Athletes like Derek Jeter and David Wright are sometimes considered heroes, but really all they’re doing is playing a game.
The real heroes are those that risk their lives for the protection of others. With that definition in mind, Maj. Eugene McCarthy was a true hero.
A 1973 graduate of Nazareth R.H.S., East Flatbush, Maj. McCarthy was the first Brooklyn casualty of the 1991 Gulf War. He had been volunteering for a special Cobra Unit in Operation Desert Storm when on Feb. 2, 1991, he and his fellow pilot were killed when their UAH-1 Cobra helicopter accidentally crashed in Saudi Arabia while on an escort mission.
To honor his sacrifice, the Nazareth community has held a 5K memorial race for the past 23 years in Marine Park – on the same paths Maj. McCarthy traversed while on leave from the armed forces.
“It’s just a reminder of something he liked to do,” said Dennis McCarthy, Eugene’s older brother and a 1970 graduate of Nazareth. “It’s nice to see that he’s remembered by his peers and by young people going to Nazareth High School these days. I think he’d be happy to know that something good was continuing in his name.”
The McCarthy family grew up in St. Vincent Ferrer parish, East Flatbush. Maj. McCarthy was inspired by his father, Eugene Sr., who was a naval storekeeper stationed at Floyd Bennett Field, Marine Park, at the start of World War II.
After completing Army Ranger School, Maj. McCarthy volunteered for several tours of duty as a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). He graduated No. 1 in his DEA Training Academy class.
With the DEA in the early 1990s, Maj. McCarthy was on active duty as a helicopter pilot during Operation Snowcap, a counter-narcotics operation in the jungles of Peru. But as tensions surrounding the Gulf War escalated, Eugene told Dennis that he had volunteered his services to Operation Desert Storm. He is buried at Calverton Cemetery, Wading River, L.I.
Each year, several of Maj. McCarthy’s classmates from Nazareth and his family members participate in the run, helping to keep his legacy alive while also supporting his high school.
“My uncle was a very honest man…a quiet man but a very good man,” said Caitlin Picht, Maj. McCarthy’s niece and goddaughter. “So having this in his memory helps the school stay alive.”
Remembered as a Patriot
“He wanted it his whole life,” said his niece Kerry O’Neil of her uncle’s voluntary military service. “He was definitely a patriot. That is what he wanted to do. And he went back when he absolutely did not have to.”
Proceeds from the race benefit the Nazareth Cares Scholarship Program, which provides tuition assistance to students attending the East Flatbush high school. As such, members of the Nazareth track team are fixtures each year at the race.
“I think it’s really a great event,” said senior Nathaniel Grant. “We have fun and we enjoy it, but we also have to remember why we’re doing it in the first place. It’s a great cause, and it’s great for remembering what he (Maj. McCarthy) did.”
“It’s great to be able to run out here in his (Maj. McCarthy) memory and to honor his time in the military for what he did for our country,” said senior Walkins Ineus. “Even after all this time, everything he did is still coming back to the school as a whole.”
“I feel like I’m doing something patriotic because of the great things he’s (Maj. McCarthy) done,” said senior Michael Benjamin. “He died for us so that we could live a life of freedom.”
So whether a former classmate, family member or current track runner, everyone running in the race was inspired by the cause.
While there’s no doubt Maj. McCarthy has been missed over the years, his sacrifice to his nation lives on through the annual race.
So when looking at what truly defines a hero, look no further than Maj. Eugene McCarthy.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.