John C. McKinney, 68, a retired chief warrant officer who may have been the last of the Army's career horse soldiers, died of cancer Oct. 27 at his home in Columbus, N.C.
Except for about 18 months after World War II, Mr. McKinney served in the Army from 1939 to 1974. For 29 of those years, the proliferation of planes and tanks and electronics of incredible sophistication notwithstanding, he was with horses and mules.
During World War II he worked with them in China while serving with Gen. Joseph C. (Vinegar Joe) Stillwell. In the 1950s he was in Colorado with the last pack artillery outfit in the Army. And for the last 15 years of his career he commanded the Caisson Platoon, the ceremonial unit at Fort Myer that provides the horses for the military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery and elsewhere.
When he retired, the 1st Battalion (Reinforced), 3d Infantry Regiment ("The Old Guard"), the troops at Fort Myer, paraded for him. Appropriately enough, Mr. McKinney rode a horse on that occasion -- a white Lippizaner stallion from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna that was given to the Army by the Austrian government in recognition of the fact that the Lippizaner herd was rescued by Gen. George C. Patton at the end of the war.
"I put in more time than I thought they'd let me," Mr. McKinney remarked as he retired. "The Army's been awful good to me, really."
He was born on a farm in Green Creek, N.C. He enlisted because he "just wanted to see how it was." The way it was, he said, was field artillery and mules and sand in North Carolina. Later, he spent 34 months in the China-Burma-India theater. There it was pack artillery, mules and ponies, mud, and the enemy.
"Didn't see a vehicle for 14 months," Mr. McKinney recalled.
He also remembered a half a dozen times when he spoke to the famous "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell himself.
After the war, Mr. McKinney worked in a textile mill in North Carolina for awhile and went back to the Army. He spent a year in Alaska ("They didn't have any mules there. Didn't have any chickens either, far as I could see.") and then went to Fort Carson, Colo., where the Army had its park artillery outfit with mules.
Mr. McKinney remained at Fort Carson until 1956, when the Army did away with the mules. "I felt pretty bad," he said. "If you like horses I don't have to tell you how bad it felt."
In 1959, he was given command of the Caisson Platoon at Fort Myer. When he retired, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.
Mr. McKinney lived in Arlington until 1975, when he moved back to North Carolina.
Survivors include his wife, Pauline L. McKinney of Columbus; five children, Peggy Dyer of Boise, Idaho, Judy Ockert of Greenville, S.C., Luwanda Parchen of New Castle, Del., John C. McKinney Jr. of Asheville, N.C., and Raymond M. McKinney of Spindale, N.C.; two sisters, Mildred Laughter of Green Creek and Jessie Walker of Campobello, S.C., four brothers, Roy McKinney of Rutherfordton, N.C., Fay McKinney of Chase City, Va., Howard McKinney of Black Mountain, N.C., and Floyd McKinney of Forest City, N.C.; seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
There are about 30 horses in the Caisson Platoon. The Army has a few other animals that are used for sports of display, but the ones in the platoon are the last that are used for purely military purposes: the grave and stately ceremonies in which the nation's dead are honored at Arlington.
On Nov. 2, the Caisson Platoon will turn out for the funeral of Chief Warrant Officer John C. McKinney.