SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

March 10, 2008

Jim Cahill: A legend with a capital 'L'

Everyone's life has a story. In "Lives," we tell some of those stories about North Shore people who have died recently. "Lives" runs Mondays in The Salem News.

SALEM — Two men sat inside a car at the end of a Cape Cod fishing pier revving the engine as they prepared to speed down the gangplank and soar off into the ocean.

It was the 1950s and the press had been invited to watch what was being billed as a demonstration of underwater survival. After a false start — the car ran out of gas — the refueled jalopy sped up, flew off the pier and landed in the water. Incredibly, it floated, forcing the intrepid passengers to roll down a window and sink the car.

After a few minutes under water, the two occupants escaped and swam to the surface.

Back in Beverly Farms, Barbara Cahill was hanging laundry in the backyard and listening to radio coverage of what sounded to her like a crazy stunt. She wasn't paying much attention until the news reporter said: "Local frogman Jim Cahill was able to successfully escape from the vehicle."

Mrs. Cahill almost dropped the laundry. Somehow, when her husband left for work that day, he had forgotten to mention that he would be driving a car off a pier.

For James F. Cahill, Jr., who died Feb. 28, that was just an average day.

The 81-year-old Salem native led a life that was, at times, hard to believe. It was more the stuff of legend.

"He had the same kind of qualities as John Wayne," said his son, Mike.

Cahill, a pioneer in scuba diving, took part in the filming of the 1951 movie "Frogmen" about the U.S. Navy's underwater demolition team. It was a subject he knew well — he had been a member of that legendary Navy team.

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