The College of the Holy Cross is a small Jesuit four-year Liberal Arts college ensconced on a breathtakingly beautiful campus on Mount St James, in Worcester, Massachusetts. A top academic institution, Holy Cross was once a national powerhouse in football, basketball, and baseball. Today it retains its academic standing, while its sports teams boast a more modest level of excellence.
Its small enrollment of 2,500 belies an amazingly rich and significant Naval Service heritage. Holy Cross was the site of one of the first Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps units, established in 1942, and was one of the very few NROTC to survive the anti-military backlash during and after the Vietnam War. Among the fifteen graduates of Holy Cross who have worn stars in the Navy and the Marine Corps are Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor, BGen Michael P. Downs, and USNI’s own VADM Peter Daly. Captain Tom Kelly, USN (Ret.), who wears the Medal of Honor, is another alumnus. Assistant Marine Commandant General Joe Dunford was the Marine Officer Instructor at Holy Cross in the late 80s.
Yet two of the most distinguished servicemen from Holy Cross never came near the General or Flag Officer ranks. Their stories are quite remarkable on their own. How they and their lives are intertwined is truly extraordinary.
John Vincent Power was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1918, a week after the Armistice which ended The Great War. He was smart and athletically gifted, and graduated from Worcester’s now-defunct Classical High School in 1937. From there, John attended the College of the Holy Cross, where he played basketball and football, and golf. John graduated in 1941, in the last of the peacetime classes, as war clouds once again gathered in the east and west. In July of 1942, John enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, was sent to OCS, and commissioned in October of 1942. Like so many of his age and time, John died on a far away battlefield, in a place few had heard of. On 1 February 1944, while leading a platoon of K/24th Marines on Namur, First Lieutenant John V. Power was killed by enemy fire while charging a Japanese emplacement. He was not yet 26. But his bravery did not go unnoticed. Power was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. He is buried in St Mary’s Cemetery in Worcester.
While John V. Power was a student at Holy Cross, he took two courses in Mathematics from a bespectacled, gray-flecked professor who was the head of the Mathematics Department. That professor was Father Joseph Timothy O’Callahan, SJ. “Father Joe”, left Holy Cross in 1940, to join the Navy as a Chaplain. While serving as Chaplain (for less than three weeks) of USS Franklin (CV-13) on 19 March 1945, while the carrier was operating near Honshu, Lieutenant Commander O’Callahan ran repeatedly into the smoke-filled, flaming carnage that was the hangar deck to save sailors trapped below. The famous picture of Chaplain O’Callahan ministering Absolution on a tilting flight deck is one of the iconic images of the Pacific War. For his heroism, Father O’Callahan was awarded his own Medal of Honor.
Their time together at Holy Cross, student and teacher, and their “conspicuous gallantry” are, incredibly, not the only connections between these extraordinary men. Father O’Callahan left the active Navy and returned to the classroom at Holy Cross in 1948. Near the end of his life, while in St Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester, one of the attending nurses for the ailing Father Joe was was Patricia (Power) Rose, sister of 1stLt John V. Power. Father O’Callahan died in March of 1964. He was just 58. He is buried in the Jesuit Cemetery on the Holy Cross campus.