heroes died on the battlefield; War should not be glorified because it is a horrible, bloody and degrading thing; and He opposes anything but a defensive war,” she said.

Many TU officials and friends attended the event to celebrate McKee’s character and dedication to his country. He is a past TU trustee and member of the TU Russell School of Chemical Engineering Industry Advisory Board as well as a generous donor and student mentor.

“Calvin has made it a lifelong practice of answering the call of duty, helping those in need and walking in humility,” said TU President Gerard Clancy. “We are grateful for and inspired by his service.”

McKee received the medal of Chevalier from Grant Moak, honorary consult of France.

“Today we honor the warrior and liberator, but we also celebrate the peacemaker and peacekeeper,” Moak said. “Calvin built alliances and international institutions that have protected this planet from a third world war for 70 years. All of us who come after owe him and his generation a debt we can never repay.”