Sunday, December 9, 2012

Day Six: Hillary's Log

I started this morning at 5:00 am with my first glimpse of the Southern Cross, a constellation only visible from the Southern Hemisphere, followed by a magnificent sunrise. Overnight, we anchored at Tulagi, an island where vicious battles were fought between U.S. and Japanese forces. We made landfall on the island around 7:30 and saw some of the caves from which the Japanese would hide and attack U.S. troops. It was amazing to see how peaceful the island is now compared to the stories of violence and chaos that we have been hearing. 
From Tulagi we headed towards Tokyo Bay where the remains of veteran Theron 'Mac' Mackay's ship is located. Mac has been back to the Solomon Islands so many times since the war that he's lost count. He estimates that this is the 14th or 15th time that he's returned to see what is left of the U.S.S. LST 342. Mr. Mackay had just celebrated his 19th birthday aboard the LST 342  when it was torpedoed by the Japanese in the middle of the night. Mac was on watch at the time, and he spotted the torpedo just before it hit the ship. After waking up in the water, he despaired for his life. "I hurt all over," Mac told me describing his feelings immediately after waking up. He doesn't remember how long he was in the water, but he remembers the fear he felt when he heard a gurgling sound behind him. He looked up to see what was left of the bow of his LST drifting in the water, with survivors ready to pull him on board. "It looked like it had been cut in half by a giant knife," Mac has told me when describing the wreck. 
Mac sustained a wound to the foot and damaged teeth. He later discovered that of the 86 crew members on board the LST, he was one of only 5 to survive the attack. It is truly a miracle that he lived to tell the story of what happened that night in July of 1943. 

The other day, as Mac and I were talking about his many trips back to visit the ship that saved his life, he said, "You know, when I was a sailor aboard the LST, we all used to cuss the ship because of its horrible living conditions..." He paused for a moment, chuckled a little, and then looked at me saying, "but now I cherish it." Mr. Mackay has told me many times in the past week that this will be his last trip to visit his ship. "The old pegs just can't take it much longer," he says. As he told me today, "My love affair with a's over." However, although Mac may never return to visit his old ship again, I know that I will tell his story to anyone who will listen, because the story of Mac's sacrifice needs to be spread. The U.S.S. LST 342 may be "rusting away in Tokyo Bay," but the story of what Mac Mackay did that night and throughout his entire career in the service will live on. 


  1. Sgt.Elmer J. Hawkins is my Grandfather whom I love much. He is an incredible and on going inspiration in my life. He lives with a true red white and blue heart,and still serves this country in many ways. We live four hours apart,but my husband,daughter,and myself spend as much time as we can together. My GrandFather is my hero. I kid you not... that man is one of a kind. Thank you so much to everyone who made this trip possible for my Grandfather. I can not wait until his return for it looks like he has many more stories to tell me. Thank you. God Bless everyone

  2. Hillary,

    Thank you, your fellow group members, and your school for making it possible for my Dad, "Mac" to go on this trip. I spoke with my Mom yesterday evening after they arrived home. She said Dad is happy and grateful for having been on the trip.

    Having read each student's blog, I must say, you sound like a lovely group of young people. I'm glad that you have all become a part of my Dad's history.

    Diane Mackay

    1. Diane,
      I can't begin to express the impact your dad has had in my life! Our trip was a fantastic experience, and I loved hearing all of his stories. He spoke very highly of you! If you speak with him soon, please let him know to watch for a letter from me! I miss him already. Thank you!