CDR James George O’Connor USN (Ret.)
December 12, 1939 – March 19, 1988
By LT Tom Schram (Ret.) Cryptologiest (1610), CNSG 1969-1976
Jim O’Connor and I first met when I was getting ready to transfer from Kami Seya, Japan to NSGA Hanza in Okinawa. He called me at Kami to say that he and his wife Sandy were going to be our sponsors for our arrival and getting settled in at Hanza. My original impression was that Jim sounded like a really nice guy and I was looking forward to meeting him.
In reality, Jim turned out to be a great friend and mentor of mine and he was as straight as an arrow. He helped me get acclimated to Hanza, established in the new operations area, and generally coached me on how to best get along in my new position at the Hanza command.
Jim was a survivor of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in 1967, having lost a kidney in the process and almost a leg. There’s a photo of Jim in the book Attack on the Liberty by Jim Ennes. It took Jim some time to recuperate from his injuries and his next overseas assignment was to Hanza.
The best way to describe Jim is to recall some anecdotal stories about our time together.
He was an Irishman, through and through. I well remember multiple St. Patrick’s Days at his house, sitting on the roof with him, having a suitable libation. We would sing songs and wail at the moon. He had an energy and stamina for such activity that was considerable. It seems that the doctors told him to drink lots of beer after he lost his kidney so that he’d keep the system working well. Boy, could he put all of us under the table in the beer drinking department.
Then, there was the time that we played a practical joke on Jim. At first, we were concerned that he might get too surprised with what we were planning but decided that he was strong enough to handle it. As the facilities officer, I had a lot of very creative mat men working for me who could do strange things when given time to get creative. Led by CTMCM Dale McPherson, the “team” proceeded to plan a way to wire Jim’s desk for sound.
As background, Jim was then a LCDR, and was our Operations Officer. He occupied an office slightly larger than an LMD (large metal desk) armed with twin Parker 45’s (pens). You could get maybe two small metal chairs in the office with Jim’s LMD. Since Jim was very meticulous, his desk followed policy and was completely bare except for the pens each night. His routine in the morning was to come into the outer office, hang up his cap, and head straight for the coffee mess with a Navy issue coffee mug. Then, he would proceed to his Spartan office and sit down, unlock the desk drawer, and prepare to read the morning traffic.
Being such a creature of habit did make it easy for us. The mat men covertly got into his office on the night shift and wired a 12” diameter emergency alarm bell to the underside of his desk on a side wall, very close to the front panel. It was then wired very carefully to his desk lock with a capacitor switch. When Jim unlocked his desk, the alarm bell would go off and because of the wiring circuit; it could not be shut off by relocking the desk.
The big day came, various photographers were ready, and in he came. After getting his coffee he did exactly as he had done for months. And, then IT happened. We had never tested the alarm bell on the desk, for obvious reasons. Well, we underestimated the vibration that it would cause. The alarm sounded (most people knew this was going to happen), and his coffee mug started to do a dance across the desk. Jim was torn between trying to lock his desk drawer and grab the mug. The mug won. It was quite a site. The amazing thing was that he was laughing as hard as all of us when it was over. He knew a good practical joke when he saw one.
His next duty station was at Skaggs Island and then back to the D.C. area. In the early 80’s, Jim was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was the end of his career, and you know what was inevitable. I saw Jim several times in 1984, 85, and 86. Each time, he was progressively worse. However, he never let it get him down. He was the cheerleader for the local ALS support group and never lost his great sense of humor and infectious sense of living life. He set an example for all of us on how to live, not how to die.
Jim was a loving husband to his wife Sandy and devoted father to his three children, Kevin, Jimmy, and Erin.
Jim is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, along with other Liberty shipmates.
We lost a great one in Jim O’Connor. He was one of a kind.
Here’s an old Irish saying that is most appropriate when thinking of Jim O’Connor.
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
19 March 2023 at 15:06
I first met Jim when I relieved him as OIC COMSEC Team 1 onboard USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) in May 1972. Jim had spent close to the 179-day max for TAD, and had been selected for LCDR. He was anxious of course to get home, but he was more concerned about making sure I got a solid turnover (since I was brand-new to NSG & had been given less than 2 weeks after arrival at Hanza to learn the ropes of 7th Fleet COMSEC). As Tom said, Jim was a class act across the board. Sandy was a huge help to my wife Tonie while I was deployed. The O’Connors transferred before I got back from TAD, but Sandy & Tonie kept in touch, and we reunited years later when I got stationed at Ft Meade. Jim was already suffering the effects of ALS but never once showed anything but positive attitudes. He was an inspiration to all. Tonie and Sandy still correspond. Super guy, superb officer, and great family!
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21 March 2023 at 18:45
Rest in Peace, Commander O’Connor.