John Lance Geoghegan
A MEMORIAL TO
JOHN LANCE GEOGHEGAN
Barbara, Cammie, and Jack Geoghegan
Jack with his daughter Camille (Cammie)
Jack was the only child of John J. and Camille D. Geoghegan
Jack as Brigade Commander with former
president Dwight D. Eisenhower at
1963 graduation weekend at
Pennsylvania Military College.
Jack on board a ship bound for
Vietnam with the First Air Cavalry
2LT John Lance Geoghegan,
Shortly after commissioning,
Jack was the top cadet and President of our class. He was the Brigade Commander. He was a man of character and integrity, one of the most distinguished military students in the entire nation in 1963.
Jack was the recipient of the PMC ceremonial sabre 46 years ago. In an historic ceremony behind Old Main, retired President and former Five Star General, Dwight D. Eisenhower, reviewed the Pennsylvania Military College Corps of Cadets prior to our commissioning ceremony. In return Jack Geoghegan presented another ceremonial sabre to President Eisenhower and we, the Cadet Corps, were saluted and blessed by the Supreme Allied Commander of World War II and President of the United States. (2009 Weidner University Commissioning Ceremony)
Jack and I met while we were in college. Jack was from Pelham, New York and a cadet at Pennsylvania Military College (now Widener University) in Chester, Pennsylvania. I was from Haddon Heights, New Jersey and a junior at Beaver College (now Arcadia University) in Glenside, Pennsylvania.
HOW we met is an amusing story. I had met a couple of Jack's fraternity brothers at one of those infamous college "mixers" a year before. While I never dated them, they remembered me and decided one night to "dare" Jack to call me, which he did. I was shocked that someone would just call out of the blue like that and think I would actually go out with someone I didn't know. But at the same time, he was awfully nice and sounded like a perfect gentleman. Something must have told me not to hang up without further consideration! Understanding my obvious reluctance, he suggested that I attend a dress parade at his school on a Sunday afternoon. Perfect! There would be lots of people around and it was in daylight, so I agreed.
October 7, 1962, was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. And I was a nervous wreck, pacing the floor in the lobby of my dorm waiting for Jack to appear and wondering if I'd made a big mistake. Then, at the exact appointed hour, a gleaming Oldsmobile convertible appeared at my dorm with a very handsome red-haired cadet driving. When I saw all the insignia on his dress uniform I was even more nervous, even though it was unfamiliar to me. He opened the door for me and I sat as close to the door on my side as I could. (A long time later Jack laughed at the recollection and said I practically left my image engraved on the door!) Jack was the perfect gentleman he had seemed to be on the phone and soon his amiable personality put me at ease during the hour ride to PMC. I was impressed!
When we got to PMC, he seated me in the stands near some of his fellow cadets' girlfriends. Soon the corps appeared on the field and since they were all dressed alike, I couldn't find Jack. Noticing that I was looking for him, the girl next to me said, "That's Jack out there leading the parade." For Heaven's sake, he was the BRIGADE COMMANDER, the top guy, and he had never said a word! That was just the beginning.
Jack and I started dating regularly and in time I soon discovered more of his modesty and lack of pretentiousness: he was also the class president and winner of almost every major award the college offered but he never talked about it. He was a legend at PMC even while he was still there. It wasn't difficult to fall in love with a man so gifted who didn't know it, or show it, whose sole concerns were for others, not himself.
Perhaps one thing that made him a good leader was his awareness of the needs of others. I still have a letter from the college president praising him for seeing to it that a fellow cadet could stay in school by taking up a collection all through one night from the entire corps to pay the cadet's tuition. That kind of behavior was typical of Jack. Even in little ways, he was unusually thoughtful. When we attended a big dance at my college, he stopped by Howard Johnson's and got a sundae for my housemother, knowing she had a long night ahead of her. (Sounds corny by today's standards, but they really did have housemothers and strict rules in the early 60's!)
Jack graduated in June 1963, and by then we were very much in love and serious about marriage. He got a deferment of his two- year Army commitment in order to get a Masters degree in International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania. I was a senior at Beaver the first year and we were married on June 13, 1964, a week after my graduation. Although I was from New Jersey, we were married at a Catholic church near my school because it was in that church that I had become a Catholic after an intense year of instruction. We went to Bermuda for our honeymoon and then moved into a small apartment in Pelham, not far from his parents.
It wasn't long before Jack grew restless as he realized that he wanted to use the second year of his deferment for a good purpose: to help people in need. He searched for jobs in third world countries and found the perfect opportunity with the Catholic Relief Services and in July 1964, we sublet our apartment and left for Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika (which became Tanzania that same year). Jack headed a school lunch program that fed 120,000 children a day. We traveled around the country a great deal, making sure supplies from the United States were getting to their destination. Jack loved Africa and wanted to go back after his two-year Army commitment was over. The experience in Tanzania fulfilled his loving, altruistic, giving spirit. After Jack's death I received several letters from friends in Africa. One of them said, "Jack was a Christian down to the deepest part of his being, that when it came to seeing Christ in others, Jack was the first to recognize Him and act on that knowledge." Another said, "I had this terrible premonition about Jack when I heard he was going to Vietnam. Aside from the fact that he seemed almost too good for this world, it was his integrity that made me worry about him - he would be incapable of averting a dangerous situation in order to "take care of Jack."
I became pregnant while we were in Africa. After we returned home and had good visiting time with our families, we went to Fort Benning, Georgia. While Jack was in the Infantry Officers Basic Course, our precious daughter, Camille Ann Geoghegan, named after her two grandmothers, was born on June 8, 1965. "Cammie" was suddenly the center of our lives!
It was after the Basic Course that Jack learned he would be assigned to the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, under Lt. Colonel Harold G. Moore, a man he instantly admired and looked upon as a role model. In July Jack knew he would be going to Vietnam. Before he left on Aug. 18, we were able to make one more visit to see his parents, who had just moved to Redding, Connecticut. Jack was an only child and was always very close to his parents. His father was full of grief when we visited that August and was scarcely able to cover his fear that he would never see Jack again. His mother, equally sorrowful, was able to stay on a more even keel during our visit.
After Jack left, I moved to Connecticut to be close to Jack's parents whom I adored. We would be each other's support while Jack was away, and Cammie was the focal point for all of us, keeping us laughing and ever hopeful. I wrote to Jack every day and he wrote as often as possible, and often to his parents. In what was probably Jack's last letter to his parents, he wrote on Nov. 7, "We have been on the defensive perimeter for almost two weeks and have been actively patrolling for that time. The men are becoming more professional everyday. Replacements have already arrived for the men who went home sick or those leaving the Army for good. As each one goes home, I feel good that he has made it safely." And then, "Each day here increases one's love for the United States and the desire for security. Even Grand Central Station seems a paradise right now. Oh, how I will enjoy a quiet ride in Connecticut with no one shooting at me. I know that my life will never be the same after I return from here. Even in Africa we didn't realize how many comforts we had compared to here. Death is so close that the small things make life worthwhile - a cup of coffee, a drink of water. Please do not get me wrong. I'm not complaining, only thanking God for the opportunity to learn what is really important and to see what honor can be like. It will make me a much better man. We learn each day."
One week and a day later, on November 15, Jack and all but three of his men died in the Ia Drang Valley. I will never know if Jack killed anyone, but I will always, always be grateful to know that "he died as he lived," going to the aid of one of his men - a black soldier named Willie Godboldt. Their names are next to each other on the Vietnam Memorial. Emblazoned in my mind are the words from that friend in Africa, "Jack would be incapable of averting a dangerous situation 'in order to take care of Jack'." Jack was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with 'V', and in 1997, through the efforts of General Moore, the Silver Star.
Jack was buried at St. Mary's Cemetery in Bethel, Connecticut, on Dec. 2. His funeral was a beautiful tribute to him. A large contingent and an honor guard came from PMC as well as the college president, and were among the hundreds of people who filled the church in Pelham, NY. News accounts all spoke of his valor, his courage, his character, his altruistic spirit. Most of the PMC newspaper was filled with tributes under a picture of Jack and the headline, "I can still feel the impact."
Jack's parents and I heard from Colonel Moore shortly after Jack's death and he promised to try to visit us. He was able to do that in 1967 and we had a wonderful, cathartic meeting with him at the Geoghegans' home that lasted five hours! He presented me with the Presidential Unit Citation ribbon that day. I will never forget as long as I live what his visit meant to us and how healing it was for us. We continued to hear from Colonel Moore every November, even as he rose in rank to three-star general with many more responsibilities.
I stayed on in Connecticut for another four years and actually met my husband, John Johns, in Jack's parents home in late 1968 through a mutual neighbor. We were married in April 1969 and moved to West Point, NY where John was stationed as a Lt. Colonel. Eventually, after tours at Ft. Bliss, Texas and Ft. Riley, Kansas, we settled in Annandale, VA where we have lived for most of the past 30 years. John was promoted to brigadier general in 1975 and since he was working for General Moore at the time, he asked him to officiate at the ceremony. Jack's parents were there for the ceremony. (We were close to them for the rest of their lives, and for a time our children had three sets of grandparents!) John retired from the Army in 1978 and taught as a civilian at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces where he became the Dean of Faculty, retiring again in 1995.
Throughout the years there have been many memorials and remembrances about Jack. But the most meaningful opportunity to share memories for me came when I received a call from Joe Galloway in 1990 asking me if I would be willing to contribute to a chapter in a book that he and General Moore were writing. Tony Nadal, who was a good friend of ours from West Point days and one of a very few people who knew both Jack and John, had called Joe and suggested that he might call me. I owe a lifetime of gratitude to both of these men for that crucial, life-altering phone call: to Tony for bringing it about and to Joe for including my story in such an incredibly powerful, beautiful way. The chapter was about the families left behind. I felt very honored to be asked to do this and delved into it with a great deal of love. WE WERE SOLDIERS ONCE...AND YOUNG became a bestseller and I was so pleased to have shared in writing a small part of it. I couldn't believe how many letters and phone calls even I received from people who were moved by the story.
And it didn't end there!
In 1998 I received word from General Moore that I might hear from Randall Wallace, a screenwriter who bought the screen rights to WE WERE SOLDIERS ONCE ... AND YOUNG. Joe told me that they asked Randall Wallace one question, "Do you believe in heroes?" to which he replied, "Yes. Have you seen "Braveheart?" He wrote "Braveheart" and it won five Academy Awards!
I did hear from Randall Wallace in September 1998. His letter to me was so beautiful, I felt that if nothing further happened, I would always have that letter to treasure. He began, "Dear Mrs. Johns, It is with a reverence that I write to you, having been so powerfully affected by your story within the pages of WE WERE SOLDIERS ONCE ... AND YOUNG." Further on he says, "The power of (the book) is that it speaks through individual lives, and that of Jack Geoghegan cuts especially deep for me. Jack Geoghegan's story is one that I find to be especially important, in that it seems to me to be representative of the finest and best spirit among the young Americans who went to Vietnam - either physically, as the soldiers did, or spiritually, as families back home. Trying to capture that spirit is an almost mystical endeavor." He went on to ask me for more information about Jack, particularly his work in Africa, his theology, and how he looked on being a soldier.
I always wanted to tell Jack's story and here was another opportunity to do it! I got out a trunk full of memorabilia: pictures, letters, awards, etc. and went to work. I have to say here that I couldn't have done this without the loving support and encouragement of my husband who is as proud of this project as I am. I spent the better part of three weeks immersing myself in memories that go back almost 40 years. I wrote an eight-page letter and the process of doing it filled my soul with a peace that gave my memory of Jack added solace and happiness. I had no idea what would happen after that or if anything would ever come of the movie.
Now it is more than three years later, and "We Were Soldiers", starring Mel Gibson as Lt.Col. Moore, is due for release on March 1, 2002! Nothing gives me more joy than to see Jack represented in the film (by Chris Klein), not only in the spirit that was Jack Geoghegan but in the knowledge that his character in the film symbolizes many of the men who fought in the IaDrang. I am thrilled and flattered that Keri Russell portrays me, and even Cammie is represented as an infant. How I wish that Jack's parents could know of all this. Somehow I think they do, I just wish I could see them knowing it!
When corresponding with Randall Wallace, I sent him a letter from Jack's mother, written in July 1966 that I came upon in the attic. In the middle of it were these words: "I believe with all my soul that great spiritual things will come to people through Jack. This is a conviction with me, not just wishful thinking." Randall Wallace said, "I want the film to convey the true essence of lives." I think he has captured that essence, and Mom Geoghegan's belief will be further fulfilled.
2LT John Lance Geoghegan is buried in
St. Mary's Cemetery, Bethel Connecticut
Ia Drang Valley 1st Cav Patch
Stamp designed by Jon Wallenius,
veteran of LZ Albany and LZ X-Ray
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