I ran across this and thought it was a great statement on
a great Marine. If you have ever seen The Great Santini, you
will recognize this legendary figure.
The children of fighter pilots tell different stories than
other kids do. None of our fathers can write a will or sell
a life insurance policy or Fill out aprescription or administer
a flu shot or explain what a poet meant. We tell of fathers
who land on aircraft carriers at pitch-black night with the
wind howling out of the China Sea. Our fathers wiped out
aircraft batteries in the Philippines and set Japanese soldiers
on fire when they made the mistake of trying to overwhelm our
troops on the ground. Your Dads ran the barber shops and
worked at the post office and delivered the packages on time
and sold the cars, while our Dads were blowing up fuel depots
near Seoul, were providing extraordinarily courageous close
air support to the beleaguered Marines at the Chosin Reservoir,
and who once turned the Naktong River red with blood of a retreating
North Korean battalion. We tell of men who made widows
of the wives of our nations' enemies and who made orphans out
of all their children. You don't like war or violence?
Or napalm? Or rockets? Or cannons or death rained
down from the sky? Then let's talk about your fathers,
not ours. When we talk about the aviators who raised us
and the Marines who loved us, we can look you in the eye and
say "you would not like to have been America's enemies when
our fathers passed overhead". We were raised by the men
who made the United States of America the safest country on
earth in the bloodiest century in all recorded history.
Our fathers made sacred those strange, singing names of battlefields
across the Pacific: Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, the
Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh and a thousand more. We grew
up attending the funerals of Marines slain in these battles.
Your fathers made communities like Beaufort decent and prosperous
and functional; our fathers made the world safe for democracy.
We have gathered here today to celebrate the amazing and
storied life of Col. Donald Conroy who modestly called himself
by his nomdeguerre, The Great Santini. There should be
no sorrow at this funeral because The Great Santini lived life
at full throttle, moved always in the fast lanes, gunned every
engine, teetered on every edge, seized every moment and shook
it like a terrier shaking a rat. He did not know what
moderation was or where you'd go to look for it.
Donald Conroy is the only person I have ever known whose
self-esteem was absolutely unassailable. There was not
one thing about himself that my father did not like, nor was
there one thing about himself that he would change. He
simply adored the man he was and walked with perfect confidence
through every encounter in his life. Dad wished everyone
could be just like him. His stubbornness was an art form.
The Great Santini did what he did, when he wanted to do it,
and woe to the man who got in his way.
Once I introduced my father before he gave a speech to an
Atlanta audience. I said at the end of the introduction, "My
father decided to go into the Marine Corps on the day he discovered
his IQ was the temperature of this room".
My father rose to the podium, stared down at the audience,
and said without skipping a beat, "My God, it's hot in here!
It must be at least 180 degrees".
Here is how my father appeared to me as a boy. He
came from a race of giants and demi-gods from a mythical land
known as Chicago. He married the most beautiful girl ever
to come crawling out of the poor and lowborn south, and there
were times when I thought we were being raised by Zeus and Athena.
After Happy Hour my father would drive his car home at a hundred
miles an hour to see his wife and seven children. He would
get out of his car, a strapping flight jacketed matinee idol,
and walk toward his house, his knuckles dragging along the ground,
his shoes stepping on and killing small animals in his slouching
amble toward the home place. My sister, Carol, stationed
at the door, would call out, "Godzilla's home!" and we seven
children would scamper toward the door to watch his entry.
The door would be flung open and the strongest Marine aviator
on earth would shout, "Stand by for a fighter pilot!"
He would then line his seven kids up against the wall and say,
"Who's the greatest of them all?"
"You are, O Great Santini, you are."
"Who knows all, sees all, and hears all?"
"You do, O Great Santini, you do."
We were not in the middle of a normal childhood, yet none
of us were sure since it was the only childhood we would ever
have. For all we knew other men were coming home and shouting
to their families, "Stand by for a pharmacist," or "Stand by
for a chiropractor".
In the old, bewildered world of children we knew we were
in the presence of a fabulous, overwhelming personality; but
had no idea we were being raised by a genius of his own myth-making.
My mother always told me that my father had reminded her of
Rhett Butler on the day they met and everyone who ever knew
our mother conjured up the lovely, coquettish image of Scarlet
Let me give you my father the warrior in full battle array.
The Great Santini is catapulted off the deck of the aircraft
carrier, Sicily. His Black Sheep squadron is the first to reach
the Korean Theater and American ground troops had been getting
torn up by North Korean regulars. Let me do it in his voice:
"We didn't even have a map of Korea. Not zip. We just
headed toward the sound of artillery firing along the Naktong
River. They told us to keep the North Koreans on their side
of the Naktong. Air power hadn't been a factor until we
got there that day. I radioed to Bill Lundin I was his
wingman. 'There they are. Let's go get'em.'
So we did."
I was interviewing Dad so I asked, "how do you know you
"Easy," The Great Santini said:
"They were running - it's a good sign when you see
the enemy running. There was another good sign."
"What was that, Dad?"
"They were on fire."
This is the world in which my father lived deeply.
I had no knowledge of it as a child. When I was writing
the book The Great Santini, they told me at Headquarters Marines
that Don Conroy was at one time one of the most decorated aviators
in the Marine Corps. I did not know he had won a single
medal. When his children gathered together to write his
obituary, not one of us knew of any medal he had won, but he
had won a slew of them.
When he flew back toward the carrier that day, he received
a call from an Army Colonel on the ground who had witnessed
the route of the North Koreans across the river. "Could
you go pass over the troops fifty miles south of here?
They've been catching hell for a week or more. It'd
do them good to know you flyboys are around."
He flew those fifty miles and came over a mountain and saw
a thousand troops lumbered down in foxholes. He and Bill
Lundin went in low so these troops could read the insignias
and know the American aviators had entered the fray. My
father said, "Thousands of guys came screaming out of their
foxholes, son. It sounded like a world series game.
I got goose pimples in the cockpit. Get goose pimples
telling it forty-eight years later. I dipped my wings,
waved to the guys. The roar they let out. I hear
it now. I hear it now."
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, my mother took me out to
the air station where we watched Dad's squadron scramble on
the runway on their bases at Roosevelt Road and Guantanamo.
In the car as we watched the A-4's take off, my mother began
"You praying for Dad and his men, Mom?" I asked
"No, son. I'm praying for the repose of the souls
of the Cuban
pilots they're going to kill."
Later I would ask my father what his squadron's mission
was during the Missile Crisis. "To clear the air of MIGS
over Cuba," he said.
"You think you could've done it?"
The Great Santini answered, "There wouldn't have been
a bluebird flying over that island, son."
Now let us turn to the literary of The Great Santini.
Some of you may have heard that I had some serious reservations
about my father's child-rearing practices. When The Great
Santini came out, the book roared through my family like a nuclear
device. My father hated it; my grandparents hated it;
my aunts and uncles hated it; my cousins who adore my father
thought I was a psychopath for writing it; and rumor has it
that my mother gave it to the judge in her divorce case and
said, "It's all there. Everything you need to know."
What changed my father's mind was when Hollywood entered
the picture and wanted to make a movie of it. This is
when my father said, "What a shame John Wayne is dead.
Now there was a man. Only he could've gotten my incredible
virility across to the American people." Orion Pictures
did me a favor and sent my father a telegram; "Dear Col. Conroy:
We have selected the actor to play you in the coming film.
He wants to come to Atlanta to interview you. His name
is Truman Capote."
But my father took well to Hollywood and its Byzantine,
unspeakable ways. When his movie came out, he began reading
Variety on a daily basis. He called the movie a classic the
first month of its existence. He claimed that he had a
place in the history of film. In February of the following
year, he burst into my apartment in Atlanta, as excited as I
have ever seen him, and screamed, "Son, you and I were nominated
for Academy Awards last night. Your mother didn't get
Ladies and gentlemen-You are attending the funeral of the
most famous Marine that ever lived. Dad's life had grandeur,
majesty and sweep. We were all caught in the middle of living
lives much paler and less daring than The Great Santini's.
His was a high stepping, damn-the torpedoes kind of life, and
the stick was always set at high throttle. There is not
another Marine alive who has not heard of The Great Santini.
There's not a fighter pilot alive who does not lift his glass
whenever Don Conroy's name is mentioned and give the fighter
pilot toast: "Hurrah for the next man to die".
One day last summer, my father asked me to drive him over
to Beaufort National Cemetery. He wanted t make sure there
were no administrative foul-ups about his plot. I could
think of more pleasurable ways to spend the afternoon, but Dad
brought new eloquence to the word stubborn. We went into
the office and a pretty black woman said that everything was
My father said, "It'll be the second time I've been buried
in this cemetery." The woman and I both looked strangely at
Dad. Then he explained, "You ever catch the flick "The Great
Santini? That was me they planted at the end of the movie."
All of you will be part of a very special event today.
You will be witnessing the actual burial that has already been
filmed in fictional setting. This has never happened in
world history. You will be present in a scene that was
acted out in film in 1979. You will be in the same town
and the same cemetery. Only The Great Santini himself
will be different.
In his last weeks my father told me, "I was always your
best subject, son. Your career took a nose dive after
The Great Santini came out". He had become so media savvy
that during his last illness he told me not to schedule his
funeral on the same day as the Seinfeld Farewell. The
Colonel thought it would hold down the crowd. The Colonel's
death was front-page news across the country. CNN announced
his passing on the evening news all around the world.
Don Conroy was a simple man and an American hero.
His wit was remarkable; his intelligence frightening; and his
sophistication next to none. He was a man's man and I
would bet he hadn't spend a thousand dollars in his whole life
on his wardrobe. He lived out his whole retirement in
a two-room efficiency in the Darlington Apartment in Atlanta.
He claimed he never spent over a dollar on any piece of furniture
he owned. You would believe him if you saw the furniture.
Dad bought a season ticket for himself to Six Flags Over Georgia
and would often go there alone to enjoy the rides and hear the
children squeal with pleasure. He was a beer drinker who
thought wine was for Frenchmen or effete social climbers like
Ah! His children. Here is how God gets a Marine
Corps fighter pilot. He sends him seven squirrelly, mealy-mouth
children who march in peace demonstrations, wear Birkenstocks,
flirt with vegetarianism, invite cross-dressers to dinner and
vote for candidates that Dad would line up and shoot.
If my father knew how many tears his children had shed since
his death, he would be mortally ashamed of us all and begin
yelling that he should've been tougher on us all, knocked us
into better shape - that he certainly didn't mean to raise a
passel of kids so weak and tacky they would cry at his
death. Don Conroy was the best uncle I ever saw, the best
brother, the best grandfather, the best friend-and my God, what
a father. After my mother divorced him and The Great Santini
was published, Don Conroy had the best second act I ever saw.
He never was simply a father. This Was The Great Santini.
It is time to leave you, Dad. From Carol and Mike
and Kathy and Jim and Tim and especially from Tom. Your
kids wanted to especially thank Katy and Bobby and Willie Harvey
who cared for you heroically. Let us leave you and say
goodbye, Dad, with the passwords that bind all Marines and their
wives and their children forever. The Corps was always
the most important thing.
Semper Fi, Dad
Semper Fi, O Great Santini.
LETTER FROM PAT CONROY
My dear friends and fellow lovers of Santini,
You have written so many letters of condolence since my
father died that I've been overwhelmed at the task of answering
them. But know this, all of them meant something, all
of them moved me deeply, all were appreciated, and all were
read. Don Conroy was larger than life and there was never
a room he entered that he left without making his mark.
At some point in his life, he passed from being merely memorably
to being legendary.
In the thirty-three years he was in the Marine Corps, Col.
Conroy concentrated on the task of defending his country and
he did so, exceedingly well. In the next twenty-four years
left to him, he put all his efforts into the art of being a
terrific father, a loving uncle, a brother of great substance,
a beloved grandfather, and a friend to thousands. Out
of uniform, the Colonel let his genius for humor flourish.
Always in motion he made his rounds in Atlanta each day and
no one besides himself knew how many stops he put in during
a given day. He was like a bee going from flower to flower,
pollinating his world with his generous gift for friendships.
Don Conroy was a man's man, a soldier's soldier, a Marine's
Marine. There was nothing soft or teddy-bearish about him.
His simplicity was extraordinary. He died without ever
owning a credit card, never took out a loan in his life, and
almost all the furniture in his apartment was rented. I think
he loved his family with his body and soul, yet no one ever
lived who was less articulate in expressing that love.
On the day the doctor told him that there was nothing more to
be done for him, my father told me, "Don't worry about it.
I've had a great life. No one's had a life like me. Everyone
should be so lucky."
Don Conroy died with exemplary courage, as one would expect.
He never complained about pain or whimpered or cried out.
His death was stoical and quiet. He never quit fighting,
never surrendered, and never gave up. He died like a
king. He died like The Great Santini.
I thank you with all my heart.