Charles Andrew MacGillivary (January 17, 1917 - June 24, 2000) was a Medal of Honor recipient, born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. A Sergeant in the United States Army, he was attached to Company I, 71st Infantry, 44th Infantry Division during World War II.
Born to Cardigan Scot Roland MacGillivary and Minnie Quinn, he attended Queens Square School in Charlottetown and joined the Merchant Marines at age 16. Shortly thereafter, MacGillivary emigrated to the United States, to live with his older brother in Boston, Massachusetts.
After hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor, he decided the right thing to do was to volunteer for the U.S. Army. In January 1942, he joined the Army as a private soldier and was assigned to the European Theatre of Operations.
He told the United States Senate Subcommittee on Immigration 50 years later, that when he was in boot camp: "an officer asked me and two other immigrants ... whether we wanted to become U.S. citizens. [They took us] to a federal courthouse and [swore us] in before a judge. I thought that if I was going to fight for this country, I should be a U.S. citizen."
MacGillivary's first wartime action came during the Battle of Normandy, landing on Omaha Beach in 1944. From Omaha Beach MacGillivary would be involved in numerous liberation conflicts throughout France, before reaching Wœlfling during the Battle of the Bulge.
When his unit was surrounded on January 1, 1945 by the 17th German Panzer Grenadier Division a Waffen-SS Panzer unit in Wœlfling, France, MacGillivary, then 27, picked up a machine gun and knocked out four German machine gun nests, killing 36 German soldiers. He lost his left arm in this action. Interestingly the unit he fought to win his decoration, was given the title Götz von Berlichingen after a 15th century German knight who lost his right hand.
MacGillivary told a Boston Globe reporter in 1995:
"I looked down and my left arm wasn’t there. When you get hit by a machine gun, it’s like somebody put a hot poker in you. I stuck the stump of my arm into the snow, but the warm blood melted the snow. I figured I was dying. When they rescued me, my arm had a cake of bloody ice frozen around it, sealing the wound. If it had been summer, I’d [have been] dead."
For other actions during World War II MacGillivary also received the Purple Heart with three oak leaf clusters, the Distinguished Service Cross, (Later upgraded to the Medal of Honor), the Bronze Star, the Soldier's Medal, and the French Croix de Guerre.
Post-World War II
After the war MacGillivary returned home to Boston where for a short time he worked as a special agent for Boston's Treasury Department. He joined the United States Customs Service in 1950 starting as a warehouse officer, but soon became an agent for the United States Customs Office of Investigations, conducting special investigations. His daughter Charlene Corea remembered him as being particularly busy in the winter inspecting Christmas trees that entered the United States from Canada. He retired from the Customs Service in 1975.
Sergeant Charles A. MacGillivary was enrolled as a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts the third oldest chartered military organization in the world on April 6, 1992. He was the seventh member to receive the Medal of Honor.
MacGillivary was a resident of Braintree, Massachusetts from 1957 until his death at age 83 on Saturday June 24, 2000 in the VA Hospital in Brockton, Massachusetts. Rev. Philip Salois, who had himself received a Silver Star in the Vietnam War performed the funeral. Then Governor of Massachusetts Paul Cellucci was in attendance at MacGillivary's funeral. He is buried beside his wife, Esther, in Section 48 (grave 568) of Arlington National Cemetery.
Sergeant Charles A. MacGillivary, Customs Special Agent, Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient
He wasn’t American by birth. He’d come to the States when he was 16, from Prince Edward Island, Canada, to live with his older brother in Boston. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, he decided the right thing to do was to volunteer for the army of his adopted country. As he told the United States Senate Subcommittee on Immigration 50 years later, when he was in boot camp in Massachusetts, "an officer asked me and two other immigrants ... whether we wanted to become U.S. citizens. [They took us] to a federal courthouse and [swore us] in before a judge. I thought that if I was going to fight for this country, I should be a U.S. citizen."
The path to Woelfling, France
He landed at Omaha Beach, Saving Private Ryan’s beach, in 1944. From there, "we fought our way through France, taking back towns from the Germans," and finally reaching the town of Woelfling, a village so tiny it isn’t even on the map, by December of that year. It was, recalled one soldier, the coldest, snowiest winter in memory, with Allied soldiers out-manned and out-gunned by eight German Panzer divisions, 13 German infantry divisions, more than 600 light, medium, and heavy guns and howitzers, and 340 multiple-rocket launchers, all trained on American positions.
It was the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last-ditch attempt to salvage a war he was by then clearly losing.
On New Year’s Day 1945, Sergeant MacGillivary’s company, pinned down in that European permafrost by a Panzer division, running out of ammunition and talking of surrender, lost its commander. MacGillivary was next in line to take his place.
He had been assigned to protect his company’s left flank, so he knew precisely where the enemy’s guns were; he also knew his men were surrounded by nests of vipers armed with machine and submachine guns. When several German machine guns opened fire to stop an American advance, MacGillivary volunteered for a lone combat patrol to knock out the guns menacing his troops.
Circling through woods and snow, he managed to shoot two camouflaged German gunners from three feet way as other German forces withdrew. Later that day, he found his company facing yet another hive of at least six machine guns buttressing a company of German soldiers who clearly meant not to be stopped. They began to drench MacGillivary’s unit in a flood of automatic and small-arms fire. Taking advantage of available cover and armed with two machine guns — his own and another he’d picked up from the battlefield — he stalked the enemy.
Perhaps only a soldier knows what fortifies a hero in battle, but whatever it is, it pushed MacGillivary onward as he hurled grenades and killed or wounded German soldiers defending their positions. Ultimately, single-handedly, he took out four German machine-gun emplacements.
At the last emplacement, a wounded German soldier tried to retaliate with his own machine-gun fire and hit MacGillivary in the left side. Almost simultaneously, MacGillivary fired back and killed the man. Then, as MacGillivary recalled for a Boston Globe reporter in 1995, "I looked down and my right arm wasn’t there.
"When you get hit by a machine gun, it’s like somebody put a hot poker in you." Those permafrost conditions that had made fighting so treacherous also saved his life. "I stuck the stump of my arm into the snow, but the warm blood melted the snow. I figured I was dying. When they rescued me, my arm had a cake of bloody ice frozen around it, sealing the wound. If it had been summer, I’d [have been] dead."
U.S. Customs, privileged beneficiary
A man can work a lifetime and not achieve the glory, accomplishments, or recognition that Charles MacGillivary did before he turned thirty. Nonetheless, honor in battle had not exactly been a career choice, and once the war ended, he had to make a living.
He returned home to Boston, where he worked briefly as a special agent for the Treasury Department. He joined the Customs Service in 1950, starting as a warehouse officer, but soon went on to become a special agent for what is now the Office of Investigations, conducting investigations in several areas of interest to Customs. An old friend, Bernard Crowley, who knew Charlie from their early days and who retired as chief inspector at Logan Airport, remembers his friend as a gentle, patient, humble man who took great pride in his service with Customs and was highly regarded by his co-workers. His daughter Charlene Corea recently remembered him as being particularly busy in the winter inspecting Christmas trees that entered the country from Canada (and who better to do that?). He retired from the Customs Service in 1975.
Charlie MacGillivary died Saturday, June 24, at the age of 83. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in a funeral reserved for only military heroes: His flag-draped casket was borne to the gravesite by a horse-drawn caisson accompanied by a military honor guard and followed by five older men in business suits, each wearing his own Congressional Medal of Honor. Young solders folded the flag, gave a 19-gun salute, and played Taps.
More than 500 years ago, Shakespeare wrote of a beloved fallen king, "He was a man, take him for all in all, [we] shall not look upon his like again."
And so it is for those referred to as "the greatest generation."
And so it is for Sergeant Charlie MacGillivary.