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Dad’s lesson to McCarthy: ‘Lead from the front. Your men always come first’

5/20/12    Chicago

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy walks through some ranks police department before protest march begins Sunday May

5/20/12 Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy walks through some of the ranks of the police department before the protest march begins on Sunday, May 20th. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 2, 2012 9:40AM

The city has a new hero.

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

Like spontaneous combustion, the city’s focus was drawn to the man on a median strip at Cermak and Michigan Avenue on Sunday; a guy commanding from a frontline position-barking orders with a Bronx accent without helmet or shield or bulky body armor.

What they spotted was leadership, confidence and precision.

Where did he get such poise?

Consider this scene from the Pacific Theater of World War II, Guadalcanal: A young Marine is sitting against a tree — smoking a cigarette. Cleaning his gun. Sniper fire breaks out around him. The Marine finishes cleaning his gun and crushes out his cigarette on the ground before jumping in a foxhole.

When asked later what he was thinking, he responded: “Nobody makes Jim McCarthy do anything before he’s ready.”

Could this story about McCarthy’s father help explain why instead of being called on the carpet for what could have been a weekend of mayhem and violence, the younger McCarthy instead finds himself accepting the equivalent of a huge “Thank You” card for keeping his city safe?

Although McCarthy keeps deflecting praise, saying: “It was the troops ...The men. The women. The guys and gals who pulled this off”— it was McCarthy’s father who not only inspired him with leadership skills, but with an interest in military tactics.

“My father saw things that would curl your hair,” said McCarthy. “He was World War II U.S. Marine Corporal James J. McCarthy.”

“And for me it was a chain of command that taught me how to lead. It ended with my dad and began with the men who taught him; a bunch of heroic Marines.”

McCarthy’s father, a Marine in the Pacific campaign, “taught me what every Marine knows: ‘The troops eat first. The officers eat later. Your men always come first. That’s how it’s done in the Marine Corps.

“He taught me what his heroes — his battalion commander Chesty Puller and [Congressional Medal of Honor recipient] John Basilone — taught him: ‘Lead from the front. Your men always come first.’”

McCarthy’s father, also from the Bronx, died when he was 63.

“Luckily — and it was real luck, I was privileged to meet a few of the men my father fought with, and they told me stories about dad’s leadership on Iwo Jima, where John Basilone died.

“They said dad was John Wayne and Clint Eastwood all rolled into one.

“They told me what dad hadn’t. That he was a hero.

“They said they could still see him standing up in the middle of a firefight and lighting a cigarette and walking around and directing their fire.

“Or standing over a guy in the prone position who was firing too high-and pointing out Japanese positions.

“Dad learned his skills from the best: He was the next machine gun over from Basilone at the Battle of Bloody Ridge in Guadalcanal.”

Basilone used a machine gun to hold off a large number of Japanese troops at Guadalcanal after his unit was nearly decimated.

“You don’t get much better in learning skills and heroism than a guy like that — and dad’s Battalion Commander was Chesty Puller, the most decorated Marine in history.”

On Guadalcanal, McCarthy’s father was shot in the thigh and foot, suffered a broken jaw after taking the butt of a rifle to the chin, took shrapnel and was bayoneted in the stomach. He later was shot in the back at Iwo Jima and finally evacuated as the Japanese attacked his hospital.

“I was watching a baseball game in 1995 when I got a call from one of my dad’s buddies who heard I was trying to find information on his war years. ... He told me my dad could have been sent home much earlier because of his wounds, but chose to stay. That’s the character of the guy I learned leadership from.”

I told my mom about that the next day. I think she said, ‘Sonofabitch. ... Typical.’”

McCarthy’s father eventually became a New York police officer, and it was his police shield McCarthy inherited as a New York cop.

“You know, I love this city,” McCarthy said of Chicago. “Whenever I’ve had to go out of town, I can’t wait to get back.”

Hey, Garry, we’re just glad you’re here.

Sneedlings ...

Wednesday’s birthdays: Tobi Williams, 61; Drew Carey, 54, and Jewel, 38.

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