Wednesday, November 20, 2019

James M. MacKay, Greenwich Resident and WWII Veteran

Continuing to honor our veterans, guest blogger Joseph Campbell contributes this post on WW II veteran James M. Mackay.
During an Honor Flight to Washington D.C., James M. MacKay with Lt. Joshua Albright [Contributed photo] 
Greenwich resident James M. Mackay (born January 19, 1921) was interviewed for the Oral History Project on September 8, 2008, by volunteer Harriet Feldman. His interview offers a fascinating glimpse into his life growing up and living in Greenwich, amid the hardships of the depression, foreclosures, and then life on a working farm. He describes it as a “self-sustaining” farm where the family “grew corn, potatoes, raised chickens, rabbits, cows, horses, pigs.” They also had a root cellar for carrots and potatoes.Mr.MacKay says it was “a great life. Oh, it was just a fabulous life when I think back on it now.”

His idyllic boyhood would be cut short not long after graduating from Greenwich High School. He notes that there was no money for college, and World War II would begin shortly after his graduation. Mr. MacKay worked briefly at a local bank before being drafted into the Army in 1942.

Inducted at Camp Devens in Massachusetts, he then was sent to Fort McCullen in Alabama for infantry training. He arrived there, he tells us, having no particular specialized skillset that the Army needed at the time. Following his stint at Fort McCullen in Alabama, he was sent to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for more training and then to the California Desert, Yuma Arizona, and California along the Colorado River. He explains that they were training for combat in North Africa, but the North African campaign had ended by the time they were finished with training. As a result, they were sent to New Jersey and then to Ireland to prepare for the liberation of Europe, D-Day. 

Photo: “Into the Jaws of Death,” Public Domain 

And thus, James M. MacKay became part of the historic Normandy invasion. Just prior to the invasion, he was transferred from the Eighth Division to Army Signal Corps and placed in an intelligence unit. Mr. MacKay describes his job as locating where the enemy tanks and units were. He was assigned to General Patton’s Third Army. He fought across Normandy and past Paris, eventually crossing into Germany and meeting up with the Russians at Salzburg. 

As if the horrors of warfare itself were not enough, Mr. MacKay also tells of the liberation of Dachau, the infamous German concentration camp.  He relays what it was like to enter the camp and see the horrors of the German “Final Solution” and to live with the impact of that experience.

Mr. MacKay also speaks of his friends from Greenwich who died during the war: “One of my buddies I went to school with, Joe Bowowiec, went in the same Eighth Infantry Division that I went into, and he, unfortunately, was killed going over a hedgerow in Normandy. Several of the boys died. Adrian Atwood, who lived on Riversville Road, too, was on an aircraft carrier, and a Japanese kamikaze hit his aircraft carrier, and he was killed there. So we lost quite a few of them in this area. We lost Joe Balco; he was another one that got killed. I was lucky.”

James Mackay is part of what is known as the “Greatest Generation,” those who came through the Great Depression to fight Nazism and Japanese imperialism around the world. They fought the largest war in history, one that affected the entire planet. When the war was over, these soldiers came home and began rebuilding their lives. Mr. MacKay, like most of his generation, is humble when he speaks of his role in defeating the evil that was the Axis powers. That we have James M. MacKay’s story to read and to absorb and to use as a teaching tool is something that should not be overlooked. There are powerful and amazing stories of Greenwich citizens that are waiting to be discovered at the Greenwich Oral History Project. It is an admirable source of information for teaching our current generation of the everyday life, livelihood, and sacrifices made by those who came before us.

James M. MacKay’s interview, #2794, Life on Riversville Road, can be read in the reference section of the Greenwich Library, first floor, or by contacting the Greenwich Library Oral History Project office, 203- 622-7495.