Archive for November, 2013

This is Your America

November 18, 2013

George Lermond West Point 1930 Graduation Photo

George Lermond
West Point 1930 Graduation Photo

The “great people” are the ones who make history. Or at least they’re the ones who get credit for it.

Presidents and potentates, generals and warlords, captains of industry and show-business celebrities – we chronicle and study their lives. Their deeds – and their misdeeds – are the Cliff’s Notes stories of our civilization. We are supposed to know those stories so that we may make sense of the world we live in.

But it’s not enough to read about those with the big jobs, impressive titles, and bottomless bank accounts. Not if we want to learn the possibilities of the human spirit, to hear of the heights of personal accomplishment, to grasp the boundless potential of human love and sacrifice. Not if we want to understand what it means to be an American.

To comprehend and appreciate such possibilities, heights, and potential, we must know the people who have been there. They’re not in the pages of the history books. But they are all around us, and always have been. I would like you to meet one such man. His name is George Lermond.

George Lermond and his sister Mary in Nahant before BC High graduation, 1921

George Lermond and his sister Mary in Nahant before BC High graduation, 1921

George was born into a poor Massachusetts family. He was a hard-working student, loving son and brother, altar boy, Olympic athlete, soldier, and father. His life touched many of those whom history considers great men.

Dwight Eisenhower promoted George Lermond to captain in the U.S. Army. Franklin Roosevelt called on him when he needed trained pilots to fly U.S. air mail. George Patton was to be his next immediate superior before his tragic death in a house fire. George Marshall commended his exemplary service in a personal letter to his family. Roosevelt directed that Lermond and his son, George Junior, be buried together in Arlington National Cemetery.

George Lermond commuted from Nahant to Boston College High School. He graduated from there in 1921 and from Boston College in 1925. He was a superb track athlete, the only one from his college squad chosen to compete in the 1924 Olympics. After BC, he went to West Point and graduated in 1930. I researched and wrote his biography for his induction to the BC Hall of Fame in early October. The full text of the story appears below, along with some photos and letters that I received from family members.

George’s son Bill journeyed from Maryland for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. His heartfelt words of thanks, as he accepted the bronze plaque for the father he hardly knew, brought tears to many eyes that evening.

Bill, his sister Edith, and his mother Edith, were saved from the blaze that took George Lermond’s life. George lowered the two children, who were wrapped in a blanket, from a window to his wife on the veranda. George then went back inside to save the third child, and perished.

I want the world to know of this man’s exemplary life. Perhaps history won’t number him among the greatest of men. But I do, and I suspect you will agree.

In this our time, it is all too easy to become distressed at the sight of so many charlatans, mountebanks, and outright villains who occupy positions of power and prestige. Do not be distressed. They will be gone and forgotten.

To my fellow baby boomers, who’ve reaped our blessed land’s bounty that was sown by our fathers and grandfathers, I say take heart. The generation of our children, and soon enough, their children, has its own ample supply of George Lermonds. They’ll soon be in charge.

You made them and set them on their way. Have faith.

George Lermond
Boston College High School ’21, Boston College ’25, United States Military Academy ‘30

Winning the two-mile run at Boston College

Winning the two-mile run at Boston College

The first glorious era for Boston College track and field was the Roaring 20’s. Nine Eagle athletes of that time along with coach Jack Ryder, are already enshrined in the Hall of Fame. But none of those athletes distinguished himself, both on the fields of play and in later life of service to his country, more than George Lermond.

A middle distance runner and winner of innumerable races and championships during his time at Boston College, Lermond was the only Eagle who made the 1924 Olympic team.

After Boston College he enrolled at West Point and graduated in 1930 while continuing his track career and grooming his younger brother Leo to track stardom.

George was a championship-caliber runner well into the 1930s while serving in the United States Army. He died tragically in a house fire in1940, on the eve of World War II.

George Lermond was the prototypical student for whom Boston College was founded. The third child in a poor but hard-working Catholic family, George was born in Revere, Massachusetts. His father left when he was ten years old, and his mother Julia Lenehan Lermond moved to Nahant to be with her parents.

George’s uncle, Father Daniel Lenehan, was pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Malden. A frequent visitor to the house, he undoubtedly had something to do with George’s enrolling at Boston College High School in Boston’s South End. George commuted the 15 miles every day. Like many BC High lads, he then proceeded right to Boston College.

“Lemons” fit right in with the other Eagle track stars. He was on the distance medley team with Tom Cavanaugh, Luke McCloskey, and Louis Welch. They won four national championships and broke three world records.

George was the New England two-mile champion three straight years, and in one of those victories he set a course record of 9:33.5. Sportswriters called him “the sensation of the Eastern track world” in 1924. Among his many victories were the Millrose Three Mile in New York, the New England Two Mile championship, both indoor and outdoor, the National AAU 5- Mile, and the BAA Games Two Mile.

At Paris Olympics, 1924

At Paris Olympics, 1924

At the Paris Olympics George faced the immortal Paavo Nurmi and his mates from Finland in the 5000-meter run. Nurmi won the gold and George finished 24th. Aged 19, George was the second-youngest American ever to compete in the 5000.

Returning to Boston after the Olympics, George was the AAU six-mile champion in 1925. In January of 1925, he placed fourth against Nurmi in the 5000 at the Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden.

George also ran for the Boston Athletic Association. He introduced his younger brother Leo to Jack Ryder and the BAA. Under Ryder’s direction Leo became as big a star as George. Leo finished fourth in the 5000 at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.

George in West Point track uniform, brother Leo in BAA gear

George in West Point track uniform, brother Leo in BAA gear

George and Leo also ran for the New York Athletic Club during the 1920’s, and press reports speculated that the United States would have two brothers competing at the Amsterdam Olympics in the 5000. George was at the peak of his powers at the time, holding the Military Academy records for the half-mile, the mile, and the two-mile. But he came up short during the trials, probably wearied from competing in multiple events at West Point.

Service to the county was in George’s family history. His grandfather Patrick had lied about his age to get into the 55th Massachusetts Infantry in the Civil War. A great-grandfather, William McCallister, served at both Petersburg and Appomattox.

George’s first military career stop was at the Air Corps Flying School in California. Though commissioned as a flyer, he stayed with the infantry. However, he was one of 262 Army pilots who delivered the nation’s air mail for 78 days in 1934.

George's 15th Infantry Defending Post in Tientsin, China

George’s 15th Infantry Defending Post in Tientsin, China

George returned to an infantry assignment at Fort Jay on Governor’s Island in New York Harbor. He kept running and aimed for the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. His personal bests in several events took place around that time. In 1930 he posed a 1:55.3 in the 880 and a 4:15.2 in the mile. In 1932, he ran the two-mile in 9:16.6. It was also in 1932 that he set the unofficial world record for the 3000 meter steeplechase at the Eastern Olympic Tryouts at Harvard, with a time of 9:08 2/3.

He and Leo competed in a track meet in Lynn before the national Olympic tryouts, and George injured an ankle going over a water jump and missed the national final tryouts. The winner was Joe McCluskey, with a time of 9:14.8, much slower than George. McCluskey ended up taking the bronze in Los Angeles.

George did go to Los Angeles in 1932, however. He was a coach in the pentathlon. That event, consisting of fencing, swimming, show jumping, pistol shooting, and a distance run, was a showcase for military competitors. Richard Mayo won America’s first-ever pentathlon medal, a bronze.

George attended chemical warfare school in Maryland in 1934. After a graduate course in infantry at Fort Benning, Georgia, he was assigned to the 15th Infantry Brigade in Tientsin, China in 1936. His wife Edith accompanied him.

Japan invaded China in 1937, and the 15th ‘was reassigned to Fort Lewis, Washington. George’s immediate superior was and up-and-coming colonel named Dwight Eisenhower. Ike promoted George to captain in 1940.

George Lermond’s final assignment was to tank school at Fort Benning. He was slated to train under General George Patton, but he never got there. He and his family stopped for a few days at the luxurious Mount Victoria in LaPlata, Maryland, while Edith’s parents took a short vacation.

On the night of July 5, a fire broke out in the upper floors and spread quickly. George was able to lower Edith, four-year old Bill, and 15-month old daughter Edith to a porch by using a bedsheet. He dashed back into the house to save George junior and was overcome by the smoke. He was 35 years old. President Roosevelt directed that he be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

1932 Letter from Major Harold Rayner, Major of Cavalry and Master of the Sword

1932 Letter from Major Harold Rayner, Major of Cavalry and Master of the Sword

1940 Letter of Condolence from General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army Chief of Staff

1940 Letter of Condolence from General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army Chief of Staff

Discussing College Hockey’s Best Rivalry with the Master: Former Boston University Coach Jack Kelley

November 11, 2013

Getting cold out there. Steamy morning breath. Rime on the windshield. A skim of glaze on the Charles. Bats, balls and gloves are put away. A final thanks to our Boys of Summer. Time for the Boys of Winter.

It’s hockey season at last, and there’s no better harbinger than the renewal of that ancient rivalry, Boston College and Boston University.

The Eagles took this year’s first encounter, 5-1, in the Terriers’ home arena on November 8. These two teams first played against each other in 1918. The all-time tally now reads BU 129, BC 117, with 17 ties. The 5-1 game was BC’s first outing since the announcement of Jerry York’s six-year contract extension. Looks like the team decided to throw Jerry a little party.

David Quinn, BU’s new head coach, was facing BC for the first time. He said that his lads would put the lessons of the loss to good use. Good call, David, to remember this game and build upon it.

Learning from Defeat
“I think I only remember the times that you beat me. That tells you what a rivalry it was,” said the coach.

Jack Kelley at the old Boston Arena, in the days before protective glass.

Jack Kelley at the old Boston Arena, in the days before protective glass.

The speaker of the above was not David Quinn or his predecessor Jack Parker. It was Jack Kelley, the man who coached the Terriers to the pinnacle of college hockey back in 1971 and 1921. Jack was the first coach I ever interviewed in person when I began writing for the Hockey News in 1969. I spoke with him recently to ask him for some memories of his games with Boston College.

“I had such great respect for Snooks Kelley and I loved coaching against him,” said Jack. “He and Cooney [Weiland] and Eddie Jeremiah and Herb Gallagher… they did so much for hockey way back then, getting it recognized and bringing it to the forefront…what they’ve done is probably forgotten today.”

For those who don’t remember back that far, Cooney Weiland played for the Bruins, coached them as well, then was the long-time coach at Harvard. Herb Gallagher was hockey coach and then athletic director at Northeastern. Eddie Jeremiah was a legendary head coach at Dartmouth. Agree with Jack’s observation about all three. But the same is certainly true of him. He’s not forgotten, but I don’t think his own contributions to college hockey are as well remembered or as highly esteemed as they should be.

NCAA Tournament chairman Herb Gallagher, left, presents 1972 national championship trophy to Kelley and captain John Danby.

NCAA Tournament chairman Herb Gallagher, left, presents 1972 national championship trophy to Kelley and captain John Danby.

Jack Kelley’s work at Boston University transformed the college hockey culture in Boston. He came down from Colby College and shook a sleepy Terrier program awake. He turned the BC-BU series upside down and made the Beanpot a virtual BU invitational. He also showed that Eastern colleges could take down the mighty Western schools in the national tournament. And the precise, methodical passing game of his champion teams remains an essential part of any successful college sextet today.

Aside – yes, Cornell won a couple of national titles during Kelley’s era too. But gimme a break – they were a Denver-style Western crew, a transplanted Canadian Major Junior A outfit in college uniforms. Dick Bertrand, their tri-captain in 1970, was 28 years old when he graduated. Cornell had excellent teams and was almost impossible to beat. But their success was not quite as admirable as that of the other Eastern champions, of which Boston University under Jack Kelley would be the first.

The Raw Numbers

Before Quinn arrived, Parker had directed the team for 40 years. York is in his 42nd year of coaching. Between them, they’ve earned ten national championships and have won 1,838 games. Their places on Boston’s sporting Olympus are secure.

Jack Kelley, in his ten years at BU, had “only” 206 wins to go along with 80 losses and eight ties. His win percentage was .716, and his teams won six Beanpots and two national titles. Add seven years of coaching at Colby, and his all-time college record is 295-95-13. These numbers don’t lie, but they don’t speak loudly enough either.


You hear echoes from Jack Kelley’s time whenever BU and BC play. Parker learned his hockey at Kelley’s knee, a both player and assistant coach. After the year-and-a-half blip with Leon Abbott in charge at BU, Jack the Younger took over in 1973-74. He had learned well, and he preserved and extended the Terriers’ winning ways. Quinn played for Parker and was his assistant for a spell.

York’s teams play like an updated version of Kelley’s Terriers. They fling the puck around and through the opposition, a perpetual attack at greyhound skating speed made possible by full face masks and ever-lighter protective equipment. The face mask was not a good thing for the game, but that’s a topic for another time. It’s here to stay, and the winning teams like York’s have adapted to it. Jerry’s players excel at the stick-to-stick passing that Kelley’s BU teams perfected.

Back in 1971, Notre Dame came to BU and lost by several goals. The goaltender was asked what he thought about trying to stop the BU power play. “Stop it?” he said. “I just had to stand there and watch it – it was so beautiful. “

Those Last Games of 42 Seasons Ago

Kelley and his 1972 team, on the ice for the final time at Boston Garden

Kelley and his 1972 team, on the ice for the final time at Boston Garden

The last game that Jack Kelley coached against Boston College was one of those losses he remembers. He’s not the only one who recalls it well. Both he and Snooks Kelley had announced their retirements. BU was on its way to a second straight NCAA title. BC was a struggling, second-tier crew that had just one objective: to get Snooks his 500th career win before he went home after his 36th season.

BU that year was a little like the Bruins of 1971. Both teams were so powerful that they didn’t have to try especially hard. The B’s had won the Stanley Cup in 1970, then breezed through the next season and absorbed a dope-slap loss from Montreal in the first playoff round.

BC somehow rose to the occasion that snowy February night and upset BU 7-5, snapping an eight-game loss streak. As both Kelleys exited the rivalry, the series stood at 50-50-4. Jack Kelley recalled,

“That was the wakeup call. It was probably my fault. I sure didn’t want to be his 500th victim. Snooks deserved to beat someone like Boston University for such a magic number, and as time’s gone on, it’s dulled the pain and I appreciate being a part of his history.

“When you lose, most of the time you think it’s on you… and I kept wondering what I had done that I didn’t have my team totally prepared for BC.”

BC had given Jack a captain’s chair before that game. He still has it up in his lakefront home in Maine. As always, he was most gracious with Snooks and his players in the post-game handshakes at center ice. But when the locker room door closed behind him, Jack launched a post-game tirade that has become a permanent part of Terrier hockey alumni lore.

Well known to BU insiders too is the story of Kelley’s return to his Belmont home, where he usually entered by the back door. Finding the door locked, and still steaming, he kicked it in.
“My wife didn’t speak to me for a week after that,” he chuckles.

If that game was a poetic denouement to Snooks Kelley’s career, if the Snooker deserved to topple Boston University one last time, then the final contests of Jack Kelley’s tenure at BU were just as fitting and just as deserved.

Celebrating the win: Whooping it up as the 1972 tournament awards are announced. Behind Kelley is Jack Parker, then his assistant coach.

Celebrating the win: Whooping it up as the 1972 tournament awards are announced. Behind Kelley is Jack Parker, then his assistant coach.

The 1972 Terriers took both the ECAC and the NCAA championships at their second home, the Boston Garden. Each time they defeated Cornell, the team that had been Kelley’s most troublesome foe. It was 4-1 in the ECAC final and a thumping 4-0 in the NCAA title game.

Those final victories didn’t come easily. Cornell had beaten BU in the last regular season game after the BC loss. But the music finally stopped for the Big Red and their supercilious fans. Kelley kept fiddling with his lineup. If memory serves, one of his key moves was to give a more prominent role to Paul Giandomenico. Up to that time, the little guy known as Sweeper to his teammates and Peewee to his Walpole, Mass. friends had been a spare part, but in the Garden he gave his team mates a big extra boost.

What Else Might Have Been

Kelley departed the scene then, off to run the Whalers of the World Hockey Association. He turned to Boston College for several of his pro players – Tim Sheehy, Kevin Ahearn, John Cunniff, Paul Hurley. He also ran ice arenas, went back to Colby to coach a year, and all the while kept up with his horse-breeding business. An entire career in college hockey was not for him.

It would have been nice to see what Jack Kelley could have done as coach of a U.S. Olympic team. He was every bit as tough, every inch the disciplinarian, as Herbie Brooks would turn out to be in 1980. I suspect that he would have made Brooksie seem like a soft touch.

Jack’s Terriers took on the 1972 Olympic Team at an exhibition game at the Garden in November of 1971 and tied them 4-4. Three BC players were on the Olympic roster, prompting one Terrier partisan to yell, “Come on BU – it’s only BC!” A tie with the team that would bring home a Silver Medal from Sapporo – not bad at all for a college outfit.

Another thing that I never knew about Jack Kelley until our recent chat – he too is one of those Greatest Generation guys to whom we boomers owe so much gratitude. He was a latecomer to the war effort, but he did his duty, leaving Belmont High early in 1945 and entering the service. The war ended shortly thereafter. Jack would have graduated from BU in 1949, but his delayed return with so many other veterans put him into the class of 1952.

BC was in the Kelley family’s sights even then. Jack points out that his brother Paul was the BU goaltender in the first Beanpot game ever played, a 4-1 Terrier win over Northeastern on December 26, 1952. But he proudly adds that later in the year, Paul shut out Boston College. It was the first time the Eagles had been blanked in eight seasons.

Boston College and Boston University meet for the 264th time on January 17 at BC. Then they’ll play in the Beanpot first round on February 3.

I won’t predict the winner of either of those games. But I can promise that in both contests you’ll see college hockey the way it should be played. You’ll feel the rivalry’s spirit, raucously opposing on the surface, but respectfully friendly at the core like the game of hockey itself. For all that, you can thank the people who built these two college hockey programs. And one of the greatest of those builders was Jack Kelley. He wasn’t around Boston for very long, but he was one of the very best.

High Flight: Really, Really High Flight

November 6, 2013

Q: How high do you have to fly to be considered an astronaut?
Hint – you have to fly into space. So, where does “space” begin?

A. According to the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), space begins at the Karman Line, which is 100 kilometers or roughly 62 miles above sea level. At this height the air is too thin to give a vehicle sufficient aerodynamic lift to maintain altitude. In order to stay aloft at that level a vehicle must be traveling at orbital speed.

Theodore von Karman

Theodore von Karman

The barrier is named for Hungarian-American astrophysicist Theodore von Karman (1881-1963), who made the calculations that establish the limits of aerodynamic atmospheric lift.

Von Karman, called “Father of Supersonic Flight,” left Hungary at the end of World War I and returned to Aachen, Germany to head the Aeronautical Institute. He designed and built the first wind tunnels at Aachen. In 1926, he built the first ones in California. He was offered the post of director of the Aeronautical Laboratory at Caltech in 1930. The rise of the Nazis troubled him, so he accepted the offer and became a U.S. citizen in 1936. In 1941, he co-founded Aerojet General to develop rocket engines for the U.S. military, and he was a principal mover of the creation of Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). In 1945, he co-developed America’s first high-altitude sounding rocket, the WAC Corporal.

The FAI states that if you’ve gone beyond the Karman Barrier, you’ve made it to space and you are an astronaut.

The X-15

The X-15

But here’s the rest of the story. The U.S. Air Force has always maintained that space begins 12 miles lower, at 50 miles above sea level. That made for long-delayed recognition, as astronauts, of a number of brave test pilots of the X-15.

My contemporaries will doubtless remember the exploits of the X-15, an experimental rocket-powered aircraft/spaceplane that set speed and altitude records in the early 1960s. The X-15 reached the edge of outer space and returned with valuable data used in aircraft and spacecraft design. As of 2012, it still holds the official world record for the fastest speed ever reached by a manned rocket-powered aircraft.

Joseph Walker

Joseph Walker

During the X-15 program, 13 different flights by eight pilots, five military and three civilian, met the USAF spaceflight criteria by exceeding the altitude of 50 miles (80 km). But of all the X-15 missions, only two flights (by the same pilot) exceeded 100 kilometers (62.1 mi, 328,084 ft.) in altitude and qualified as space flights per the FAI definition.

John McKay

John McKay

All of the pilots qualified as astronauts by military standards, and the Air Force pilots received USAF astronaut wings. But NASA, apparently worried about ruffling the FAI’s feathers, did not accord similar recognition to the civilian pilots. The agency hemmed and hawed about it for almost 40 years.

Bill Dana

Bill Dana

Finally, in 2005, the three civilian pilots – Bill Dana, John McKay and Joseph Walker, were awarded NASA astronaut wings – 35 years after the last X-15 flight. McKay’s and Walker’s wings were, unfortunately, awarded posthumously.

Major Mudd

Major Mudd

Congratulations, at long last, to those three gentlemen. As our old television favorite Major Mudd would say, “I’ll Be Blasting You!”

Boston, City of Champions: The Full Story

November 5, 2013

WCVB-TV, Channel 5 in Boston, has updated its “Banner Years” sign. And it’s impressive. Since 1903, Boston’s professional sports teams have racked up 34 championships:
17 NBA titles
8 World Series Crowns
6 Stanley Cups
3 Super Bowls
Eight of these titles have come since 2001.

But that’s not all. With thanks and due respect, Channel 5, you left out the 11 NCAA Hockey Titles won by Boston teams since 1949:
5 for Boston College
5 for Boston University
1 for Harvard
Five of these 11 National Collegiate Hockey Championships have come since 2001.

The WCVB Banner with needed additions.

The WCVB Banner with needed additions.