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Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup Founder
July 18, 1928âJune 21, 2014
Benjamin Campbell McRae, T/Sgt Retired USAF, 85, was promoted to his Heavenly Rest on June 21, 2014 surrounded by friends at home in Brookdale-Sterling Assisted Living, Lewisville, Texas. Since infancy, his membership was in the Presbyterian Church. Arrangements are under the direction of Mulkey-Mason Funeral Home in Lewisville, Texas.
Celebration of Life will be Thursday, June 26, 2014, 10:30 A.M., at First United Methodist Church Lewisville with Paul Sackett officiating. Scottish Bagpipe Major Don Shannon will present the music special. Full military honors interment will follow at 1:15 P.M. at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.
Ben was born the second of three sons to musician John Dowell McRae, and Maude Augusta (Campbell) McRae, homemaker and Registered Nurse, in Wynne, Arkansas on July 18, 1928âon his motherâs birthday.
Ben was preceded in death by his parents and by his elder brother, John D. McRae, of Little Rock, Arkansas and Iola, Kansas, and by daughter Elizabeth Dawn McRae, of Sweetwater, Texas.
Ben is survived by his younger brother, Robert Bruce McRae and wife Elia, Kennewick, Washington; three daughters, Mary M. McRae, Sanger, Texas, Sallie J. Smith, Lewisville, Texas, and Martha A. McRae, Irving, Texas; five grandchildren, Benjamin C. McRae, Alice A. Fitch, Christopher W. Smith, and Stephen B. Smith, all of DFW Metro-Plex, and Elizabeth A. Banks, Sherman, Texas; four great-grandchildren, eight nieces and nephews â Brother-in-Law, Vernon F. âMartyâ Martin, and many faithful friends, including Mark Smith, Joe Davis and Damion Hutson, and a favorite hunting buddy, Rich Shupert, Cle Ellum, Washington, and his friend and mother of his children, Mary E. (Bettye Martin) McRae, of Sweetwater, Texas.
Ben McRaeâs early years were spent in the Little Rock Arkansas Boys Club where Ben acquired the knowledge, value of, and the skills to operate and repair movie projectors. These skills would take him through both the military needs to entertain his troops at various sites, and for his later-life second career. Ben was working with his younger brother at MCR Theaters and Equipment Companies, when he installed billionaire Bill Gatesâ home theater system. He was elected President of the Local Projectionistâs Union. He had also earlier worked at RCA as an electronics technician.
Among numerous early achievements, Ben earned the rank of Eagle Scout, was a Five State Golden Gloves Champion, and attended Arkansas State University. After enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps, he accepted an offer to enter the Naval Aviation Cadet program. Thus in later years, he enjoyed flying his own airplane well up into retirement, taking many for example, to watch from the air, Mount St. Helens erupting. It was that Cadet training assignment to Pensacola, Florida which soon fed the thirst for adventure, when he and his trainer lost an engine and were forced to ditch into the ocean. They swam with the sharks for some six hours, until rescued by a passing Battleship directed to their whereabouts by search planes. Cheating untimely death seemed to be a habit: Ben survived an inverted flat spin on a check ride for his commercial pilotâs license when the luggage door popped open during a simulated stall. Another successful aircraft event (meaning he walked away from it) was when a nose-gear gave way, resulting in a totaled plane.
To the eager young pilotâs dismay, the Aviation Cadet program declared they had too many students âpassingâ â and must somehow trim enrollment â so they kept the âA to Lâ cadets in the program, and discharged the âM through Zâ. Thus it was, the determined young man would further serve his country by enlisting in the United States Air Force.
In the resulting travels in service to his country, Sgt. McRae was called on to be in the middle of an astounding number of âHistorical Firstsâ while earning his fair share of service medals, including Good Conduct, Korean Service, United Service, and WW2 Army of Occupation. He was among the first group of airmen trained on computers; was on duty the first time the U.S. had two artificial satellites in orbit, and installed most of the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line). Much of it while on remote assignment on the Aleutian Chain at Port Moller, Alaska while the Port Moller Airport was the tundra, and while his new daughter was taking her first baby steps waiting for Daddy to come home.
For his contribution to the Atlas and Agena B missile launch programs Ben proudly wore one of the first six Missile badges issued while he was stationed at Lockheed in Mountain View, California. Yet many other particulars in this chronicle were only mysterious events, until the details were no longer deemed âsensitiveâ, and subsequently de-classified. In recent months, while attending the needs of her father, his daughter learned how many times and why Sgt. Dad âwas thereâ for some truly high points in history. He and assigned crews under him installed much of the electronics to enable monitoring of the atomic testing at the Bikini Atoll. Years later, Sgt. McRae would be ordered to drive his men into France to dismantle a particular base when, during De Gaulleâs âPolitics of Grandeur,â the French president demanded the United States abandon our facilities in his country. Usable materials were to be recovered and stationary equipment summarily destroyed. But his tardiness on the trip back to his family near the Luxembourg-German border raised alarm. The cleanup (demolition) truck was blown up. A Master Sergeant neighbor friend was assigned to be on hand when the wife would be informed she was now âwidow.â But it was not Sgt. McRaeâs family in mourning after the sad informing. Only in recent years did his daughter learn the ironic and humorous twist of why their neighbor was so attentive that long night of waiting. The driver of the truck had been a volunteer, replacing âthe Sargeâ who was in the middle of shooting craps and would catch the next truck back to base and family.
On âhopsâ across the Pacific installing electronics, âThe Sargeâ was known to boldly âbumpâ high-ranking officers to get his critical and often urgent jobs done. Once, it was a General with a load of bananas. When arriving at the terminal with the ordered equipment, the pilot reported, âNo Sarge! Youâll have to wait for another flight!â But it was the bananas that got bumped, and the General who got the reprimand. The urgent mission was accomplished on time.
An accomplished marksman, Ben never missed an opportunity to hunt and fish. While serving with the Occupied Forces following WW2 Sgt. McRae had the rare honor of acceptance into Germanyâs elite JĂ€ger (hunting) society, causing relatives to constantly make space on their walls for treasured trophies shipped stateside. From Japan, Ben instead filled his motherâs cabinets with fine china and statuary. Later, he returned from Germany bearing 30 collectible clocks gleaned from the auctions and bargain hunting he so loved.
Back on the home-front, it became clear to the neighborhood, and perhaps he himself knew all along, that this man with a reputation for âtough as nailsâ was in fact, Santa Claus. The red suit and white beard he often wore during the tradition of giving, further drove home the rumor already established. But his youngest found him out when, hands on hips, she stomped her little foot, demanding to know why Santa was wearing her Daddyâs new M.L. Leddy custom made Cowboy Boots. Sgt. Santa wowed nieces and nephewsâand a concerned teacher or twoâ with âshow and tellâ of various âcaptures,â (before they were frowned upon by the Texas Game and Fish Commission) gifting the Arkansas children with Texas Horned Toads and at least one pet skunk. Thankfully, Uncle Ben had deodorized it first, as it soon worked its way from the nice comfy cage to nocturnally and noisily romp through the walls of the large two-story house.
True fish stories abound: Deep sea and giant barracuda, and marksmanship feats for Alaska brown bear, elk, deer, moose and exotic game. Most memorable still to children and grandchildren, is the legacy Sgt. McRae left in 1959 while stationed at the 683rd AC&W (Aircraft and Warning) site near Sweetwater. On its 50th anniversary, Ben McRae was recognized in the annual festive events, as an original founder of that which soon became the Worldâs Largest Rattlesnake Roundup.
Both abroad, and in the U.S., Daddy Ben was often heard to announce at breakfast, âIf you wanna go to the zoo with me, (or Holland or Paris, or castle-hopping, or to the auctionâŠ) be ready in 30 minutes!â Thus it was, Mama and four children kept spit-shined and polished, always ready to travel.
We salute Sergeant Benjamin Campbell McRae â to honor him and his service.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be offered to âBoys and Girls Clubs of Americaâ by contacting Boys & Girls Clubs of America Resource Development Operations,1275 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, GA 30309-3506, Phone: 404 487-5700, or by accessing these links: https://secure2.convio.net/bgca/site/Donation2?df_id=4601&4601.donation=... or http://bgca.org/donate/Pages/DonateByPhoneMail.aspx
Â© Bettye Martin-McRae â BunkhouseBooks.com