Honor Bell Tolls at 1,500th Fort Logan service for Navy veteran couple

Gerry and Bill McKinley during their time in the Navy

Gerry and Bill McKinley during their time in the Navy

On March 29th the Honor Bell tolled at its 1500th Fort Logan National Cemetery funeral honoring Howard and Esther McKinley, both Navy veterans.

Howard William “Bill” McKinley was born on September 25, 1917, in Prescott, Arizona and died at the age of 80 in Montrose Colorado on April 3, 1998. Esther Geraldine “Gerry” McKinley was born on October 13, 1922, in Ft Davis, Texas and died at the age of 96 in Littleton, Colorado on February 18, 2019. They are survived by their sons, Patrick and Michael, their four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. They are preceded in death by their daughter Cherie Kathleen.

Bill describes his early life with his younger brother Richard, Dick, as moving from one mining and construction camp to the next in Arizona and California. They often lived in tents thus making schooling and living a rustic and transient experience that he promised himself he would not do to his wife or children. He kept that promise.

After graduating high school in Glendale, California, Bill and his brother worked for their dad in heavy construction becoming proficient as operating engineers working on tractors and graders. Bill continued his education through aeronautical engineering classes at Curtiss Wright Technical Institute. His uncles were among the early aviators as both barnstormers and military pilots. After graduation he served in the Navy from 18 August 1941 to 18 September 1945 as an Aviation Machinist’s Mate First Class.

Gerry’s early years were in New London, Texas, where her father worked for the Texas Company (Texaco Oil Co.) and owned a small farm that had an orchard and small cottages that they rented out during the summer and holidays to folks from Dallas and Shreveport, Louisiana. At the age of 15 she had a life changing event: a gas explosion that demolished her New London High School costing her an older brother, “Junior”, and many friends. The loss was heavy, with 295 students and teachers killed.

There were five Hasbrook children: Junior, Gerry, Fred, Bill, and Barbara. The Depression had further impact on the family causing them to lose their farm and business. After graduating from high school in New London, she worked at various jobs before serving in the Navy from February 1, 1943 until September 20, 1945. She served as an Aviation Machinist Mate Second Class rebuilding aircraft engine in Livermore, California and scheduling pilots in Dallas, Texas.

Gerry and Bill met in the Navy and were married in Ottumwa, Iowa, November 30, 1944, where Gerry was in training. They corresponded for the next year until they were discharged and moved to Alameda County, California, where Bill returned to work as an operating engineer. Gerry gave birth to two sons: Pat and Mike. Bill secured an engineering job with McDonald Douglas Aircraft Company in St Louis, Missouri. In 1956 Kathy was born and they moved to Littleton, Colorado, where Bill was hired by the Martin Marietta Aerospace Co. as an Aeronautical Engineer.

Bill occasionally told stories of North Africa and flying PBYs over the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean and Atlas Mountains that were heroic as were all the American men and women who served during WWII. Both experienced the Great Depression and the booming post-war period. Their hardship made them hardworking, kind, gentle and humble. Gerry was proud of her roots and bragged about playing softball and being a tomboy. One of her prized possessions was a slingshot that her dad made for her. She fancied herself a mechanic but honestly, she was fortunate to have had Bill to take care of all things around the house and cars. He was a true mechanic of life that encouraged and taught his sons all a boy could hope to know about mechanics, the great outdoors and life. It was Gerry who shared with her children about Christ.

The McKinleys at their 50th wedding anniversary

The McKinleys at their 50th wedding anniversary

After Bill retired at 64, they moved to Blue Mesa located southwest of Gunnison, Colorado, where at 9,000 ft they had been building a home. As one of the early settlers of this area the roads were not kept open due to the deep snow. Not discouraged, they made friends with a rancher seven miles into the valley who allowed them to park their car in his barn. They would ride their snowmobiles to the ranch; drive to Gunnison for groceries and supplies then snowmobile to the house with a sled of supplies. The only communication was by radio since there were no telephones or cell phones. They were in their 60s and 70s!

After Bill’s death Gerry lived independently in Montrose until April 2012 when she moved to Littleton to be closer to the boys. Even at 94 she would walk a mile per day and was active socially at her assisted living quarters. She loved the outdoors and fresh air.