19th

LTJG John Connors, USN

December 2009

By

US_Navy_SEALs_insignia

Twenty years is a long time. It spans the entire life of many a young Sailor and Marine. Twenty years is four Presidents ago. Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall had just come down, and the impact of that event was yet to be known to East or West Germany, to the United States, or to the Soviet Union. Heady times, and a hopeful if uncertain future.

Twenty years ago today, just five weeks after the momentous events in Europe, US forces were in action in Panama. Operation JUST CAUSE led to the capture of Manuel Noriega, in a short, sometimes sharp fight that was far less costly than predicted estimates. Twenty three American servicemen were killed, as were about two hundred Panamanian soldiers.

I wasn’t there. A First Lieutenant assigned to MCRD Parris Island, I was overseeing recruits being made into Marines. But I remember JUST CAUSE very vividly. That day, I was the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion Officer of the Day (OOD), and upon completing my squad bay checks at 0200 I flipped on the TV in the duty room. The 24-hour news cycle was in its infancy, but there was coverage on every channel of US forces engaged in a number of firefights, with a byline of “Fort Sherman, Panama”. It took a while to sort out the details, well into the next day. The news dominated discussion in the Bn CP the next morning, with some fairly amusing comments from the old man about this being what happens when you choose the wrong dictator. Casualties were reported as very light, thankfully.

That evening, as I ironed my uniform for the next day, the phone rang. The voice of my friend on the other end of the line said, “Don’t know if you heard, but Connors was killed. He was killed in action some time yesterday, in Panama”. Wow. Jee-zus. John was not the first friend of mine who had been killed in service to his country. Nor was he even the first to be killed in action. A high school friend had died in the Marine barracks in Beirut.

But John was the first of my friends to die who’d seemed, I don’t know, bulletproof, invincible. John was a piece of work. He was sharp, motivated, and dedicated. Funny as hell, too. And he was very, very smart. He had graduated from WPI, for chrissakes. He was one of the toughest guys I have ever known. In the time since I’d last spoken to him, he had completed SEAL training, and had been assigned to his team. In order to make the mission in Panama, he dragged himself out of a hospital bed, where he had been battling an intestinal parasite. How the hell does a guy like THAT get killed?

He shouldn’t have been on that mission, could have stayed in his hospital bed and continued his recovery. But anyone who knew John was not surprised that he would find a way to be with his men when they needed him most. They would also not be surprised to know that John was a top-shelf leader in a community of top-shelf leaders.

But LTJG John Patrick Connors was not bullet-proof. He and three members of his team died coming to the aid of comrades who were pinned down. (Chief McFaul, TM2 Rodriguez, and BM1 Tilghman were the other SEALs who had been killed.) They had followed their leader into harm’s way.

John Connors was not the first friend to die for his country. He certainly wouldn’t be the last. Indeed, the list is far longer than I care to remember these days. But when I hear the notes of Taps playing, and I think of all of those brave souls who gave their tomorrows so that we could have our todays, it is John’s face I see first. LTJG John Connors was 25.

Maybe twenty years isn’t such a long time after all. You are missed, my friend.




Posted by UltimaRatioReg in History, Navy, Uncategorized


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  • Byron

    Gone but not forgotten…

  • Forrest Kocher

    I had the pleasure of knowing John Connors when I was a midshipman in the NROTC program at Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. This is to say that I knew of him and the kind of example that he set and also how those around him held him in such high regard. John was only a couple of years ahead of me in seniority but light years ahead of me and everyone else in just about every other way.

    My first recollection of John was when he stuck his head in the office of the NROTC Unit’s Executive Officer. It was the summer before my senior year in high school and my father had brought me in for an informational interview. Commander Paul Bennett, a decorated riverboat driver of the Vietnam War, excused himself and spoke with John briefly before turning his attention back to my father and myself. More than two decades later, I still recall the respect and admiration in his voice when he said that it was John’s intention to become a SEAL and that he would go far.

    My last recollection of John was approximately two years later just before his graduation. I was at a liquor store (it was college) with two of his closer friends. He bumped into us just as we were realizing that we did not have enough money for a keg which seemed so incredibly important at the time. Without knowing how much we needed, he reached into his wallet and said that he would cover the rest. Coughing up a five spot, he told us to have a great time and to forget about paying him back. And that was it.

    A couple of years later, I was home on Christmas leave at a college friend’s house in Belmont, MA reading an article about an area SEAL who had died fighting in Panama. John’s grim official photo stared back at me and I knew that he was gone. I cut out that small article and placed it in a frame; carrying it with me in every stateroom, apartment, and home that I have lived in since.

    I now live in Hebron, CT where I am a member of the VFW and the American Legion. Ironically, this past week (12/23/09) I was speaking with a new member who is an active duty SEAL and I asked if he had ever heard of John. He mentioned that his name was on a plaque somewhere.

    I have carried his framed article with his official photo and some brass saluting a flag draped coffin that I like to think is his for a long time now. I only realize now that it has been for twenty years. I am going to send it back down to Virginia when my SEAL acquaintance returns in February with a $5 bill sealed to the reverse side. I am requesting that it be placed somewhere special to SEALs. John would not like this kind of attention and he most certainly deserves better but it is the best that a passing acquaintance can do. While I do not claim to have known John well or even reasonably well, I do know that God does not create many men like John. I thank God for having known him a little.

  • Jon A. Hall

    I knew John when he was a student at WPI. I met through one of his roommates who was a friend of my family.

    An incredibly smart and funny guy, John kept himself in great physical shape and did very well in a very tough school.

    One cold winter’s day there was a big snowstorm, with very deep drifts. John jumped off a second-story balcony into a large drift. All we could hear was him laughing from inside the snow drift.

    I was in California when my friend called to tell me that John had been killed in Panama.

    About ten years ago our town created a memorial out of bricks that had people’s names carved into them. I bought one for LtJG John Patrick Connors, and every time I pass though the town square I stop to look at it, and consider that there was NOTHING “Junior Grade” about John.

  • CAPT Karen Tsiantas, USN

    Like Mark Stanovich, I too recall the events in 1989.
    I came home to my home in Aiea over looking Pearl Harbor after a long mid-watch on Ford Island at Commander, Undersea Surveillance Pacific. Flipped on the TV, and they were showing Andrews Air Force Base, with the remains of a fallen SEAL being brought home. Some how, I heard the name John Connor and I immediately brought all my attention to the TV screen. I was in denial and I rushed to the telephone and called Kara Jacobson, Holy Cross ROTC 1987 grad, who was just up the hill in Pearl City living with Jim Hensler, HC ’87. I told her to turn the TV on–every thing surreal.
    When we were all stashed as Ensigns after graduation in May 1987 at the unit, we spent a lot of time with John, watching the NBA championships in the apartment that Kara and I were renting. John was working out and getting himself ready for BUDs, so, the times we went scorpion bowling at a local watering hole, he was the Duty Driver. I now have a photo of him and I on my desk which was taken at one of the Navy Birthday balls when we were midshipmen.
    After John’s death, every time I have been promoted to date, I have remembered him at my promotion ceremonies, mentioning the fact that he gave his life for his country, hence not being afforded the same opportunities to be promoted as the rest of the HC ROTC Class of 1987.

  • mike skiotis

    John was a friend of mine who I met through his brother Joe who I played rugby with. I gave my son, born in 1990, the middle name John Patrick in honor of John. Every year on Memorial Day I take my son to the cemetery in Arlington, MA and visit John’s grave with my son and say a prayer and shed a tear. God Bless the Connors family and God Bless America!

  • Bill

    I knew John as a Freshman at WPI – he lived 2 doors down the hall. One day, as I was quietly studying at my desk, I heard a strange noise coming from the window. It was John. He had locked himself out of his room and climbed up the copper downspout to the ledge just below my window. He looked in and said “Hi Bill” as he shimmied across the ledge to the open window of his room. The drop was at least 25 feet. I didn’t know John well but I will never forget him. He was a good guy.
    As I heard the news of the death of OBL by our brave Navy Seals, I was reminded of John’s bravery the day he died in Panama. My thoughts are with John this day.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Bill,

    Thank you for your response. John indeed was in my thoughts these last few days, as well.

  • Bob Kennedy

    I did not know Lt John P. Connor USN Navy Seal, but hearing that yet again SEAL’s were called upon to remove OBL from this earth I find myself thinking of John. Joe Connor (John’s Brother) and I are friends through the beautiful game of Rugby in New England. A former Navy man of 18 years myself, I find myself thinking of John and his family and the terrible day that I heard of Joe’s brother being KIA. My thoughts and prayers are with the Conner family as I am sure that recent events bring back fond memories of true American hero JPC.

  • Bob Kennedy

    Sorry, I realize that spell check is normally a good thing, of Course I mean Connors not Connor

  • Dan Carpenito

    John and I started at WPI as class mates majoring in Chemical Engineering and as Marine Corp ROTC candidates (neither of us got our commission as Marine, I decided to switch to the Navy and go submarines and John obviously decided to become a Seal). John graduated a year later than I did because he studied a year overseas. But I do remember John as a smart, funny and very mature individual. I also remember vividly the night I found out he was killed. I was stationed in Norfolk and was listening to the nightly news when they said some local Seals were killed in Panama. I still remember the feeling of seeing and hearing John’s name on the broadcast. In my travels I talk to people who were at Panama or know people who were at Panama. But when I mention John’s name no one seems to know he was there. I don’t think we do enough to remember those who give the greatest sacrifice. I know that I try to. God bless Joh.

  • Matt Duffy

    I was lucky enough to know John in high school and follow him to Worcester for college. Our best memories were at Oceania Air Base with John giving shit to the Naval Aviators for wearing their flight suits to the club. He would ask them if they were tank drivers and then spend the next five minutes or so joking and talking his way out of the inevitable fight. John has been with me throughout my Marine Corps career and beyond. Gone, but certainly not forgotten.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Karen T, Matt, and Dan,

    Thanks for the comments. John was front and center every time Taps was played this weekend in the various ceremonies.

    As the German song says, “I once had a comrade, a better one you’ll never find…”

  • Ron C

    John was my assigned buddy during 2nd Class CORTRAMID cruise in 1983. As we were both from Massachusetts we got along very quickly. John was truly gung ho during Marine Week and I remember him being motivated during our visit to Little Creek to become a SEAL. I can see him now on the rappelling tower and zip line just smiling and telling me how great this was. Although we lost track of each other after CORTRAMID I remember him well. He was the first friend I lost in service and through out my career I remembered him for his sacrifice and his dedication. God Bless him…

  • Dan Kennedy

    Friends of John Connors – geez, what luck to come across this USNI blog [don't tell me this was Mark Stanovich's inititative!? Semper Fi, Mark!].

    Just received info on the upcoming John Connors Golf tourney, and started thinking about ol’ John and what might be out there on the web about his exploits and legacy. Great to see some familiar names posting here from HC NROTC days [back in the Stone Age]. Hope all is well, and “tip of the cover” for reminiscing about John. Never Forget. Please help pass the word about, or better yet come play in, the John Connors Scholarship fundraising golf tourney in Sep. Played in it for the first time a couple years ago and it was GREAT. Details are:

    The 22nd Annual Lt John P. Connors USN Golf Tournament is scheduled for Monday September 19, 2011 at LeBaron Hills Country Club in Lakeville, MA [raising moeny for the J.P.C. Scholarship Fund at BC High]. POC is Mike Dunford [distinguished brother of ACMC, Gen Joe Dunford] – [email protected] 508-261-8125

    S/F
    Dan K.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Dan,

    Good to see your name pop up! And thanks for the info on the golf fundraiser event. I will try to make that one.

    S/F

    MS

  • Jim Ambrose

    John was a fantastic guy. I got choked up reading all these posts. I was home on leave after just finishing up at TBS when I heard about John being killed down there in Panama. That hit me hard. I remembered how John and I had shinnied up the outside of a hotel room to sneak our way into the room of some Miss Massachusetts pageant contestants. We were too drunk to put together any convincing rap lines, but somehow we had climbed from our balcony up two floors to their balcony. We were eventually escorted downstairs by some fat security guard, but it made for a good story anyway.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Jim! Good to see your name pop up. John was a fantastic guy. I have the honor of presenting a scholarship in John’s name to a MECEP SSgt at Holy Cross on 13 April. Was very pleased to be asked.

    Mark Stanovich

  • John

    John Connors is my uncle. My name is John Robert Connors. John and Robbie were my dad’s brothers who died before I was born, and I was named after them. I never met them, but I hear so many remarkable things about the two of them. It is great to hear stories, but I wish I could have met them in real life.

  • Major Mark A. Thompson, USMC (Ret)

    I met John back in 1984 during CorTraMid as young NROTC midshipmen. He was a complete character and out there on the edge, but equally motivational in his zeal for life. He introduced my to Guinness stout, was inspirational in my delinquency as we engaged in a late night swim to harass the water fowl upon the lake…which apparently didn’t impress a senior officer whose house was near said lake and almost was charged under the UCMJ after biting a young Navy officer on the ear while at the club..on a dare..because the guy was just being….difficult. John was the first person I knew to fall in combat. Even though I only knew him for a brief time, it still hit me. However, learning the details of his death, I was not surprised to find out it was from a selfless act.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rick.davis.5492 Rick Davis

    My wife’s family is best friends with the Connors family and my wife spent summers and holidays with John and his family and remembers it like it was yesterday. I wish I had met him. I keep the Readers Digest article about John in my desk and read it often. He was the type of person who inspired people to be their best. If our second child had been a boy, he would have been named Connor. John was one of the reasons our son is a Naval Officer now. RIP.

  • Thomas Cappelletti

    I stood next to John at WPI Graduation on 29 May 1987. Later that day we were all commissioned by MG Al Grey, USMC later the Commandant of the USMC.
    I still remember that day like it was yesterday. I have kept John’s memory alive over the past 25 years and invoked his name at my promotion to Lt Col, USAFR in 2007. It made me choke up….and stop and think about my classmate and comrade in arms
    I still remember his funeral on that cold day in Arlington MA long ago.
    RIP LTJG John Connors. The price of freedom is indeed eternal vigilance..
    TC
    WPI 87

  • Jack

    Every Memorial Day I look for a way to ensure that the families of our fallen know that their service members sacrifice, and their loved ones loss, has not been overlooked or forgotten amidst the “long weekend”. In looking for a local service member to learn about and recognize I found a fellow Just Cause vet in LTJG John Patrick Connors.

    He was clearly a remarkable man, not just because he was a SEAL, but because of the comments below. He was the type of man that influenced and motivated, even decades later. A rare breed and a true loss. Please, relay to his family that he is being remembered and my thoughts are with them.

    R.I.P. LTJG Connors. You earned it.

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