Several years ago I wrote an article that appeared in the Tulsa World. It told of me looking out of a Continental Airliner’s window as the “proud bird with golden tail” made its final approach. The sky was the bluest I can remember and the ground was a deep lush green. The only problem with the picture was that every few yards the land was pockmarked by ugly black circles made by exploded ordinance.
This was August 1968. The Marine captain sitting next to me said, “If you question yourself, I’m coming back for my second tour.” He was right, I had done some dumb things in my life, but this trip took the cake. I had been married for eight months and was facing a 13-month tour in Vietnam.
As all Marine ground officers do, I had completed The Basic School (TBS) and could very easily been assigned to a rifle company. It was my good fortune to spend the next 13 months at the An Hoa Combat Base assigned to the 5th Marine Regiment. It was there that I met First Lieutenant John Connelly.
John had been in the Corps a year longer than I and came from a very prominent Philadelphia family. In fact, John’s father was chairman of Crown Cork and Seal and had on his board the former Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral George Anderson.
The story is told that if one had invested $10 in 1957 when John’s father took over Crown Cork and Seal, it would have grown to $3,000 when his father retired in 1989.
What made John’s story so interesting was that, unlike most individuals who worked hard to stay out of Vietnam, John worked even harder to get in.
Although John’s family was patriotic, they had no feel for the military. No family member had ever served in the military.
To his father’s consternation, John enlisted in the Marine Corps, graduated from Officer Candidate School and TBS was ordered to Vietnam.
While awaiting transportation in Okinawa to Vietnam, Lt. Connelly was informed his orders had been changed. He would be going to Japan.
Here his domineering father (with help from Admiral Anderson) had intervened. To most officers, this would be good news, but not to John. For the next 6 months he worked to undo what his father had done.
Finally, he succeeded and was assigned to the 5th Marines where I first met him. John served in the Regimental S-4 where he was a troubleshooter. He opened up water for the base and straightened out convoy problems. For whatever the commander needed, there was John.
I was always impressed with how John Connelly got to Vietnam. He was fearless and a good officer. Unfortunately, John died on August 15th after a short illness.
John’s life was full of ups and downs. His wife Jane died a few years ago and he leaves behind two fine sons, John and Evan. The world just won’t be the same without John Connelly. He brightened up most days. He was handsome, charming and considerate. He will be missed.