The Port Washington American Legion Post #509 has selected their chaplain, Floyd D. Mackey, to serve as co-grand marshal of this year's Memorial Day Parade scheduled for 10 a.m., Monday, May 29. Born in Richmond, VA, Mackey never saw the ocean in his early years until assigned as a cadet in the United States Merchant Marine Academy to sea duties on the ship Santa Margarita. After graduation from the academy in 1944, he continued his journey at sea, which would extend over 19 months and span 80,000 miles during World War II.
At the outbreak of WWII, convoys and amphibious landings were a novel concept in shipping. The shores of our country were less than well protected. United States vessels were sunk by U-boats operating just off our shores and the site of burning ships could often be seen from our beaches. Deck guns of a surfaced U-boat shelled a Wilmington, NC fuel plant. The need for the convoys during the Battle of the Atlantic was evident. Britain's need for supplies was not for arms and munitions but for food and other necessities needed for everyday life. At one point British supplies were anticipated to last no more than two weeks.
In 1942, Mackey left his job as an office clerk in his hometown of Richmond, VA when attracted to a recruiting poster offering the training for service in the merchant marine offered by the newly created Merchant Marine Academy in Great Neck. His studies and hands-on sea training culminated in February 1944 and he was later awarded a bachelor of science degree with a major in marine transportation. His graduating class consisted of approximately 3,800 cadets; the largest to ever graduate from the academy whose motto is 'Action, not words.'
After graduation, Mackey's first assignment was on the Santa Margarita, a 461-foot ship carrying military supplies to allied forces in North Africa. The Santa Margarita was one of a 27-ship convoy steering a zigzag pattern to avoid German U-boat wolf packs as it made the 14-day journey across the Atlantic.
The dangers of convoy crossings were especially hazardous at the beginning of the war when the German U-boats were highly effective. In 1942 for example, an unescorted convoy of 36 ships transporting supplies to Russia was attacked off the coast of Norway and 23 ships were sunk. The threat of the U-boats was so severe at that time that survivors in lifeboats from sunken ships refused to be picked up by other ships in the convoy. Their rationale was that, should they come on board another ship, they would have no assurance that, should that ship be sunk, they would be fortunate to get in another life boat.
The Merchant Marine, which consisted of approximately a quarter-million men and 4,000 ships, suffered severe casualties. Casualties included 6,834 killed, over 11,000 wounded, 604 taken prisoner and over 850 ships sunk. Mackey's class of '44 suffered the loss of many of 142 men killed in action. The events in the Battle of the Atlantic have been well documented on both the allied and axis side. There is a U-boat museum in Germany that documents the location, date and other circumstances of the sinking. Scholars in the United States have undertaken similar documentation on the sinking of United States vessels.
Mackey's travels at sea took him around the world to five continents and five oceans where he transported thousands of tons of supplies. He fondly recounted a visit to Buenos Aires in 1943 where he and his crew were treated well by the residents and the United States ambassador. The treatment was especially favorable because the cadet and naval crew were required to wear the American naval uniforms in a country that looked favorably on the German cause.
During WWII while on leave from the academy, Mackey took the LIRR from Great Neck to Port Washington to attend a block party on Main Street. The round-trip train fare to New York at that time was $1.02. The event was sponsored by the same American Legion Post he was to join decades later and nominated him to be this year's co-grand marshal. Mackey found Port a desirable community but was even more attracted by a young lady he met named June. After the war, Mackey returned to Richmond and found he had no further desire to return to the sea. Instead, he was drawn to Port by the affection he had developed for June, the young lady he met at the block party on Main Street. In the fall of 1946, Floyd left the service and he and June were married.
June's family is the fourth generation in Port. Her mother, Gay Pearsall, was the founder and major figure in obtaining funds to construct the Sousa Band Shell in Sunset Park. Her fundraising efforts in Port began in 1964 with a unique assessment of ten cents per inch or $1 per foot for the businesses' street frontage from Sunset Park to Campus Drive. Gay Pearsall's appeal brought in contributions from the large and small, including President Nixon and Princess Grace of Monaco.
On June 11, 1967, the band shell was dedicated as the Sousa Band Shell in memory of the legendary musician who resided on the Manhasset peninsula. Sousa was an avid skeet shooter and member of the Manhasset Bay Yacht Club. June Mackey has continued the family tradition and is president of Sousa Memorial Band Shell Corporation; Floyd serves as vice president. Floyd Mackey retains an interest in the Merchant Marine Academy where he is active in organizing reunions, alumni matters and the academy's museum. As chaplain of Port's American Legion Post, Mackey attends the funerals services of veterans in Port, leads the American Legion in prayers and tends to other matters related to the needs of servicemen and their families.
The Mackeys are frequently asked if they are related to the Captain Mackey for whom Mackey Avenue is named. With a warm smile they say 'maybe, but not to our knowledge."