This blog is to help me write the story of John Thomas McKenna’s life and U.S. Army career. Born in Island Harbour, Fogo Island, Newfoundland on September 25, 1879, to Thomas and Margaret (Hayes). Their family name was McKenna, but was anglicized by dropping the Celtic prefix ‘Mc’ before emigrating to Newfoundland. Jack died in 1937, nine years before this author was born.
How did I hear of him? From my father-in-law, David Dyer Johnston. He spoke often of his mother’s brother, repeating the stories of his cherished uncle as though they were gospel. I’ve done family reasearch on my family and my wife’s. In checking her family, I found nearly everything Jack said had a kernel of truth.
However, he was ever trying to make himself appear larger-than-life in his nephew’s eyes because he never had children of his own. Had he but told the unvarnished truth, he would have seemed far more heroic. Instead he embellished every story.
For instance, he said he went up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. It’s true, he was in the Spanish-American War…doing coastal defense in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
For instance, he said he went to France with “BlackJack” Pershing. Well, yes, he did go to France with General Pershing… along with two million other enlisted men.
For instance, he said after retiring, he was going out west and become a business tycoon. Yes, he did go out west…west of Boston, Mass., as far as Buffalo, NY. He did not become a tycoon.
It’s apparent from these few examples that Jack inherited the Irishman’s gift of Blarney, without ever having seen Ireland. I’ve developed a mental image of Sergeant McKenna. I see him as a poker-faced joker, able to look you in the eye and tell the most outrageous fabrication with a straight face. If caught, he could look at you with pseudo-innocence and deny everything.