Recently, Edward O. Spain gave the Rensselaer County Historical Society a collection of documents and medals connected with William Cahill Mackey of Troy who died serving in the Air Force during World War II. The collection includes his Silver Star, Purple Heart and other medals, a photo, and documents connected with his service, including the telegram his parents received informing them of his death. Mr Spain’s father was a neighbor of the Mackeys, who gave him the collection.
William Cahill Mackey with his Bronze Star
and Purple Heart
What can we learn about this brave young man who gave his life for our country? He was the only child of Cornelius and Anna Cahill Mackey. Cornelius started his adult life as a bank teller, then was a salesman for a wholesale druggist. William graduated from LaSalle, then Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. The family lived on 14th Street in Troy.
When the war started, William was working as a clerk for the NYS Labor Department. His next job, as a pilot, was definitely more exciting. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in July 1941, older than many recruits as he had already graduated from college. In the records, he was described as six feet tall with blue eyes and brown hair. Usually only college graduates could become pilots.
After training in Texas, he was sent to the Pacific Theater, where he flew a B-25 Mitchell Bomber, with a crew of from four to six. William breathlessly reported to his dad in July 1943 from New Guinea, “Hit the jackpot today, dad.” The “jackpot” was a Japanese destroyer, which he bombed and sank in the Dampier Strait. “It was a nifty mission and a thrill to see the bombs going into that baby,” he wrote.
The November 12, 1943 Troy Times Record reported his death in action over Rabaul, New Britain. His body was not recovered. The paper did not report on the fate of his crew. His parents placed a tombstone for him at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Troy. He received the Purple Heart and Silver Star posthumously.
The citation for the Silver Star states,
“for gallantry in action over Rabaul, New Britain…Lt. Mackey piloted a B-25 engaged in a coordinated strike against this Japanese base...the strongest in the Southwest Pacific…Despite a barrage of anti-aircraft fire and numerous airborne fighters, he made a strafing run over the ship…this pilot thoroughly strafed two cruisers which were throwing up intense anti-aircraft fire...His aircraft received hits, setting it on fire, and necessitating a forced landing on the sea. This action cost Lieutenant Mackey his life.”
This great addition to the collection of the RCHS was made possible by the thoughtfulness of Mr. Spain, who recognized that in the absence of descendants of the Mackeys, the whole community could have the opportunity to remember and honor William with their donation here.