Tom McNamara


As you pass by you wonder who lives in this house on the river with the long black ramp. The first thing you notice when you get up to the door is the green Irish shamrock hanging there as a welcome. I felt ominous when I first drove up and saw the ramp but now I’m comforted by the shamrock.

Once I’m welcomed by Sue and Tom McNamara, I’m taken on a journey not to be forgotten.  It’s Veteran’s Day and my assignment was to interview a veteran. Here’s Tom, the quintessential veteran, dressed in blue pants, white shirt and wide red suspenders – I think, “Now that’s a veteran!” Who knew I would find a treasure, a proud man once brave and feisty who now puts it all to the test – the ultimate test of ALS commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”.

“Mac”, as Tom is so fondly known, is a Jersey boy who dropped out of high school in his senior year and joined the Navy in October of 42 and not to be undone by Mac, his brother Daniel Francis signed up in January of 43. They were a true military family who had followed in the footsteps of their Dad who was an MP in World War I. Sadly Daniel never made it home; he was killed in April of 45 followed by their sister’s husband three weeks later.

After seven years in the Navy traveling the world, serving on three different ships, Mac returned home and enrolled in veteran’s courses at Fairleigh Dickinson College to get his high school diploma. He went on to become an iron worker traveling to jobs all over the East coast and while working at the White House in Washington met the woman of his dreams. Sue had moved up from Nashville to work for the FBI and as they say, “the rest is history”.

They’ve been married for 56 years; have 3 children and two grandchildren. They separated for 10 years but it’s not what you might think. Sue packed up their youngest child and went down to Nashville when her Mom’s health failed to “check up on her” and before long 10 years had passed. During that time Tom stayed with his sister in New York and he and Sue had a long distance marriage until his retirement when he also moved down to Nashville. Sue loved her native Nashville, living in the family home built in 1928 in the historic district, but finally in 1992 Tom admitted he still couldn’t adjust to southern living so they moved back to New Jersey.

Sitting in his recliner, struggling at times to clear his speech, Tom reminisced, “All in all it’s been a good life – a good adventurous life. Meeting Sue was the best thing that happened to me and being proud of my kids and grandchildren for what they’ve achieved is all I could ask for.” He talked about their travels through the United States, Spain and Portugal, a cruise to Halifax and Newfoundland and an Alaskan cruise with the whole family.

He’s been to the World War II Memorial, still has his childhood friend Joe Carberry from Massachusetts along with friends Bobby and Joe from school. ALS kept Mac from attending the last Navy reunion but the boys called him from Savannah and he got a chance to chat with Tommy Accuosti, Herb Ravit and several of the gang.

What does he miss? Gardening, raking leaves, reading and being able to raise up his arms.  ALS may have strapped his muscles but you can see and feel the sparks of life contained in his heart. His smile is contagious, the wonderful stories and great memories could fill a book, and I’m honored to absorb his life and know that I’ve had the privilege to meet a very special man.  Thanks Tom, to you and all the veterans who’ve put their lives on hold to defend our country.

Sadly to say, “our Mac” lost the battle of ALS in April 2009.