Richard Franklin Mackey was born on December 25, 1939 in Parnell, Nodaway County, Missouri, the son of Lester and Edna Mackey. What is known of the man comes from scant sources, a collection of dates, and a list of accolades he received during his service in the Vietnam and Gulf Wars as a Special Forces soldier in the United States Army. He was followed shortly after his death by his wife Christina, and the pair were survived by no children. Perhaps as a result of this, the recorded story of Richard Mackey’s life was not transcribed for the history books before, or as a result of, his passing. It is through examination of his awards, important dates of his service, and his status as a Green Beret that the narrative of Mackey’s life can be reconstructed.
Richard Mackey’s headstone at the Rock Island National Cemetery indicates that he was a member of the Army Special Forces, the legendary Green Berets. So named because of the distinctive headgear that they adopted from their French and British commando forebears, the Green Berets were formed from the remnants of a highly trained special operations team led by Col. Aaron Bank in World War II. As a Green Beret, Mackey would have been trained in a variety of special warfare skills including, “parachuting, foreign languages, hand-to-hand combat, radio operations, and a host of other specialized skills.” This specialized training provided Mackey with a toolbox that would come in handy for the first war that he participated in: Vietnam.
It was in the Vietnam War that Richard Mackey earned his Bronze Star. In the Vietnam War, Awards and Decorations of Honor, 1965-1972 database from Ancestry.com, which is based upon records from the National Archives and Records administration, Mackey is listed with an entry that details his earning of the award. In this entry, Mackey is listed as being a member of the Training Directorate. This perhaps indicates that Mackey served in the role of training South Vietnamese forces when he was recommended for the award in 1968. Serving in this role, Mackey would have been involved in helping the Army create an allied native force in Vietnam: “They took the Montagnards, the Nungs, the Cao Dei, and others and molded them into the 60,000-strong Civil Irregular Defense Group (CIDG). CIDG troops became the Special Forces’ most valuable ally in battles fought in faraway corners of Vietnam, out of reach of conventional backup forces.” Mackey’s involvement in the creation of the CIDG was thus a crucial asset to the US effort in the Vietnam War.
The other conflict that Richard Mackey would serve in was the Persian Gulf War. In August 1990, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait, prompting an international response that included a US and allied invasion. The Green Berets were called upon to run a variety of operations in this conflict. Army Special Forces operations in the war included setting up observation posts to keep track of Iraqi troop movements snatching prisoners to extract human intelligence, and training and facilitating allies and partner forces. One team was even nearly overrun by Iraqi forces after two boys spotted their movements, but managed to fight their way to safety with the aid of close-air support. Unlike in Vietnam, it is unknown for certain what role Mackey played specifically during the Gulf War. However, Mackey had risen to the leadership position of Sergeant Major by this point in his career, so it is known that he would have served in a leadership role amongst his fellow Green Berets during these operations. During the Persian Gulf War Sergeant Major Mackey was awarded the Legion Of Merit, The Bronze Star Medal And Meritorious Service Medal.
Much like his early life, Richard Franklin Mackey’s life after his service is sparse in details. His headstone speaks of siblings, nieces, and nephews. His wife’s headstone reads, “TOGETHER AGAIN”, indicating a loving marriage that husband and wife surely cherished. Richard Franklin Mackey’s service as a Green Beret, though largely unrecorded, will forever be remembered for its courage and dedication to the protection of the United States. Sergeant Major Mackey passed away on November 21, 2019