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.
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.