A hero is defined as a person admired for courage and noble qualities, who has risked or sacrificed his or her life for the safety of others.
Maj. Eugene McCarthy fits this definition of a hero.
Though he lost his life defending his country in the Gulf War, Maj. McCarthy’s legacy as a hero is still celebrated to this day. For the past 21 years, Nazareth R.H.S., East Flatbush – Maj. McCarthy’s alma mater – has hosted the Maj. Eugene McCarthy Memorial 5K Race.
Held every year around Memorial Day, the race is plotted on the outside perimeter of Marine Park. On June 1, 41 runners traversed the same paths that Eugene once took when he used to run in the park while on leave from the U.S. Navy.
The McCarthy family grew up in St. Vincent Ferrer parish, East Flatbush. While at Nazareth, Eugene played every intramural sport – but mainly basketball – and graduated as a Regents scholar in 1973. He then rowed crew and enjoyed endurance running at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md.
Maj. McCarthy was inspired by his father, Eugene Sr., to serve his country. Eugene Sr. was a naval storekeeper stationed at Floyd Bennett Field, Marine Park, at the start of World War II. The entire family, including Maj. McCarthy’s older brother Dennis, Nazareth ’70, was very proud of Eugene’s decision to join the armed forces.
Eugene graduated in 1977 and became an aviator in the U.S. Marine Corps and eventually rose to the rank of major. He trained as a Navy diver and paratrooper after completing Army Ranger School, and he then 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 a special Cobra Unit in Operation Desert Storm.
On Feb. 2, 1991, Maj. McCarthy and his fellow pilot were killed when their UAH-1 Cobra helicopter accidentally crashed in Saudi Arabia while on an escort mission. He was the first Brooklyn casualty of Desert Storm, and he is buried at Calverton Cemetery, Wading River, L.I.
“We miss him so much, but at the same time, he’s a tremendous source of pride,” said Dennis, a retired U.S. Customs special agent and now a parishioner at St. Rose of Lima, Massapequa, L.I. “He was doing not only what he wanted to do, but he was doing what he thought he had to do.”
After Maj. McCarthy’s death, the senior class at St. Vincent Ferrer Elementary School organized a collection and erected a stone in Eugene’s memory at the foot of the school’s flagpole. Additionally, the Maj. McCarthy Memorial Triangle – the first Gulf War monument in N.Y.C. located at the intersection of East 31st Street, Avenue N and Kings Highway in Marine Park – honors the fallen hero’s memory.
Steve Bonal, Nazareth ’70, Dennis’ classmate and president of the Brooklyn Road Runners Club, helped start the memorial 5K race. The McCarthy family; Eugene’s classmates from Nazareth and the Naval Academy; a number of N.Y.-based DEA special agents; and members of the Nazareth track team participate each year.
“The drive of Eugene McCarthy and everything that his family stands for exemplifies Nazareth,” said head track coach Gary Gooden. “The kids understand the sacrifice he made.”
“I feel like I am honoring him (Maj. McCarthy) by running in his name,” said Nathaniel Grant, a freshman track runner. “His example is now being followed by us (the Nazareth track team).”
Proceeds from the race benefit the Nazareth Cares Scholarship Program, which provides tuition assistance to Nazareth students. This year, a portion of the funds raised will go to One Fund Boston, established to help the relief efforts of those affected by the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15.
“I think the run recognizes that he (Maj. McCarthy) was a person who gave unselfishly,” said Providencia Quiles, principal. “It’s a great way to celebrate his life and make sure that another child in East Flatbush has the opportunity to come to Nazareth.”
Through the race and the Marine Park memorial triangle, Maj. McCarthy’s spirit and sacrifice to his country have been respectfully kept alive by his home borough of Brooklyn.
“It’s rewarding to see that people still remember,” Dennis said. “It’s nice to see that people who do the right thing, like my brother, are not forgotten and are a good example for people.”
But Maj. McCarthy was not only a good example to others, as his brother said. He will also forever be revered as a hero.