Former airman MacGregor tells story in new local film
Some of the most fascinating stories can be found close to home. A few years ago, Frank Normile discovered one of them when he met Park City resident Malcolm MacGregor.
A member of the Army Air Corps in World War II, MacGregor flew 34 missions over Europe in a B-24 bomber. His first was on D-Day in 1944, and his last was later that year, when his plane was shot down during a raid on Kassel, Germany. He jumped from the plane’s bomb bay after his pilot gave the order to evacuate.
"I was lucky to get out and lucky not to be hurt worse than I was," said MacGregor.
Jumping from the plane at 25,000 feet in the middle of an air battle, he parachuted through a whirl of planes and bullets, touching down in a field in Germany.
"When I came down, it was the loneliest I’ve ever been," said MacGregor.
Wounded, but not badly, MacGregor was taken prisoner and went to a camp for officers in northern Germany, where he spent the rest of the war along with 9,000 other airmen, mostly officers, until the Soviets arrived in May of 1945.
Normile first met MacGregor a few years ago, as he was making a series of short documentaries for the Heber Valley Aero Museum. The series, "Our Heroes," tells the stories of a four World War II veterans from Summit and Wasatch counties. The first three featured interviews with pilots Jack Wells, Burnis Watts and Harry Moyer. MacGregor, a navigator and bombardier, was the fourth.
"I provide the variety," he joked.
The film was completed earlier this year, and will screen at this month’s meeting of the Park City Library’s History Book Club this Tuesday, April 11, at 6:30 p.m. along with another film about the Kassel raid.
Normile said hadn’t originally planned on doing a film about MacGregor, but after meeting him, Normile decided MacGregor’s story was simply too interesting to overlook.
"He and I talked and I told him I was making these other films," said Normile, "and I asked if he’d liked to be part of the project."
MacGregor accepted and told Normile about his experiences, providing him with an approximately 200-page handwritten memoir of his experiences, from when he was drafted to his time in the Air Corps and as a prisoner of war.
He said he wrote much of it when he returned home from Germany, and the rest when one of his nephews became interested in the subject about 25 years ago.
"It takes about two-and-a-half hours to read and it goes into a lot of detail," MacGregor said.
"I did all the reading about this and Malcolm’s quasi-diary filled me in on the anecdotal experiences," said Normile.
From there, he chose the material to highlight in the film.
"I had to edit down his 300 pages into something we could read in the Park City Television studios," Normile said.
"To put it into 34 minutes; that took a lot of work" said MacGregor.
MacGregor narrated the work, and Normile, with the help of Rich Levi of Seek Productions, matched his words to a collection of images that included still pictures and German and American films of the battle. While the three previous "Our Heroes" films featured mostly interviews, the MacGregor film was a slightly more ambitious production.
"It took me two years to do it," said Normile. "With this one, it was such a big story."
He even arranged a different ending, gathering MacGregor and his family for a final, parting shot.
"I wanted to have a little bit of a different feel to the end of it," Normile said. "It was the first time I had something where I wanted to make the audience cry."
Ultimately Normile, who had no serious prior experience as a filmmaker, said his work on the three previous films allowed him to make the fourth.
"I think I learned some lessons from the three others, that I could do some stuff in this one that I couldn’t do in the others."
MacGregor said he appreciated the film.
"I think it’s pretty good," he noted.
After he came home and was discharged from the Air Corps, MacGregor completed his engineering degree at Cornell University and went into the private sector, moving to Park City as a retiree in 1990 to be near his children. He currently lives in the Park Meadows area.
Normile said he was happy to to shine a spotlight on MacGregor and to help out an old friend, Ed Strauchen, who asked Normile to do the films. Strauchen died in a plane crash in 2003.
"This one was really powerful for me," Normile said, "because it was the last one for me, because it was filling my commitment."
One of the founders of the Heber Valley Aero Museum, Strauchen wanted the films to showcase area fliers. The first features Wells, a B-17 pilot and the second focuses on the late Watts, who flew a glider behind enemy lines on D-Day. The third subject, Moyer, was a tactical air support fighter pilot in the American’s Italian campaign.
"All three had different takes on things," said Normile.
All of the films are on display at the Aero Museum.
"It was just a labor of love, because I knew I wasn’t going to make any money off them, but Eddie asked me to do them, so I had to. We really worked hard on it," Normile said. "It was a worthwhile, meaningful experience to get to know these guys."
He said that he plans to continue to make documentaries, although he declined to name any specific projects.
MacGregor, meanwhile, will be at the History Book Club screening of the film to answer questions and talk about his story. It is a memorable one, he conceded, however he said he didn’t consider himself a hero for his actions then.
"I was just doing what I had to do at the time," he said. "I didn’t charge any machine gun nests or fight the German army single-handedly."
But with Normile’s help, his story along with Well’s Watts’ and Moyer’s will endure.
For more information on Malcolm MacGregor’s appearance at the Park City Library, call 615-5600.
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