Col john m. mchugh3

Fallen hero

By Susan Falvella Garraty

He served his country, loved his family. Both are lesser for his absence, greater because of his life.

U.S. Army colonel John McHugh, 46, originally of West Caldwell, New Jersey, died in Afghanistan last week after the NATO convoy he was traveling in was blown up in a massive suicide bombing.

Seventeen other people were also killed in what was the most deadly attack on joint forces in over nine months.

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Colonel McHugh was the father of five children, the youngest of which is five years old. He graduated West Point in 1986 where he was a noted soccer player and elite athlete who went on to become an army helicopter pilot.

He was also an intensely proud Irish American.

His son, Army Warrant Officer Michael McHugh, who was serving in Iraq when his father died, traveled over the weekend to Kuwait and escorted his father's body back to the U.S.

In addition to his children, McHugh is survived by his wife, Connie, his parents Jim and Mary, and siblings James, Frank and Mary Edwards.

A memorial Mass will be held June 5th at St. Aloyuisius church in Caldwell where McHugh's parents continue to be active. Before going to Afghanistan, the veteran aviator was stationed at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas where he had a leading role in training troops prior to deployment.

He was in Kabul to refine instruction for many of the U.S. troops arriving in Afghanistan as part of a summer offensive.

"I don't know how they're going to find a place big enough to hold everyone who will want to come," said McHugh's childhood friend, Jeff Bradley, of the memorial.

Bradley is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, and his brother, Bob Bradley is the head coach of the U.S. Soccer team. Both Bradleys spoke publicly this week about their friend "Johnny Mac."

"He was a rare individual who was a patriot, a hero, just someone that everyone admired," said Bradley, who detailed his feelings about McHugh on the ESPN website.

Bob Bradley told reporters covering the U.S. Soccer team that he explained to his players how meaningful it is to represent your country. He said McHugh's service and sacrifice for his country should be an inspiration for those playing on the U.S. national team.

In interviewing long time friends of McHugh, there were two consistent remarks: he was an incredibly optimistic person bolstered by faith, and he was the quintessential leader, whether on the field of battle, in the goal as keeper, or with his beloved family.

"The McHughs were just one of those big wonderful Irish families, and he had the freckles, and the eyes, and was just a wonderful son," said Jim DiOrio, also a New Jersey native who graduated alongside his childhood friend at West Point.

As youngsters, they were proud members of the local American Legion baseball club and loved to hang around the veterans who would grill hot dogs and play shuffle board with the boys.

DiOrio set up a Facebook page as a tribute to McHugh: "Remembering Johnny Mac... Colonel John McHugh USMA '86." Already, more than two thousand people, from young people that were coached by McHugh in soccer leagues through the years, to fellow members of the armed services and family and friends, have joined the site.

"He'd be really embarrassed by all of this," said DiOrio with a laugh.

But when asked what he would want McHugh's youngest son to know about his father, DiOrio, now with the FBI, couldn't continue.

What he did manage to say was what recognition McHugh would want would be for his fellow soldiers.

"If you see someone in uniform, take the time to shake their hand and thank them for their service to their country."

In addition to McHugh, Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz, 43, of Wisconsin, Lt. Col. Thomas P. Belkofer, 44, of Ohio; Staff Sgt. Richard J. Tieman, 28, of Pennsylvania; and Spc. Joshua A. Tomlinson, 24, of Louisiana were killed in the bomb Taliban-linked attack. Canadian colonel, Geoff Parker of the Royal Canadian Regiment, 42, of Oakville, Ontario, died along with at least 12 civilians. Dozens were injured.

On Monday, U.S. Army Colonel Steve Boylan, who served alongside McHugh, attended a memorial service at Ft. Leavenworth. T

"It did not matter if you were man, woman, Soldier, civilian in attendance, as all were effected by the words and the honors rendered," Boylan told the Echo.

"Those that knew John paid a final tribute to him on their own terms by going up to his photo in front of the crossed flags and inverted rifle with his ID tags hanging from if and his helmet on top of rifle, boots at the base."

As a tribute to his father, the Kansas City Royals, John McHugh adopted baseball team while he was based at Ft. Leavenworth, invited his son, Officer Michael McHugh, to throw out the first pitch at Tuesday's Royals home game versus the Texas Rangers.

Monsignor Michael J. Desmond, pastor at St. Aloysius, said the focus now for the large extended McHugh family would be to support one another.

"His parents are trustees of the parish, their family has always been there for each other, they are a family of service The support is already in place," Desmond said.