Lawrence E. “Larry” McKay commanded “The Blue Max,” an attack helicopter unit that delivered the decisive blow during the Vietnam War’s Battle of An Locthe first armor battle in which armed helicopters proved their lethality and changed the future of warfare. Born on 26 August 1936, McKay was raised in Charleston, South Carolina. His interest in aviation was stimulated through the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps flight program at The Citadel where he was a member of the class of 1958. There he was exposed to General Robert E. Lee’s immortal creed, “Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.”
In 1966, he served as aviation officer for 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Vietnam, where he coordinated and flew tactical, logistical, and prisoner of war recovery missions. That tour was followed by assignments in the Office of the Director of Instruction at Hunter Army Airfield and company command. Following command, he completed Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, which prepared him for the most challenging, yet most rewarding, assignment of his career: On 1 September 1971, he assumed command of F Battery, 79th Aerial Field Artillery (AFA) in the famed 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). In Vietnam, the unit would come to be known as The Blue Max.
On 13 April 1972, McKay flew in the front seat of the lead aircraft that destroyed a T-54 Soviet-built tank just 30 meters north of a South Vietnamese command bunker. Using high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warheads mounted on free-flight aerial rockets, his Cobra was credited with the first modern tank kill by a helicopter with HEAT in combat. Blue Max members in their AH-1Gs would prove helicopters could kill tanks in a hostile environment. The duty and contributions of Blue Max members were formally recognized in 1972 when the unit was selected as the Army Aviation Association of America Unit of the Year. The unit also received Presidential and Meritorious Unit Citations for combat excellence.
After returning from Vietnam, McKay completed the graduate economics program at Duke University, taught at West Point and commanded the 101st Aviation Battalion at Fort Campbell. His decorations include the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters and 15 Air Medals. His badges include Combat Infantry, Senior Aviator, Parachute and Air Assault. After retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1978, he and his family returned to Charleston where he became founding president of Wild Dunes Telecommunications. On 10 November 2006, he received the Alumnus of the Year award from The Citadel School of Business Administration. McKay and his wife Fay have four children and nine grandchildren.