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McKey Edward M.

Edward M. McKey
Serial Number:
American Red Cross Ambulance Service
Date of Death:
Sacrario Militare di Fagarč (Military Memoria
far right vestibule
Italian Silver Medal for Valor

Lieutenant Edward Michael McKey of the American Red Cross (ARC) was killed on the Italian Piave River Front on June 15, 1918, the first day of the Battle of the Solstice (2nd Battle of the Piave). He was the first ARC member killed in Italy in World War 1 and he is the only American buried in an Italian Military Memorial cemetery. McKey, an artist who lived in New York, Italy, and France. Some think his friend and fellow Red Cross volunteer, Ernest Hemingway also used him as a partial model for the character of Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms. McKey was born in Janesville, Wisconsin and raised in Minnesota. After about two years of study at the School of Fine Arts in St. Paul, he became a portrait artist who had a studio in New York City. Later he lived in Rome and Paris with his two sisters, Electa and Laura McKey, who were also artists. He was eager to serve in World War I, but poor health kept him out of the military. After serving with the Ambulance Field Service in France, where he received the French War Cross, he came to Italy in December 1917. A contemporary biography, written while he was still alive, noted: “He was an ardent lover of Italy. ‘There is an old villa in Florence, high and remote,’ said he, ‘that I have in my mind where I shall go when I am old and where I shall rest when I die. America is the place for youth, but the Continent is the abiding place for age. There the old are respected and revered. I have always felt a responsive throb to the lines of Browning, ‘Open my heart and you will see, Graved inside of it, Italy’.” Edward McKey died June 15, 1918 at San Dona di Piave when an Austrian shell exploded beside him during the First Day of the Battle of the Solstice (Second Battle of the Piave). He had been serving as an ambulance and mobile canteen driver. After his death, his sisters Electa and Laura volunteered for the Red Cross in Padua (Padova) to carry on his work. Ernest Heming penned this poem to his friend Edward McKey, a bronze of which is located at the same Memorial where he is buried: Killed, Piave, June 18 Desire and All the sweet pulsing aches And gentle hurtings That were you, Are gone into the sullen dark. Now in the night you come unsmiling To lie with me A dull, cold, rigid bayonet On my hot-swollen, throbbing soul. -Ernest Hemingway