Colonel Douglas C. MacKeachie
Service of Supply
HQ SOS ETOUSA
On January 17, 1943 a C-87 Liberator Express, the transport version of the B-24D bomber, of the 9th Ferrying Group, Air Transport Command left Accra in what is now Ghana on a flight to Natal, Brazil with 12 U.S. military personnel and 13 RAF personnel on board. It disappeared into the south Atlantic, out of sight and reach of search and rescue teams. Several on board survived to drift in life boats in the Equatorial current, which runs across the Atlantic from Africa to Brazil at approximately 1-2 knots, only to die one by one until the last body was found in a life boat that drifted ashore at Ponte Negra, Brazil – 18 days after the plane was reported missing.
Among them was Colonel Douglass MacKeachie, Ridgewood High School class of 1917. Although born in Brooklyn December 4, 1900, he became a well known son of Ridgewood and lived on Beech Street (now Cottage Place), was on several sports teams in high school and was School Notes Editor for the Arrow. He established what high school principal Somerville called “one of the finest scholastic records in school history”. He had a gift for Latin and often helped classmates with their difficult passages. He spent the next four years at Colgate, earning a degree in 1921. It was about this time that his family moved to East Orange.
For a number of years he served as Vice President, Director of Purchases, New England Division, Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, living in Medfield, MA. In 1940 he went to Washington D.C. as Deputy Director of Purchases for the Office of Production Management, later serving as Director of Purchases for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the War Production Board before becoming a civilian employee of the War Department as Deputy Director of Procurement and Distribution for the Services of Supply (SOS).
From the very beginning of the war it was policy in the European Theater of Operations (ETOUSA) that the United States would purchase as many of its supplies as possible in the United Kingdom in order to save shipping space. Local procurement was therefore destined to be an important function, and to handle such matters a General Purchasing Board and a Board of Contracts and Adjustments were created in June 1942, both of them headed by a General Purchasing Agent. Colonel MacKeachie was commissioned in May 1942 and sent to the United Kingdom to fill this position.
The shortest distance over water between the western hemisphere and Europe or Africa is between Brazil and French West Africa. Natal, Brazil was the largest United States air base outside US territory and became known as the "trampoline to victory" as military activities in Europe as well as in the Indian sub continent transited through this base to and from the USA.
MacKeachie was a passenger on a plane which was reported missing on January 20, 1943 - having gone down about 700/800 miles east of the Brazilian coast. Search and rescue was abandoned on January 29. On February 4 a life raft was found adrift at sea by the USS Kearney about 60 miles east of Recife. The raft contained the remains of a man later identified as the pilot. An inventory of articles found in the raft included five life jackets, indicating that at least four RAF personnel had made it to the life raft. The next day, a second life raft was found on the beach at Ponte Negra, Brazil. One body was found in the raft and was identified as an American member of the flight crew. Among articles found in the raft was an American Express Travelers Cheque bearing the signature of Colonel MacKeachie. Also found was one insignia of rank of Colonel, USA. Six life jackets were also found indicating that the raft originally had six occupants. It is clear that, as each survivor died, the remaining survivors buried him at sea until there was nobody to bury the last casualty.
As neither of the two bodies found had evidence of injuries, it is assumed that the plane was forced down but did not explode or crash violently. Hunger and thirst are assumed to be the cause of death as there was no means to collect rain water. Attempts to catch fish were made by using a Colonel’s eagle insignia as a hook. The bones and tails of several small fish were found in the raft.
The official date of death for the eleven who are assumed to have survived the crash but perished at sea was established as February 3, 1943. Col. MacKeachie, who left a widow and one daughter, is listed among the Missing in Action or Buried at Sea at Cambridge American Cemetery in Cambridge, England. He is also listed among the service casualties in Medfield, MA. At death he was 42 years old.