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Vice-Admiral Joel McKenna



Vice-Admiral Joel McKenna grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey, one of 10 children of a rail yard worker and his wife.  His mother, Maura, was prone to consumption, contracted when she was young and working in a lace-making sweatshop. His father, 'Paddy' McKenna, was a large bruiser of a man who favored Irish whiskey and cigars when he was at home (which was a rarity, especially as his family grew, and his wife grew more and more transparent). He had a short temper, no toleration for other than the most basic education (he deemed it unnecessary), and put his children to work as soon as he could.  Joel was somewhere in the middle of the children, favored by his ailing mother for his then 'angelic' looks, and chosen in her heart to be the son who would be the priest in the family. Once she made up her mind, he received what the other children in his family did not, a formal education, not in the public schools, but in St. Kevin's School for Young Men.

Maura McKenna frugally saved money from what little Paddy gave her to run the house and paid the meager tuition to the Irish Christian Brothers, who ran the school. Admiring the determination of the ailing woman, the headmaster, Brother Michael, granted the boy a scholarship, setting him further apart from both his schoolmates and his family. Maura then used the monies, allocated for tuition, for other things that she lavished on her son. Over time, his siblings grew more angry and jealous of the gifts of food and treats that he received and that they did not.  In return, they rarely gave the boy a chance to defend himself from the verbal and physical abuse that he frequently had to endure. His father merely ignored the boy, thinking him totally valueless in a world that required hard work, not cerebral learning.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, his environment, Joel determined if that he were to rise anywhere in the world, he would have to have something, or someone, behind him. Therefore, he began to cultivate relationships that, even at an early age, showed him the way to advance.

At school, he sold his treats of food to older boys.  In turn, he would then take that money and buy homework and papers from the smarter boys in his classes. As he got older, he began to network those same boys to others, taking a percentage of the monies as his share of the profit. By eighth grade, he had an extensive underground business that was thriving.  As he moved to the High School, his business grew even larger. Unfortunately, he became so adept at faking his own papers and cheating on his tests that, in reality, he learned very little, although his grades reflected a much higher learning curve. He developed the ingenuity and ability to survive without much work or effort, but had not learned much from books.

As his high school years came closer to ending, he realized he needed to find a way to obtain a college degree, but he also realized he didn’t have the finances for it. He wasn't a excellent student or athlete, so he realized that there was no chance for scholarship monies. He then turned his interest to the service academies. He decided that the one he would get into would be the Naval Academy.  In his way of reasoning, the Army was too dirty for his liking and did too much marching; therefore West Point was not an option.  The thought of flying made him sick to his stomach and eliminated the Air Force Academy. By process of elimination, he chose the Navy.  He reasoned that anyone could sail a ship, and most of the officers he saw didn't go to sea much. They seemed to spend more time on land than water.

After finding out that there was such a thing as 'Orphan Appointments' that were given after the initial appointment list was announced, he sat in motion a plan to ‘buy’ an appointment to the Academy. These particular appointments were for the young men who wanted an appointment but couldn't get one by any other manner.  There was maneuvering and political favors to be given, but Joel McKenna would not be stopped. He would get what he wanted. He paid someone to take his SATs, paid someone to take his physical, got his letters in, used his charisma to pass the interview, and finally got into the Academy. By this time, his mother had faded out of his life, and his father, uncharacteristically numbed by the loss of a woman who he hadn't paid more than a brief, monthly attention to in life, but suddenly sainted in death, laughed at him when he said he was going to Annapolis.  To add insult to injury, Paddy openly bet with his friends that his son would flunk out before he got to his second year (Third class). That challenge made McKenna more determined to get in and get ahead.

Plebe summer and Plebe year proved to more difficult than he ever imagined. All his wiles and machinations couldn't help him; he had to do enough to make it thorough on his own. He both surprised and pleased himself, when he found at the end of Plebe year, that he had made it to the end of the year and managed to pass.  Barely, but he was staying. He ranked third from the bottom of the Fourth year class, but he ranked. He managed to stay in his class with his now polished methods of deceit and intimidation.

During his first class year, a young man, remarkably younger that the rest, but outstandingly smarter than most, arrived as a Plebe. The two were complete opposites of each other in every way. McKenna, over six feet tall, muscular with an already-developing layer of fat, was a born bully who pushed and fought his way through school, but was also smart enough to conceal it. Harriman Nelson, still some inches short of his final growth, had barely made the height limit. The youngster was slender, quiet, and undeniably brilliant. It was that high intelligence that had made the Navy waive the age requirement (18 years old) before some other school grabbed him. McKenna disliked Nelson on sight and chose him, along with two other plebes, as his special ‘targets’ for his own brand of hazing. One of the others dropped out and one committed suicide.  Nelson, however, endured, completing his Plebe year with a 4.0 average, in spite of the covert and often sadistic persecution. McKenna, on the other hand, graduated nearly at the bottom of his class.

Nelson had a meteoric military career, rivaled only by his scientific successes.  McKenna received his promotions by a combination of blackmail, bribes, and risking the lives of his men in grandstand plays, some of which actually succeeded. Nelson achieved the rank of admiral several months after his 44th birthday, making him the second youngest admiral in American history.  (The late Admiral Elmo Zumwalt holds the  distinction, even to this day, of being the youngest).  McKenna was promoted a year later. When Nelson resigned from the Navy soon after receiving his third star, built the Institute and, what many called the greatest ship on earth, the submarine Seaview, McKenna's often hidden jealousy became an incandescent rage and raging hate.

From that point on, McKenna sought to extract revenge on Harriman Nelson and his men, not because they were wrong, or committed some kind of crime, but because they had a reputation for doing the ‘right thing’, and were often hailed for their achievements, while he wallowed in what he believed was obscurity. He had come, by some bizarre reasoning, to believe that Nelson was the cause of all his personal failures, at and since the Academy. That Harriman Nelson was a fraud and a fake, and that he, Joel McKenna, was the only one to see through him and the only one who could ‘take him down’. Once he formulated his plan, he set about to attempt to destroy the scientist/inventor at every turn. Over the period of years, he managed to have him for treason, arrested Commander Lee Crane for mutiny and direct disobeying orders, and was instrumental in the arrest and near death of Lieutenant Commander Chip Morton for treason, among other things.

In each incidence, however, somehow he was defeated, very often at the last moment.  At one point, toward the end of his years, he secretly allied himself with a Colombian Drug Cartel leader, Miguel Rodriguez.  McKenna provided covert intelligence to the rogue Colombian in his pursuit to kill Nelson, and all associated with him, in retribution for the destruction of a major underwater laboratory that processed massive amounts of cocaine.  Ultimately, his actions only heaped further acclamation on the man he hated so much, and he died years later, in his final attempt to kill Nelson.



(With appreciation and gratitude to Mariann Hornlein, the creator of Joel McKenna, for allowing us to ‘have’ him.  She gave us part of his later life, but the bio is ours.)




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