NOTAM 15-2015 (McKeown)
Golden Eagle NOTAM
CAPT Ronald E. “Mugs” McKeown, USN (Ret)
Dear Golden Eagles,
It is my sad duty to inform you that Emeritus Member, CAPT Ronald E. “Mugs” McKeown, USN (Ret), made his Last Take-Off on November 20, 2015 in San Diego, California. Mugs has been suffering with Parkinson’s disease and a severe infection that has kept him bed ridden for months.
Ron was born on June 17, 1939 in Pipestone, Minnesota, to Roy and Ella McKeown but the family soon moved to Ysleta, Texas, where his father established a contract electronics school in Ft. Bliss. Ron’s dad signed him up for boxing and he excelled in that sport. He was also a great football player at Ysleta High School and became an all- state running back. He was asked by Rip Miller, the Athletic Director of the US Naval Academy, to attend the Academy, which he did and excelled in both boxing and football. He played football “as the other running back" on the 1960 team with his team mate Joe Bellino, the Heisman trophy winner. The football team was ranked #3 in the nation, and Ron earned the “Spike Webb Award” for being the undefeated light heavy-weight boxing champion of the Brigade of Midshipman for three years straight.
After graduation, he married Lauree on June 24, 1961, began flight training and earned his wings in November 1962. He was then assigned to Fighter Squadron 154 flying F8U Crusaders. He participated in the first raids against North Vietnam in 1964. He returned to the USA and transitioned to the F4B Phantom and returned for his second cruise to Vietnam. He then attended U.S. Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School for test pilot and astronaut training. While there, he flew a specially modified F-104 to an altitude of 127,000 feet. Next, he reported to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Four (VX-4) as Chief Test Pilot, in charge of all engineering changes to the SPARROW air-to-air missile. As the F4 Tactics Manager, he was charged with developing Navy tactical doctrine for the F4 Phantom and he had the opportunity to fly the Soviet built MIG-17 and MIG-21 aircraft.
He was assigned to VF-161 as Operations Officer in 1969 and he embarked aboard USS Midway for his fourth combat deployment to Vietnam. On May 23rd, Mugs and his RIO, LT Jack Ensch, and his wingman were attacked by six North Vietnamese MIGS. In what has been described as one of the longest and most exciting dogfights of the war, Mugs and Ensch actually tumbled their aircraft end over end during the engagement. When it was over, Mugs had shot down two MIG-17’s, including one off his wingman’s tail, and then chased the remaining enemy aircraft into China. For this action, Mugs and Ensch were awarded the Navy Cross.
LCDR McKeown received orders to become the first Commanding Officer of TOPGUN, the Navy Fighter Weapons School. Thirteen days after Mugs had departed USS Midway, his RIO, Jack Ensch, was shot down and became a prisoner of war. During Jack’s incarceration, Mugs refused to accept the Navy Cross, stating that he and Jack had won them together and would wear them the first time together. After Jack’s release from POW status, Mugs requested that Jack be assigned to TOPGUN, where they again flew together. Mugs was CO of TOPGUN for three years and then was assigned to the Pentagon for a brief tour before assuming command of VF-1. As fate would have it, LCDR Ensch reported aboard as Maintenance Officer and the “Dynamic Duo” again flew together. CDR McKeown went on to become the F-14 Tomcat Project Officer after VF-1, and then Chief of Staff for Operations for Commander Carrier Group Eight. During his tenure, he worked for both RADM Jim Service and RADM Jerry Tuttle. The battle group developed electronic warfare tactics and procedures in the Gulf of Sidra, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Iraqi Freedom. His final tour was as Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant to the Chief of Naval Material. After retirement from the Navy, Mugs worked in the defense contractor industry for over 25 years. He also served as the military adviser to the Mayor of San Diego for several years before going into complete retirement following the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.
The book “Afterburner” by John D. Sherwood, provides a wonderful slice of naval carrier aviation including MIG destroyers McKeown and Ensch, and indicates that because of Mug's boxing expertise, he used boxing lessons learned to improve his air to air tactics. Many of The Golden Eagles in our organization are listed in the book. After reading excerpts from "Afterburner," I can see why Jack Ensch has been such a loyal friend to Ron McKeown.
CAPT McKeown’s personal awards include the Navy Cross, Legion of Merit, (5) Distinguished Flying Crosses, (27) Air Medals, and (14) Navy Achievement Medals. He flew 440 combat missions in Southeast Asia and made 997 carrier landings during his flying career.
CAPT McKeown’s Memorial Service will be at the Miramar National Cemetery at 1230 on Wednesday December 9, 2015. A Reception/Celebration of Life will follow at the MCAS Miramar Officer’s Club. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made, in his name to the San Diego Parkinson’s Association/Tremble Clef or the Tailhook Education Foundation.
We have lost another great hero in Naval Aviation and a personal friend.