Fascination With Flight Inspired 1943 Enlistment
Like a loving parent, Esther MacKay
has watched and helped the United States Air Force grow from the
offshoot Army Air Corps to a distinguished and respected branch of
the military. And, at 101, she is also that branch's oldest living
chief master sergeant.
MacKay enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943, inspired, she
says, by her fascination with flight - a technology still in its
relative infancy. She was promptly shipped off to basic training at
Fort Devens, Mass., according to The Air Force Materiel
Her service in the USAAC took MacKay to England, France and
Germany during World War II. When the aspiring airplane mechanic
returned to the States, she was assigned to Westover Air Force Base
It was there she witnessed the birth of the US Air Force in
"It was wonderful to have a front-row seat to watch the service
change and grow, and it's (humbling) being part of history," she
As she looks back fondly on a stellar career, MacKay
acknowledges her military service wasn't easy.
Being only one of very few service women at that time could be
difficult, especially when "opening my mouth would get me bounced
out of the service," she said when explaining how her gender may
have caused her to be overlooked for a grade or promotion or
But, she says she not would trade any bad experiences if it
meant missing her chance to watch the Air Force grow into what it
When thinking of her fondest memories, the chief likes to recall
her assignment to the Pentagon.
MacKay worked for then-Defense Secretary Charles E. Wilson in
the 1950s in his front office with four other women -- "one from
each of the services," she said. "One time, I was selected to greet
Winston Churchill as he entered the Pentagon," she said. "He came
up the elevator and looked up at me with the most interesting blue
eyes -- mind you, he wasn't a tall man, and I'm only 5 feet 6
inches. It was a thrill."
MacKay's niece, Colene Dodsworth recalls watching a news
broadcast with her father and being surprised when she "saw Esther
walking behind Secretary Wilson as he made a statement on the
After leaving the Pentagon, McKay went to Colorado and the early
days of the North American Air Defense Command.
The chief says she was
successful in the Air Force and in life because of hard work and a
pursuit of education.
"I'm a quiet person," she said. "Whenever I made an
accomplishment (such as promotion), that was an achievement for me.
I knew how hard I worked for it."
She admits without the help of the service, she may never have
been able to continue her education, an underlying goal.
"During the 1960s I studied at night school," she said. "I was
the only girl in a class of senior enlisted members and officers.
Part of me said, 'Back out, now,' and I almost did. But part of me
said, 'No, I won't.'"
She didn't, and successfully completed the course.
MacKay said there is only one thing different she would do in
"If I was entering the Air Force today, I'd want to try get
involved in the space program," she said. "I find that area purely
fascinating, probably more than most."
Chief MacKay followed two guiding principals during her service
career that she likes to pass on to Air Force troops -- "being
patient and be willing to work hard."
She has one more message: "Happy 60th birthday US Air Force!
Thank you for all that you do!"
(Aero-News salutes USAF 1st Lt. Martha Petersante-Gioia,
66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office)