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“Touched by war,” “Punishing youth,” “Alumnae affairs,” “Whose body?”
Editor’s note: Zachary Jason’s “Memorial Days” (Winter 2014) drew the strongest written response of any story we’ve published since Boston College Magazine was founded in 1978. While it’s long been the custom of the magazine to set aside two pages per issue for letters, we are in this instance presenting every letter we received for publication.
Touched by war
Zachary Jason’s poignant and well-researched piece on John Fitzgibbons dug up buried memories (I was in Vietnam in 1969) and prompted a first visit to the Boston College Veterans Memorial on the Burns Library lawn. The article also captured a Boston College far simpler than today’s and recognized what a frightening task was handed to men so young and yet so noble.
I never met John Fitzgibbons, but I wish that I had. Semper Fi!
Joseph Coffey ’67
West Roxbury, Massachusetts
Zachary Jason’s story about the life and death of a genuine American military hero was a welcome, albeit tragic, human interest story. The piece was extremely well researched and written. Seldom has Boston College Magazine highlighted the heroics of men like 1st Lt. John Fitzgibbons who responded to his country’s call by serving in the military and making the ultimate sacrifice.
This story is a far cry from the usual championing of the downtrodden and bleeding-heart stories that seemed to have permeated the pages of BCM for too many years.
Richard J. Burke ’60
Lt. Col. USMC, Ret.
Zachary Jason’s article was heart wrenching. In a few short pages it gave insight to the suffering that the Fitzgibbons family felt and still feels over the death of their gifted eldest child. It also shares the pain of his wife, who, for all we know from the article, still goes by her married name of Fitzgibbons. Had he lived I would not be thinking of him. He would be a beloved uncle, son, and father, continuing on the path of the idyllic life he had enjoyed. The article says much about grief, and also says much about the deep understanding of Zachary Jason, class of ’11.
Donna DiMattia Conry
Wife of John Conry ’87
Shaker Heights, Ohio
Thank you for the wonderful but sad story about classmate John Fitzgibbons. We are a war year class, and therefore many class members served our country, either through ROTC, OCS, enlisted or drafted. In addition to John Fitzgibbons and Mike Counihan, we had another KIA in Vietnam: 1st Lieut. Dennis J. Reardon, a Marine helicopter pilot. All three KIA classmates are listed on the alumni memorial wall on campus.
We are very proud of the many women (14) who served in the Navy, Army, and Air Force. My wife, Mary-Anne Woodward Benedict ’67 (USN) and I (USMC) had the privilege of serving for 10 years on the BC Veterans Remembrance Committee.
Charles A. Benedict ’67, MBA’70, P’96
What an inspiring tribute to Lt. John Fitzgibbons and his family! The whole story: growing up in the small town of Wakefield; becoming a student and athlete at Boston College; and then volunteering as an Army infantryman leading a platoon in Vietnam—and then the story of how his medals found a proper home. As President Reagan said of the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc at Normandy: “Where do we find such men?”
Richard C. Carpenter ’55, P’84
U.S. Army Nike missile platoon leader
The poignant narrative rekindled fiery campus days at BC during my time there. I remember so well the announcement of the draft number lottery. So much tension. Little do we who did not serve in Vietnam know about the sense of separation of our soldiers. However, the article captures Fitzgibbons’s courage and limitless spirit, which epitomizes our country’s will, even to this day, even in a war few desired. I congratulate Mr. Jason on his research and his ability to communicate the love for John Fitzgibbons felt by so many people, as well as the irreparable loss felt by so many.
May all who become thus acquainted with John Fitzgibbons and his family find strength and a similar spirit for life.
Tom Anstett ’73
Thank you for the article on Lt. Fitzgibbons. It brought out so much of the tragedy of Vietnam for the soldier, the family, and Boston College.
Don Falk ’69
1st Cavalry Div. Vietnam (1970–71)
This was one of the most sensitive, probing, and well-written pieces out of Boston College in my 54-year link to the University.
Roads to wars and tragedies have been a part of Boston College virtually since its inception. The very personal history of a “typical BC kid” from the old Middlesex League area of Greater Boston was particularly evocative, as it revealed so much of so many people over the broad canvas of time. Questions unanswered, envelopes unopened, feelings not worked through; pain unfathomable; anger never able to be neutralized or put to rest.
How we express our remembrances and what we feel about them—some recorded in stone, medals, memorials, or memorabilia—is never enough. For so long, nothing about Vietnam, then Herr’s Dispatches and Caputo’s A Rumor of War, now the whole horrid event of that war out there to remember, reexamine, process, feel, and perhaps to put to rest along with those we will never forget.
The Mother’s Day ’61 picture of the Fitzgibbons family at the old Colonial Restaurant in Lynnfield reveals more than any words could about how a huge family still struggles with loss of son, brother, husband, and friend 45 years later.
John F. Michaels Jr. ’63
Capt., Medical Corps, USNR (Ret.)
This was the most substantive and powerful article I’ve read over four decades of reading Boston College Magazine. It evoked, in waves, combinations of pain and pride.
The specter of John’s life and passing, combined with thoughts of the nine servicemen I knew who died in Vietnam; each of meaning and immense promise. None of their families was ever the same. Included are three: 1st Lt. Dennis J. Reardon ’67, Spec. 4 Allen F. Keating, and Maj. Gen. George W. Casey. I knew each family, including 13 brothers and sisters, and General Casey’s son, who recently retired as Army Chief of Staff.
“Memorial Days” set a meaningful scene of a BC very different from 2014. Jerry York was in John Fitzgibbons’s class of ’67. I enrolled at Boston College in September 1967. My Lottery number was 218, yet my best friend’s was two. He was deferred for medical reasons, but each of us could’ve been John, and our families affected in kind.
Yes, the pain, but also the pride in knowing these fallen heroes. Like John, each willingly put it all on the line with hopes of a better tomorrow and world, a corrupt war aside. Added is the pride in Boston College, all it was and has become, and the many, some heroes, who’ve contributed.
Thomas W. Burke ’71
Like John Fitzgibbons, I was commissioned through Army ROTC. I served two tours in Vietnam and spent considerable time in Tây Ninh province advising the TF 3–VN armored cavalry brigade operating along the Cambodian border—so I know very well the terrain and location where John was hit.
John Nugent ’61
LTC (AUS), Ret.
The piece brought back memories. My own time with the Marine Corps, serving in Vietnam also had a Boston College genesis.
After graduating from Boston College in 1960 I went to OCS in Quantico, Virginia, but only after I had the blessings of a Jesuit and two Boston College alumni.
I had thought about joining the Marine Corps for some time and had discussed the prospects with Wally Boudreau ’43, the alumni director, Frank Sullivan, SJ, ’21, and Charlie Murphy ’30. At first they didn’t think it was a good idea. Then one day Fr. Frank stopped me in Alumni Hall, where I lived and worked as a senior, and he said, “Wally, Charlie, and I think it would do you good to go to OCS.”
One of the other driving factors was that a classmate at Boston College said he didn’t think I could make it. And, on the surface, his opinion was on solid ground. I was 24 years old, six feet tall, and weighed only 123 pounds.
I did make it. I was commissioned and was stationed at Iwakuni, Japan. In mid-March 1962 while on duty as a communication watch officer, a top-secret flash message arrived announcing that Operation Shufly, which called for the first deployment of Marines to Vietnam, had been approved. I took the decrypted message to the Asst. Wing Commander B. General John Dobbin. As he read the message I noticed a Boston College paperweight on his desk. When General Dobbin finished reading, I asked him if he went to Boston College.
“Yes, I did, Lt. Did you?”
“Yes, Sir,” I replied.
General Dobbin ’33 asked me if I had read the message. I said I had. He then asked if I wanted to go on Operation Shufly. “Yes, Sir,” I said. Several weeks later I was on the ground at Sóc Trang, South Vietnam, with a billet for a captain not a lieutenant.
The 50th American serviceman killed in Vietnam was a good friend, Dr. Gerry Griffith, USN. From that event to the Christmas Day several years later when I was living in Singapore as a civilian, my doubts about the Vietnam War grew within me. On that Christmas Day in 1969 my family and I hosted two young Marines from Vietnam who were in Singapore on rest and relaxation. One of the young Marines asked if he could hold my year-old daughter as he sat in a rocking chair. He had a year-old daughter of his own back in Wisconsin, he told us. After a few minutes, I went into the den where the corporal and Courtney were, and I saw tears streaming down his face. I asked him if he was ok. “Sir,” he said, “I will kill anyone, I mean anyone, who gets in my way and tries to prevent me from getting home to my wife and daughter.” Many times over the last 45 years I have wondered if the corporal made his way home to his daughter.
I have often said a prayer for the thousands of Americans who gave their lives in Vietnam for their country. A decade or so ago, during a business trip to Turkey, I had lunch with a retired U.S. Army major general, Elmer Pendleton. The subject of the Vietnam War came up, and I said, “General, Vietnam was the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.” He thought for a few seconds then said, “Maybe you are right.” John Fitzgibbons and thousands of other Americans have not had the opportunity to evaluate the adage “my country right or wrong.”
Aside from my Boston College ties to the Marine Corps and service in Vietnam, there is a third, most important tie, and that is, the Jesuits of Cheverus High School and Boston College taught me to think for myself. I like to think that I have, I do, and I will.
Edmund Patrick Kelley ’60
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
I suspect that many people of my generation had a very difficult time reading Zachary Jason’s moving piece on the death of John Fitzgibbons. For me it brought back a flood of memories of that simpler time and of friends lost, a war gone bad, and a nation turned against it in ways that still shape our international and military policies. I was a few years older than John. My work as a civilian intelligence officer took me to Vietnam at the time he was there and to the areas in which he served. I saw first hand the awful cost of the war for the U.S. and the Vietnamese. The story also evoked times of family values that are now artifacts of the past but are still very much part of those who lived them then. Let me offer my sincere thanks for this excellent piece of journalism.
Bob Magner ’62, P’92, ’02
As the father of a 2000 graduate (Katie Pyrek Prahin), I just finished reading the fantastic story about Lt. John Fitzgibbons.
Being a Vietnam veteran myself (Loyola University of Chicago, School of Business Administration, and ROTC graduate, Class of 1968), the Fitzgibbons story brings back many memories about my early military days and the relationships I developed both in Vietnam during my 1970–71 assignment to MACV with the 42nd ARVN regiment in Dak To district, as well as during the years following that throughout my U.S. Army career.
The experiences and memories of the military members and their families, often go unnoticed in our world, particularly in the detail reported in Jason’s writing. My military career eventually led me in a different direction and I am now hopefully serving God, as well as my great country, as a permanent deacon within the Archdiocese of Chicago. There is a great need to support our veterans, particularly within a spiritual venue, and my further hope and prayer—God willing—is to do more of this in the future.
Rev. Bill Pyrek, P’00
Regarding the quote found on Page 33 that begins, “In October 1965, months after California students burned. . . .”
In what is now almost universally accepted as a massive mistake in U.S. foreign policy history, a disastrous nightmare in execution by the United States with effects lived out to this day in both countries, BCM intimates that because the students who burned their draft cards were from California they . . . what? . . . engaged in a misguided protest against the horrific Vietnam War? While . . . what? . . . Boston College students supported this mistake?
People all over the planet, even at the time, knew that our politicians led us/U.S. into an evil absurdity. Three years of work with the homeless in Washington, D.C., and Lowell, Massachusetts, from 1989 to 1991 taught me the PTSD nightmare of that, and of all wars. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past.
I studied at Central Catholic High School for two years—the same high school as Fitzgibbons. My wife and I both matriculated for undergraduate studies at Georgetown University. As followers of Christ, should not Jesuits, and Jesuit institutions, actively promote a love of our brothers and sisters all over God’s creation—peace, just relationships, and loving stewardship of all cultures and lands the world over—rather than fear-based aggression and ignorant violence?
Jim Petkiewicz, P’16
San Jose, California
Your article on John Fitzgibbons brought back many memories and a few nights of restless sleep. I, too, enrolled in ROTC at Boston College and chose to be commissioned in the infantry. Like John, I attended Airborne and Ranger schools and received the best training offered by the Army. In 1967 I served in Vietnam as a platoon leader with the 101st Airborne Division. I was wounded and survived whereas two other officers in my company and five men in my platoon were killed in action. Thankfully, I returned home to my wife and family.
Even today I get feelings of guilt, and wonder why I came home where others did not. That said, I remain very proud to have served my country and, given the choice, would do so again.
Robert Berry ’65, P’91, ’93
Kudos to Seth Jacobs for a well-written, poignant Prologue (“Hearts and Minds”) and to Zachary Jason for his reflections on the Vietnam War.
I found Boston College Magazine while browsing for resources to recommend to the 11th-grade high school students I teach. We’re embarking on a research project and reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.
My thoughts are with the Fitzgibbons family (for me, memories and experiences are different beyond compare—class of 1973, without immediate family-friend connection to Vietnam, and not one who would have been part of the draft “back in the day”).
South Gate, California
I served in the Cav. in 1970 and spent time in Tây Ninh Province. Vietnam was supposed to be over by the time I graduated in 1969. It wasn’t, and my life was changed forever because of that. Your article captured the Fitzgibbons family well. I left five sisters, a mother, a grandmother, two brothers, my father, and my fiancée at the T.F. Green Airport in February 1970 and returned to them a different person 14 months later.
I am who I am today because of Vietnam.
Greg Barber ’69, P’99, ’04
East Greenwich, Rhode Island
As a retired veteran I found the heartfelt story of John Fitzbiggons’s death in Vietnam and its effect through these decades extremely touching as a reminder of the enduring impact of memory on us.
When I was at Boston College in the late 1970s, I knew Lieutenant Fitzgibbons’s contemporary D. Michael Ryan ’67, who reestablished ROTC, and years later Paul Delaney ’66, who was instrumental in leading the Boston College Veterans Memorial effort. But we never discussed Boston College’s participation during the Vietnam era, as I’m sure earlier alumni veterans from World War II and Korea generally kept their experiences to themselves, thinking no one would be interested.
Not true. Memory is personal, but it is also collective within the wider rings of our alumni family. This story, as well as the recent renewal of veteran outreach and recognition, is bringing these experiences back into the Boston College family where it should be.
Perhaps we will not have to wait decades for my generation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to feel ready to share and explore their experiences, to be woven into the wider collective Boston College narrative.
Brian J. Cummins ’82, P’08, ’11
Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army (ret.)
Like John Fitzgibbons, I was an ROTC officer. I didn’t know Fitz personally, but I wish I had.
He was like the rest of us: He signed on to serve his country, and he signed on to do a job. My original unit—the 191st Aviation Company out of Ft. Bragg—left for Vietnam on May 21, 1967. Two lieutenants sat behind me on the flight over. Both were Huey pilots, and they were considered two of the best aviators in the company. Two days after we arrived, they had a nightime mid-air collision and both were killed. Welcome to Nam.
One year later I was re-assigned in New Jersey, and like many officers I pulled burial detail. Following the service, the Japanese girlfriend of the GI who had been KIA attempted to jump in the grave with him at Arlington in front of his parents.
Sandwiched between those bookend events was a year spent in III Corps, and the Tet Offensive.
Vietnam still lingers like a bad movie. No matter how you spin it, the reviews still come in lousy.
In retrospect, the war never made sense, and it never will. Friends of mine have returned to build schools and orphanages, to start businesses. Other friends have gone over on vacation to tour the country. When they ask if I’m interested, I tell them, “I’m not there yet.” Maybe someday.
These days, after the past 25 years in financial services, I’ve traded my stockbroker’s office in for a town car. I pick up wealthy clients at beautiful homes that look out onto San Francisco Bay. I drive them to San Francisco Airport to fly out and attend their board meetings around the world. On the way, we pass Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno where 136,000 veterans are buried beneath gravesites as far as the eye can see.
I’m sure the people I drive don’t get a connection between their beautiful homes and Golden Gate Cemetery. I’ll offer this one: a too-long-to-read list of men and women who were willing to lay it all on the line, whose lives were extinguished way too early, because they believed in service to their country.
Here’s what I am confident of after reading “Memorial Days”: John Fitzgibbons had the right stuff. When he went out on that patrol that final night, he was doing what he was trained to do—fulfilling his mission and taking care of his men. He was a casualty not unlike those who had preceded him in two world wars and Korea.
Fitz, my classmates John Coll and Joe Campbell, and other BC alums killed in action in RVN believed in their country. Is their commitment to duty, honor, and country any less meaningful than their predecessors’ because they happened to die in an unpopular war? Their lives were taken in the line of duty, connecting them to those who died in earlier wars, and those who continue to die in places like Afghanistan today. Are they less worthy of recognition?
I would like to thank my classmate Paul Delaney and Paul Lufkin ’64. Their perseverance in getting the Boston College Veterans Memorial built is in the highest tradition of our motto: “Ever to Excel.”
Our Vietnam brothers deserve to be remembered for their sacrifice and courage. That memorial, and those medals, give meaning and value to the life of a 23-year-old soldier named John Fitzgibbons, and others, who died fighting for their country.
Bob Bowen ’66
Mill Valley, California
The article about John Fitzgibbons—very sad for all his friends and relatives—reminds me of the friends from Notre Dame who were also lost in Vietnam. On April 22 the ROTC detachment at Notre Dame presented the third James A. Fowler Award to the most promising aviator in the cadet group. The award is named after a classmate who was killed June 6, 1972, while leading a squadron of F4 Phantom fighters.
At the time, his son was eight years old, his daughter six. His remains were never returned to the U.S. government, although the exact position of the wreckage was known. No parachutes or glass canopies were seen by squadron mates circling the area.
Like John Fitzgibbons, Jim Fowler was an exceptional person as well as an exceptional officer. First in his class in flight school, he was also first in F-100 advanced fighter tactics school. His grades were the highest ever recorded for that school, which graduated thousands of pilots who had already received their wings.
The feelings of Fitzgibbons’ relatives are understandable—that the Vietnam War was a mistake. To me it was only so in the fact that we quit when so close to victory. This was confirmed by NV General Giap in a meeting with Robert McNamara after the war.
It remains a mystery to me that the American people could without hesitation sacrifice 250,000 men to free Europe from Nazism, but drew the line at 58,000 to save southeast Asia from communism; 2,500,000 civilians died in Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam after we left. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, the Pathet Lao, and the North Vietnamese killed people because they spoke a foreign language, practiced a religion, or were educated. Priests, nuns, doctors, and nurses were the first to be weeded out.
Fitzgibbons’s family and friends had different methods of dealing with his loss—denial, memory block, etc. I have several times wondered what my family would have experienced if it had been me, not Jim Fowler, a funeral at St. Rose of Lima, no casket on the altar, Jacki distraught and four little kids understanding nothing except everyone around them was terribly upset. Possibly for that reason, it was I who initiated the award to honor and remember Jim Fowler.
I have been blessed with a long life and happiness. Perhaps my wars were in other lives lived long ago. This one was peaceful.
Brother of Joan Rapp ’64
Taylorsville, North Carolina
Many thanks for the article on John Fitzgibbons, his life and times. Fitzy was a dear friend, as were several others mentioned in the article. Many thanks to these men and their families for their ultimate sacrifice, although many still do not understand why. Thanks to them all for their courageous actions in upholding their
ideals of service. Many of us do understand that.
Fitzy was a fine man. When I went to D.C., I looked for his name and that of Lucien Tessier ’65, and they were carved in that long dark wall. There will always be a sad place in the heart for all the fine men lost in that “conflict.”
Marguerite Duffy Gunn ’67
I am a member of the Class of 1963, the 100th anniversary class of the school. I have received Boston College Magazine since its inception. I have never read a more powerful, inspiring, yet profoundly sad story as your recent “Memorial Days” about John Fitzgibbons ’67.
To think I was leaving the campus when he was arriving, not knowing what lay ahead. I joined the USMC Reserve and served from 1964 to 1970. Three times we were on high alert and expected to be shipped out to Vietnam. We never went because people like John Fitzgibbons were already there. We were lucky.
My family has a long line of military service, from the Purple Heart won in the North Atlantic in the Merchant Marine in World War I, to our youngest son who has had two 14-month tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a captain with the 1st Cav. out of Ft. Hood, the same outfit John Fitzgibbons served with. He was awarded the Bronze Star in September of 2012. I will certainly forward this story to him in Texas.
Mr. Jason’s story was very moving. His attention to detail, and the description of the emotional impact on family and friends was compassionate, yet powerful. Not sure how someone as young as Mr. Jason can feel what it was like in 1968. He certainly accomplished that.
The Jesuits teach “men for others.” John Fitzgibbons lived up to that creed. His life and his sacrifice was brought to light with this wonderful story.
William Sheehan ’63
Charlotte, North Carolina
Re “Corrective Vision,” by Haley Edwards (Winter 2014): Jody Kent Lavy and the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth continues to be an important national voice to end the practice of sentencing children to die in prison. In 2012, in Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court declared that a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole when applied to children contravenes the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Yet many states today are still litigating whether the decision is retroactive and more than 1,000 individuals, juveniles at the time of their crime, remain without hope of release. In 2013, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s highest court once again led the way, declaring Miller retroactive and holding that any life-without-parole sentence for juveniles, whether mandatory or discretionary, violates article 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.
It is time to assure that all sentencing practices reflect the scientific evidence that is now recognized by our country’s highest courts—that children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing.
Barbara Kaban, JD’98
The author is the director of juvenile appeals for the Youth Advocacy Division of Public Counsel Services in Massachusetts.
Thank you for your timely profile of Jody Kent Lavy and her critical work at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. Ms. Lavy’s work is testament to both the valuable educational opportunities available at BC and the mission and values the University strives to instill in students. As a former public defender for youth and now as the general counsel for the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS), I am inspired by Ms. Lavy’s passion and commitment to ensuring that sentences for youth are commensurate with the “hallmark features” of youth identified by the United States Supreme Court.
At DYS, we were proud to support legislation increasing the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years old, in acknowledgement of adolescent brain development and the capacity for rehabilitation with the right interventions and resources. As our state seeks to revise its statutory scheme to reflect the value that young people deserve every opportunity for rehabilitation and reform, in accord with the Supreme Court’s decision striking down mandatory life without parole for juveniles, I know that our collaborative efforts will benefit from Ms. Lavy’s work on the national stage.
Cecely A. Reardon ’92, JD/MSW’97
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
Re “Focused Group,” by Jane Whitehead (Winter 2014): Congratulations to the Council for Women of Boston College on its 10th Anniversary and to the founding members who recognized the need for such an organization.
Involvement in the CWBC has drawn me back to campus on a regular basis, and I always look forward to seeing my “CWBC sisters” at our meetings. The Council is a dynamic, dedicated group with quality programming and a keen desire to mentor younger alumnae and students.
While the Council has already made a significant impact on the lives of Boston College women, we can count on the CWBC Colloquium on women’s leadership to propel the University to new heights for years to come.
Alison Mitchell McKee ’81
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Just over a decade ago, the Council for Women of Boston College existed only in the collective imagination of some of the University’s most dedicated alumnae. Witnessing the hopeful “what ifs” turn into “whens” has proven among the most gratifying experiences of my life.
Over the past 10 years, we have significantly expanded our membership and, far more importantly, our impact on one another and the entire Boston College community. I’ve learned an incalculable amount from women with differing experiences, backgrounds, and strengths who nonetheless seem to share the similarities that truly matter—most notably, our love for Boston College.
We’ve offered one another professional assistance, personal guidance, and inspiration as we worked toward our common goal to make Boston College a place to which alumnae of all decades remain connected throughout their lives.
The planned colloquium is another vital and exciting step on this immensely rewarding journey. I recall looking happily around the room during October’s sold out “Happiness Beyond the Heights” event, knowing that it represented the culmination of what the CWBC has accomplished in its 10-year history and the promise of what we can achieve in the decades to come.
Beth Vanderslice ’86
New York, New York
Re “Oddities and Endings: The Baron,” by Ben Birnbaum (Fall 2013): For several years at Boston College (1957–60), I lived in the building on College Road that had been Boston College’s anthropology museum. Then called St. Joseph’s Hall, it sat on top of the high hill where the Roncalli Hall residence now sits.
The old house was rumored to have been built in about 1864 by an old ship’s captain to take advantage of the view; it had a small rooftop deck, from which the captain allegedly could see Boston Harbor. The College had owned the place since the 1920s. In the late 1950s it housed just seven students in six of its rooms. Two Jesuit priests, Fr. Carew and Fr. Malloy, also lived there.
The photograph published in Boston College Magazine shows the two-story entry hall. Minus the artwork, it was the view from the doorway of my room. My good friend Bob Labounty, Class of 1960, lived at the head of the stairs. Straight ahead in the photograph was the big main room, then used as our chapel—we had Mass there before classes about three mornings a week.
We students knew the house had once served as a museum. From the ladder to the roof deck we could see into the attic, which contained all sorts of mainly broken ceramic pots, wall hangings, etc., left from the museum’s better days. But until your article I thought the contents had been brought back by the Jesuits who had missions in Peru.
Now here is the point of my story: In the living room/chapel, to the left of the altar area, there was a big stone fireplace. In front of its opening sat what Bob recently described “as a massive chest of drawers where our priests used to [keep their] vestments for Mass.” It wasn’t that we two did not pay good attention to the Latin Mass; it’s just that any inattention, as Bob observed in a recent email, “caused one to be struck with curiosity about what might be hidden in the fireplace behind the chest” (this even though Bob was, and is, blind).
Inevitably, curiosity got the best of us. Alone in the chapel one day, we pulled the chest out from the wall. There, inside the big fireplace, was a glass museum case. And inside the case were: TWO DEAD BODIES!
No, they were not the relics of saints. They were the bare bodies of two Peruvian mummies, probably about a thousand years old and from a pre-Inca civilization. They had been left in the glass case in the fireplace opening when the museum closed and ever since had lain hidden by the vestment chest.
Two pairs of questions remain: Were there really two Peruvian mummies in one case? Or was the second body the long missing anthropologist and professor Baron Hermann von Walde-Waldegg?
Second: What happened to the bodies when the museum-turned dorm was torn down? Or are the mummies (or the missing professor) still underneath all those unsuspecting students living in the dorm that replaced the old house?
Jim McLaughlin ’61
Folly Beach, South Carolina
with Bob Labounty ’60
New Brunswick, Canada
P.S. In the same group of articles, BCM had an item titled “Bird Watch,” about Margo, Boston College’s golden eagle during the early 1960s. I was the one who, in senior year, bought, paid for, got a permit for, convinced the Franklin Park Zoo to keep, and got the airline to carry for free that live specimen. I found and imported from England the needed equipment and found and trained the freshman volunteers (one of whom is in BCM‘s photo on page 33) who kept Margo in the coming years.
I would be happy to talk sometime about that adventure.
BCM welcomes letters from readers. Letters may be edited for length and clarity, and must be signed to be published. Our fax number is (617) 552–2441; our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.