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A poignant story on Memorial Day

May 25, 2020

Dear Reader,

Please join me in taking a moment this Memorial Day to pay tribute to those who gave their lives for our country and for causes greater than themselves.

I will remember one such person, who has brought considerable meaning to my own life. I will stop to pause on Monday, during a national moment of silence at 3:00 pm local time, to think of Pvt. Frank Mackey, Jr., from North Philadelphia—a modest pipefitter and avid dancing enthusiast. I never met the man, but I found inspiration in him long after his death.

Mackey was a 21-year-old paratrooper/medic—with a wife and young son at home. On D-Day he jumped and landed near the swampy areas behind Utah Beach, and set up his medic’s station in a little French hamlet near Picauville. He saved the lives of several people, and patched up a French youngster who had injured himself before the invasion. The next day, on June 7, German soldiers attacked his station and Mackey held off the assault, so those under his care could escape from the back exit. The Germans soon broke down the front door and bayoneted the unarmed medic. Four hours later, Mackey bled to death on the main street of the village. There were no other medics in the area to help save this brave man, and the French villagers were under German armed arrest.

Over the decades, due to the efforts of villager Lucien Halsey—whose younger brother Pvt. Mackey had tended to—this story had become something of a legend in the area: the medic’s name was the only one missing on “Lucien’s Wall,” a memorial that the Frenchman carved on the side of his stone barn, which he dedicated to the men who liberated his village in June 1944.

The identity of Pvt. Mackey was unknown to the villagers for seventy-two years. And during that time Lucien and others had tried to find his name. But through the miracles of the online world, and the creativity of my Gettysburg College student Greg Dachille, my associate David Wemer, Normandy local historian Ben Trumble, and WWII expert Col. Leonard Fullenkamp, our team found the identity of this mysterious man, who had given his life to save others.

At first, when I challenged this group to help me find the medic’s name, most of us were skeptical that we might succeed. However, all of us wanted to give it a try—for Lucien. Here is a short clip of the story that the United States Army’s 82nd Airborne Division compiled after members of their unit participated in the village event, three months later, when we disclosed our findings. Please take a moment to watch this moving clip of Frank and Lucien’s shared history.

How Lucien’s Wall came to have a complete list of names of soldiers from the 82nd Airborne who liberated the hamlet near Picauville in 1944.

Today, Frank Mackey’s name is on Lucien’s Wall, carved there by Lucien Halsey himself, with all the physical difficulty of one who has lived more than eight decades of life. Despite the pain and worries, he did so with determination and a sense of completion. Later that fall, Lucien met Frank Mackey’s son who visited this spot to learn that his father had been a revered hero in this little hamlet on the Normandy coast. Lucien’s Wall of remembrance is now a French monument.

This Memorial Day, please take a moment to think about the men and women you might have known or learned about, who sacrificed all they had, not just for us, but also for strangers. It is especially meaningful this year, in our time of loss and gratitude.

Susan Eisenhower

Trumble, Wemer, Halsey, Eisenhower, and Fullenkamp at Lucien’s Wall
This is the team that undertook the search for the medic, in what Col. Fullenkamp told us would be like “trying to find a needle in a haystack.” From left: Ben Trumble, David Wemer, Lucien Halsey, Susan Eisenhower, and Leonard Fullenkamp. (Missing: Greg Dachille.)
addition of ‘F. Mackey’ engraving to Lucien’s Wall
Detail of “F. Mackey” stone, engraved by Lucien Halsey at Lucien’s Wall.
Frank E. Mackey’s headstone at his grave in Normandy, France
Frank E. Mackey’s grave. Taken by the author at The American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.

 

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Greg Gajus permalink
    May 25, 2020 7:35 am

    Thank you for this post. I was fortunate enough to tour Normandy with Ben in 2016 – meeting Lucien, hearing his story and seeing his wall was the most moving part of the trip. Looking forward to your new book!

  2. Annapolis Maryland permalink
    May 25, 2020 7:42 am

    Memorial Day a special day to remember and to honor all of our fallen warriors who gave their lives so others may live to carry our traditions our American values of freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom to pursue happiness for all. Your remembrance of Private Frank Mackey, Jr is memorable and is just one of many warriors who we honor today and for years to come.

  3. May 25, 2020 8:57 am

    What a beautiful story. Thank you Susan for sharing this important reminder of the realities of War and that very touching,Historical moment in time. As, always You shed light where there is so much darkness. Thank You !!

  4. Ann Turpin permalink
    May 25, 2020 8:59 am

    Susan, I had heard you tell this moving and amazing story a couple of years ago. It is a story worth re-tellling and remembering today, especially. A story of heroism, determination and gratitude.

  5. Rebecca Youngblood Vaughn permalink
    May 25, 2020 9:16 am

    Thank you for contributing to keeping Fred Mackey’s legacy alive. May he RIP.

  6. Bob Hanfling permalink
    May 25, 2020 10:34 am

    Good morning Susan Thank you for sharing this wonderful story with me and for your efforts in making it happen I am currently watching the ceremony at Arlington, difficult as it is to watch our current President Very best regards Bob

    Robert Hanfling Mobile – 303 941-9582

    >

  7. May 25, 2020 11:35 am

    Very moving but also a reminder of an era when a 21-year old might be married, have a son, be a medic and a trained army recruit. How many 21-year olds are there like that today?

  8. janetmorganriggs permalink
    May 25, 2020 12:56 pm

    Dear Susan,

    Thank you for posting this story. Every time I hear it, it brings tears to my eyes. Today was mo exception.

    I hope you are well during this strange time!

    Best, Janet

    Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

  9. Susanne E. Vandenbosch permalink
    May 25, 2020 1:53 pm

    When I was a twelve year old I went to the railroad station to greet my uncle who was returning from service in New Guinea. He had been away from home for three years. “How many [Japanese] did you kill ?” I asked. My uncle and the rest of the family who were there grew quiet. It made me realize that he was doing his duty but did not like to kill another person.

  10. Cynthia Osborne Hoskin permalink
    May 25, 2020 5:40 pm

    Susan, a lovely story for you to be part of and to remind us of what is important, especially now.

  11. Tim Warrener permalink
    May 26, 2020 8:28 am

    Thank you for sharing. Lest We Forget.

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