John Michael McCarthy
Lieutenant Colonel, United States Army
NO. 21396 8 August 1934 - 10 August 1980
Died at Walter Reed Army Hospital, Washington
Interred at Arlington National Cemetery
Mike McCarthy, the son of Charles Weller McCarthy and Charlotte Piekenbrock McCarthy was born at Camp John Hay, Baguio, Philippines. The son of a career Army officer, Mike spent his early years in Florida, Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, Washington DC and Chile, where in his teens he “learned to speak Spanish like a native and ride horses like a cavalryman." Returning from South America in 1950, Mike’s family moved to Chevy Chase, Maryland where he entered St. John’s College High School in Washington DC, graduating from there in 1952. At St. John’s Mike was a member of the swimming team, specializing in breastroke, earned his senior lifesaving certificate (so that he could work at Chevy Chase and Kenwood Country Clubs), made a host of friends, and began his quest to obtain an appointment to West Point. High school friends remember him as one “always ready to go anywhere there might be a party”, adding that “although he seemed to be shy and quiet. We found out later that his shyness was due to nearsightedness. Mike would not wear glasses and so he could not see who was around him. He had to rely on voice recognition for identification!”
“Early on” Mike was a person who loved to challenge the “system,” whichever one he happened to be facing. He was very competitive and obtained satisfaction trying to outsmart the authorities. It was all about gamesmanship with Mike, and when he was finished, you would hear the infectious McCarthy laugh, a string of prideful cough-like sounds resounding through the room. His sense of humor took no prisoners – nothing was sacred and no one was safe. Mike was a voracious reader and had a strong opinion on many subjects. Many of us learned early not to get into a discussion with Mike on history, economics, art, or politics, unless we knew a lot about the subject at hand.
Unable to gain an appointment out of high school, Mike attended Catholic University for a year before Senator Bourke Hickenlooper of Iowa, his mother’s home state, appointed Mike to the U. S. Military Academy which he entered with the Class of 1957 on July 7th 1953. For four years the Tacs had their hands full! At West Point Mike was in G-1 where he was remembered by companymates for his easy-going nature, tremendous sense of humor, eclectic interests, and strong opinions. A member of the swimming and water polo teams, Mike was never the fastest in the water, but teammates recall that “he had more intestinal fortitude than anyone in the pool”. He never “sweated” academics and glided through four years at the Academy with a maximum of “Red Boy” time! Safely settled in the middle of his class standings, Mike shone in helping others who needed academic assistance. Mike was a great tutor, using his wits to prod several slow learners through the maze of “Juice”, “Solids” and “Fluids”. In G-1 everyone had a nickname, and Mike was known as “The Senator”. He was always in the middle of what was going on in G-1, whether it be “working” the system, planning weekends, or coordinating activities on class trips.
Commissioned in the Infantry upon graduation Mike reported in August 1957 to Fort Benning Georgia to attend the basic officer’s course, followed by Airborne and Ranger schools. In April 1958 he joined his first unit, the 1st Airborne Battle Group, 502nd Infantry, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he was linked up with over forty classmates in the recently re-activated 101st Airborne Division.
After “Campbell” Mike was assigned to the 10th Infantry in Panama at Ft. Davis, Panama. Shortly after arriving, Mike bought a green convertible TR-3. When new, he would not let ANYONE drive it. However, within a few weeks he lost the gas cap cover and substituted an old T-shirt in its stead. Things went downhill fast, and soon the TR-3 more resembled a jeep than a sports car. At Ft. Davis Mike was a charter member of the sports parachute club. In the early 60’s the chutes were not as maneuverable as they are today and so Mike “explored some jungle” after missing the DZ on several occasions.
After two years in Panama Mike returned to Fort Benning in July ‘62 to attend the advanced course. Then he spent the next two years at Fort Bragg in Special Forces, volunteering repeatedly for assignment to Vietnam. In 1964 Mike’s older brother, Tom, (note: Thomas Weller McCarthy) had been killed in Vietnam while advising the ARVN Airborne Brigade. This affected Mike deeply as he and Tom had been very close.
In 1965 Mike’s request was honored and he received orders for the MATA course and then Vietnam, where he was a battalion advisors with the Airborne Brigade — the same unit with whom his brother had served.
Returning to “the States” he was assigned to West Point as a Tactical Officer, but began an immediate quest to return to Vietnam — the sedentary life of a Tac at West Point did not appeal to him. In the Fall of ’68 his wish was granted and he rejoined the 101st, this time in Vietnam. With the 101st Mike was a Battalion S-3 and XO and was awarded the Silver Star.
Departing Vietnam in 1968 Mike was assigned to the 5th Infantry Division at Ft. Carson, where he was a mech battalion exec. He remained in Colorado for one year, where his love of skiing, hunting and fishing were re-kindled. His tour at Carson was cut short by his selection for Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. After graduating from C&GS Mike returned to Special Forces at Bragg, where he commanded a battalion of the 7th SF. In 1972 he began his last assignment to Vietnam, spending a year in MACV.
In 1973 LTC McCarthy began a three year tour in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations. In 1976 he “moved over” to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where he worked on NATO standardization. Mike was not happy “behind a desk” at the Pentagon and took out his grief on the fields of friendly strife, particularly on the handball court, where he “took no prisoners” in daily matches in the POAC.
In 1978 Mike retired from the Army and joined Morrison-Knudson Construction in Columbia, MD, working on construction projects in Saudi Arabia while continuing to live in Arlington, VA.
In August of 1978 a routine physical exam at the Veterans Administration discovered a tumor near his spinal cord. Further diagnosis revealed this to be a virulent form of cancer that was inoperable. For a while Mike was referred to specialists at the Sloan-Kettering Center in New York and was optimistic enough to think (or at least let his friends believe) that he had his cancer under control. By 1979 his energy and physique began to decline, but he refused to give up his handball, playing it as often as he could. He would not accept that any health problem, let alone cancer, could defeat him! When he could no longer play handball, he would walk up and down the steps of his 10-floor apartment building.
By early 1980 Mike’s condition had worsened, but his door was always open to visitors who would come by “to tap a few beers”. There Mike would be surrounded by books and would expound eloquently on everything from philosophy to Army tactics to career counseling to current events, never once indicating that he was in any pain or in any way ill. He talked about getting back to work when he had more energy. In the Spring of that year Mike’s condition worsened and he was admitted to Walter Reed Hospital for treatment. At Walter Reed classmates and friends visited with Mike, where they found his spirits were always “up” since he led us to believe that he was going to “lick this thing” and get on with his life. Unlike his success on previous battlefields this was one battle he was not able to “win”. Mike died at Walter Reed on August 10, 1980.
Mike McCarthy was a natural born leader with an indomitable, fun-loving spirit. To his friends he was always an immediate source of sage counsel. While uniquely independent, he thrived on his friends and family, and the soldiers he led. There will never be another Mike McCarthy.
Mike is survived by his sister, Mrs. William Lee Howard of Silver Spring, Maryland, and younger brother, Army LTC (Retired) Charles Peter McCarthy of Marquette Michigan.
On several occasions Mike McCarthy’s path crossed that of Lieutenant General Hank Emerson — initially at Fort Campbell in the 50’s; then at Ft. Bragg in the 70’s. When contacted for this memorial, General Emerson recalled that “I had the great pleasure to serve with Mike twice. I was struck by his enthusiasm, magnetism, exuberance, his invincible confidence and cheerfulness. That is the way the very best U.S. Army battle leaders have always been. It made you want to be around them.”
We always wanted to be around him as well!
— Classmates, friends, and family