John R. McKinney was born in Screven County, Georgia, on February 26, 1921. His father was a sharecropper, and when he enlisted in the Army, he had only a third-grade education. He listed his occupation as a farmhand when he enlisted.
He fought with extreme gallantry to defend the outpost which had been established near Dingalan Bay.
Just before daybreak approximately 100 Japanese stealthily attacked the perimeter defense, concentrating on a light machinegun position manned by 3 Americans. Having completed a long tour of duty at this gun, Pvt. McKinney was resting a few paces away when an enemy soldier dealt him a glancing blow on the head with a saber. Although dazed by the stroke, he seized his rifle, bludgeoned his attacker, and then shot another assailant who was charging him.
Meanwhile, 1 of his comrades at the machinegun had been wounded and his other companion withdrew carrying the injured man to safety. Alone, Pvt. McKinney was confronted by 10 infantrymen who had captured the machinegun with the evident intent of reversing it to fire into the perimeter.
Leaping into the emplacement, he shot 7 of them at pointblank range and killed 3 more with his rifle butt. In the melee the machinegun was rendered inoperative, leaving him only his rifle with which to meet the advancing Japanese, who hurled grenades and directed knee mortar shells into the perimeter.
He warily changed position, secured more ammunition, and reloading repeatedly, cut down waves of the fanatical enemy with devastating fire or clubbed them to death in hand-to-hand combat. When assistance arrived, he had thwarted the assault and was in complete control of the area. Thirty-eight dead Japanese around the machinegun and 2 more at the side of a mortar 45 yards distant was the amazing toll he had exacted single-handedly. By his indomitable spirit, extraordinary fighting ability, and unwavering courage in the face of tremendous odds, Pvt. McKinney saved his company from possible annihilation and set an example of unsurpassed intrepidity.
John McKinney enlisted in the Army at Fort McPherson on November 23, 1942, as a private at age 23. He was serving in Luzon, Philippines when he and his unit were attacked on May 11, 1945.
Some remember John McKinney as the Pacific’s Audy Murphy, high praise indeed. In the book “The Pacific War’s Audie Murphy,” author Kelly Bell notes:
“US Army Pvt. John McKinney had stood guard duty and had just gone to his tent in the early hours of May 11, 1945, on the island of Luzon, Philippines. The vanguard of a Japanese force slipped past the guard post. Sgt. Fukutaro Morii threw open McKinney’s tent flap and slashed down with his sword, no doubt to minimize the sound of the as-yet undetected attack. He severed part of McKinney’s ear. McKinney, a skilled hunter from Georgia, grabbed the rifle he slept with, bashed Morii in the chin, and finished him off with another blow to the head.
Over the next 36 minutes, McKinney protected the flank of his company and his sleeping comrades by killing 38 of the enemy. McKinney did so through point-blank, kill-or-be-killed encounters as well as rapid-fire, accurate shots with various M1 rifles he picked up and fired at charging enemies. Early in the engagement, he returned to his foxhole where he eliminated first one wave and then part of the second wave of the main attack force. Several in the second wave made it to the foxhole where McKinney first shot and then clubbed his assailants in hand-to-hand combat.“
After his Medal of Honor recognition, he was promoted to sergeant. President Truman presented his Medal of Honor on January 23, 1946, in the White House.
Shown here are the medals Private John Randolph McKinney earned during his career. They include:
He died on April 4, 1997, in Sylvania, Georgia. He is buried at Double Heads Baptist Church in Sylvania, Georgia.
In 2017 a highway was renamed in his honor “The John R. McKinney Medal of Honor Highway.”