Memorial Day 2018: After 93 years — Darien WWII veteran has inspired a lifetime of service
Time spent flying is not deducted from one’s lifespan.
This saying, hanging on his wall, has been never more true than for Darien’s John Geoghegan, 93, who is still going strong, and can still remember every detail of his service to his country despite it being seven decades ago.
Born in Memphis, Tenn., on Feb. 11, 1925, John Geoghegan, moved to Stratford with his sister and family in 1927.
“The depression took the house, and sent us to Cos Cob,” Geoghegan said. He attended Greenwich High School. “My favorite study was physics. We had a radio club and I soon learned how to make radios, and went on to RCA Institute for Electronics in New York City.”
“When German U boats sank a destroyer or two in the Atlantic circa 1942, I wanted to join the navy and be a radioman. Being just 17 I needed papers signed by my father to allow me to enlist, which I finally did on Feb. 3, 1943.”
World War II took Geoghegan to aviation radio school in Jacksonville, Fla. Then “on to Gunnery school at a place called Yellow Water in Florida where I learned all about the machine gun and how to use it effectively,” he said. “On to further training with a newly commissioned torpedo squadron and eventually was transferred to VT14 aboard the Essex class aircraft USS Wasp.”
Geoghegan was shot in the leg serving as a radioman gunner on a Grumman TBF Avenger. He didn’t even realize he had been shot until he saw the blood. He initially tried to use bandages as a tourniquet, but they broke.
In true radioman fashion, he used a microphone wire as a tourniquet.
Despite his serious leg wound, Geoghegan refused to be transferred to a hospital ship. Instead, he remained with his squadron and was reinstated to flight duty two months later.
Geoghegan said they hit many air strips, small coastal sampans, did ASW patrols, assaulted the Japanese fleet, “received a DFC for that flight, and went on to get a Purple Heart on July 4, 1944, over Iwo Jima.”
He accumulated 204.9 flight hours, and 46 aircraft carrier arrested landings.
He transferred to a CASU at Ream Field in San Diego then to VB80. “The war ended, and I was discharged in February 1946 as a first class PO. While there, I got my first flight instruction in a N2S by one of the squadron pilots! Stick and rudder, and away we go!”
He went back to RCA Institute for more electronics study. “In 1946-47 I was in Washington, D.C., where I rejoined the Navy as a station keeper at Anacostia NAS as a AT1c.
“I met a beautiful gal on a blind date, and about five months later we were married. Our No. 1 son, John, was born in Bethesda Naval Hospital. I took flying lessons at a small airport and got my CAA pilot certificate on Jan. 20, 1948.
“In 1950 we left Virginia for Connecticut and I left active duty but stayed in the US Navy reserves as a weekend warrior. I felt a strong reserve would be a deterrent and would keep my children safe from military service.”
The Geoghegans had two more sons, Bob and Ed. “I retired from the reserves in 1975 after years of weekends and cruises. My function was aircrew, and I accumulated about 10,000 hours of crew time, first in an ASW squadron as aircrew training chief and crewman. Then I moved on to a VR squadron as aircrew communicator in C118 transports.”
Geoghegan said he and his family came to Connecticut where he joined his father to operate a retail appliance store where his electronic skills were put to work fixing radios and TVs. “As the discount stores sprouted, we found it wise to close the store and pursue other interests,” he said.
“I took my electronic skills to work in a development lab with Teleregister, renamed Bunker Ramo developing computers and displays to follow the stock markets. While doing that, I taught fundamentals of electricity in the evenings at the J.M. Wright Trade School after attaining certification to teach from New Brittan State Teachers College.”
When Bunker Ramo relocated, Geoghegan went to work with a Swedish submersible pump U.S. facility. He started in engineering, working on the control panels for the pumping stations. This took him to its distributors to present seminars about the products throughout the U.S. The traveling also took Geoghegan to Sweden, where his grandmother was born. “Two associates and I were selected to study the concept of establishing an assembly line and finding sources to supply component parts here in the U.S. After the study was submitted, Sweden decided to not proceed with the program.
“I relocated to Heim, a bearing manufacturer in Fairfield as purchasing manager. When business conditions reduced demand for the bearings, I moved on to Norden Systems Corporation located in Norwalk. The bomb sight maker of World War II fame was now into radar and cockpit display, etc. I was employed as a senior materials administrator. I retired from Norden April 1, 1988.”
While working Geoghegan continued flying light aircraft. He got a commercial pilot’s certificate for single and multi-engine instrument airplane, and also flight and ground instructor certificates accumulating about 8,000 hours “having a lot of fun in so doing.”
Geoghegan’s son, and his grandson are both in the service. When asked if he felt he was brave, Geoghegan seems unconvinced.
“I did what I had to do,” he said. Asked to define bravery, Geoghegan became visibly emotional.
“The guys on the ground — with the bayonets. That’s bravery,” he said.