Peter J. O’Hagan Jr., whose career spanned from the front lines of the Cold War to Vietnam to town hall in Morris Township, died over the weekend at Morristown Medical Center. He was 81.
“He was just a great man… the epitome of a public servant,” Morris County GOP Chairman John Sette said of the retired Marine colonel, a former Township mayor and Morris freeholder.
O’Hagan’s service included military intelligence assignments that gave him a front-row view of Cold War events that he seldom, if ever, discussed, even with loved ones, said his son, also named Peter O’Hagan.
“He lived a very public life, by his actions,” the son said. “But he did a lot of stuff on the inside that nobody ever knew about.”
Peter said his dad had been part of a security team that protected the late CIA Director Allen Dulles. He also was present in Berlin when the Soviets exchanged downed American U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers for a convicted Russian spy in 1962. Three years later, he was with the Marines during their intervention in the Dominican Republic.
“The only person he was ever scared of in his whole life was my mother,” the son said with a laugh.
“He was a man for all seasons. He understood everything… he did everything as well as a person could do it,” said Township Committeeman Peter Mancuso.
O’Hagan’s many titles included special agent for the CIA and the Department of Defense, security officer at the American Embassy in Saigon, chairman of the New Jersey Lottery Commission, director of the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety and president of the Morris Minute Men rescue squad.
At various times he also held positions at Picatinny Arsenal, St. Clare’s Riverside Medical Center in Denville and Morristown Medical Center, and provided security services at the last four Republican National Conventions, according to his obituary.
“The highlight of his career was to lead a regiment of 2,500 Marines in the victory parade up Broadway in New York,” celebrating the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the obituary stated. The colonel had been recalled to active duty, as the casualty assistance officer for the Marine Corps and the state of New Jersey.
“He was very, very patriotic, a wonderful man,” said Kathleen Ginty Hyland, another former Morris Township mayor.
O’Hagan made a lasting impression on Township Administrator Tim Quinn, a former police chief.
“Peter was the ultimate in professionalism, when it came down to making sure things were done right,” Quinn said. That mindset extended to uniforms.
“He always had the Marine Corps outlook: Look sharp in life, have a commanding presence,” Quinn recounted. “If you look sharp, your organization looks sharp.”
O’Hagan served as the Township committee’s police commissioner when Quinn was appointed to the force in 1978. Nearly 30 years later, when Quinn graduated from a special FBI program in Quantico, Va., he was surprised to see the colonel at the ceremony.
“I couldn’t be more thankful, that he would take the time from his busy schedule to drive down and recognize my accomplishments,” Quinn said.
In 2006, the colonel accepted a 16-month special assignment with Homeland Security at Newark/Liberty International Airport, the obituary said.
He was close-mouthed about such things–to the point where his family only started piecing together details toward the end of his life, said his son, Peter O’Hagen.
Since his father’s death, he said, people have been coming forward with stories of good deeds: Jobs the colonel lined up for men who were down and out, help he gave to veterans struggling to cope with civilian life, and so forth.
The son described his father as strict, but added it was “all common-sense stuff” that he and his five siblings have tried to emulate in their own child-rearing.
“Yes was yes, no was no… There was not a lot of grey in our lives,” he said.
Being the son of a Marine was not really a problem for young Peter–except when he was ready for college. Boston schools were off limits, he said, because of radical campus groups protesting the Vietnam War.
Fondly, Peter O’Hagan remembered his dad as a teetotaler– “he never had a drink in his life”–who was in a perpetual hurry, whether mowing the lawn or driving to his next assignment.
In fact, Col. O’Hagan took some heat over speed limits as a freeholder, said Larry Ragonese, a former Star-Ledger reporter.
There was pressure at the time to lower speeds on Hanover Avenue near Greystone Park State Psychiatric Hospital. But O’Hagan walked the roadway, and concluded that lowering the limit only would create a speed trap.
“He was a straight-shooter, an honest guy, who was really committed to being a public servant,” said Ragonese, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. “In an age where everyone is skeptical of politicians, he knew why he wanted to serve. He wanted to give back. . . . I’ll really miss him.”
‘HE FOUGHT TILL THE END’
Peter Mancuso became close friends with Peter O’Hagan Jr. after defeating O’Hagan’s running mate for a Township committee seat in 1977. The two Peters served together for several years on the committee, where Mancuso, a future mayor, grew to admire his friend’s steadfast character.
“He was as honest as a person could ever be. If you were wrong, he told you,” said Mancuso.
For 20 years, he said, the Marine held pancreatic cancer at bay.
“He was a fighter. He fought until the end,” said Mancuso. “All he could do was inspire respect from everyone he knew… I will miss him as much as a person can miss anyone.”
A wake is scheduled for Wednesday, April 16, 2014, at the Doyle Funeral Home in Morristown, from 2 pm to 4 pm and from 6 pm to 9 pm. A funeral Mass will be held at Morristown’s Church of the Assumption on Thursday, April 17, 2014, at 10 am, followed by burial at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation, P.O. Box 37, Mountain Lakes, NJ 07046 or to the Morris Minute Men, P.O. Box 192, Morris Plains, NJ 07950.
Col. O’Hagan is predeceased by his first wife, Patricia (O’Connor) O’Hagan and his parents Peter and Winifred O’Hagan. He is survived by his wife, Barbara (Gregg) O’Hagan and his six children: Peter and wife, Judy; Kathleen; Maureen Daley and husband, Harry; Cynthia; Sharon Biggar and husband, Barry; and John and wife, Regina. He is also survived by his step-daughter, Amy Fassett, 12 grandchildren and his two sisters, Mary Curtis and Grace Tittel.
The colonel’s long list of awards is included in this obituary:
Colonel Peter J. O’Hagan, Jr.
7/21/1932 – 4/12/2014
Peter J. O’Hagan
Colonel, USMC (Ret.)
Colonel Peter J. O’Hagan, Jr. died on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Morristown Medical Center. He was 81. Born and raised in Harding Twp., NJ he lived in Morris Twp. since 1958. He was a member of the first graduating class of Bayley Ellard High School, Madison in 1950.
Col. O’Hagan received his commission as 2nd Lt., USMC, upon graduation from Mt. St. Mary’s College, Emmitsburg, MD, in 1954. He served on Active duty through 1956, remaining in the Reserves upon release. From 1955-1956 he was Deputy Provost Marshall at Camp Lejeune, NC, and was a Special Agent for the CIA, Washington, DC from 1956-1958. He was promoted to Captain in 1959. Upon promotion to Major in 1966, he was recalled to Active duty. He served in the Intelligence Branch, 2nd Marine Division, and eventually became Assistant Chief of Staff-G2, of 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, NC. He left Active duty in 1967.
From 1967-1969 he served in the Marine Corps Reserve, Washington, D.C. and also with VTU, Short Hills, NJ as a ASIS Project Officer from 1970-1974.
Col. O’Hagan served in Vietnam from 1969-1970 as the G2 Advisor to Vietnamese Marines. He was a Security Officer at the American Embassy in Saigon, Vietnam. He was promoted to Lt. Col. in 1971 and served as Commanding Officer, 6th Motor Transport Battalion from 1974 to 1976. He was promoted to Colonel in 1976 and served as Commanding Officer, Mobilization Training Unit-1, at Picatinny Arsenal, Dover, NJ until his retirement in 1984. After retirement, he served 3 years as Marine Corps Liaison Officer to the NJ National Guard, 1986-1989, and also served on the Naval Review Discharge Board, Vietnam Board and Vietnam Amnesty Board.
Col. O’Hagan’s civilian career included serving as a Special Agent, U.S. Dept. of Defense, Security Services Division, for nearly 20 years. He conducted classified investigations and inquiries for the Secretary of Defense on matters vital to national security. He traveled extensively domestically and overseas and qualified as distinguished expert in firearms.
From 1987 to 1990 he served as a Special Assistant to the Commissioner, NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection and Commissioner and Chairman of NJ Lottery Commission.
From 1990-1992 Col. O’Hagan was the Group Director of Facilities & Environmental Services at St. Clare’s Riverside Medical Center, Denville, NJ
He was recalled to Active duty for Operation Desert Storm in 1991 as the Casualty Assistance Officer for the U.S. Marine Corps and for the State of New Jersey. The highlight of his career was to lead a regiment of 2,500 Marines in the Victory Parade up Broadway in New York, celebrating the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. He is the founding member and CFO of the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation since its inception in 1995. He was the former Treasurer/Director, Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation.
Upon retirement, he served as Vice President of Support Services at Morristown Memorial Hospital. From 1993 to 1994 he was a Consultant for Special Projects. He also served as their Director of Security. He provided security services at the last 4 Republican National Conventions (New Orleans, Houston, San Diego, Philadelphia).
Col. O’Hagan was appointed by Governor Christine Todd Whitman as Director, NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety (DHTS) in 1994. He served in that capacity until 2002.
In his off-duty time, Col. O’Hagan has served as a Committeeman and 3 terms as Mayor in Morris Township for 13 years and 10 years as
In March 2002, he became a Consultant with AAA of Northern NJ, a position he currently holds. Since 2003, Col. O’Hagan has served on the Florham Park-based AAA NJ Automobile Club’s Speaker Bureau.
In 2006 he undertook a 16-month special assignment with Homeland Security at Newark/Liberty International Airport.
Col. O’Hagan has been the recipient of numerous awards, including:
Meritorious Service Medal
2 Secretary of the Navy Commendations Medals with Combat “V”
3 Naval Unit Citations
White House & Secret Service commendations for work performed in Vietnam
Morris County-Veteran of the Year, 1983
Bayley-Ellard High School Hall of Fame, 1991 (Class of 1950)
President’s Award-NJ Chiefs of Police Assn., 1996
American Red Cross-Volunteer of the Year, 1996
Leadership Award, National Burn Victim Foundation, 1997
Colonel Jeffrey McNally Award, USMA, 2002
Distinguished Service Award, NJ State Safety Council, 2002
Public Service Award, National Highway Safety Council, 2002
NJ State Safety Council Distinguished Service Award, 2002
Special Recognition Award, Safer NJ Conference, 2002
Rutgers University’s Distinguished Recognition Award, 2002
Recipient of the Paul Harris Fellow through the Rotary Foundation
Served 30 years with the Morris Minute Men and was 6 term past President
He is predeceased by his first wife, Patricia (O’Connor) O’Hagan and his parents Peter and Winifred O’Hagan. He is survived by his wife, Barbara (Gregg) O’Hagan and his six children: Peter and wife, Judy; Kathleen; Maureen Daley and husband, Harry; Cynthia; Sharon Biggar and husband, Barry; and John and wife, Regina. He is also survived by his step-daughter, Amy Fassett, 12 grandchildren and his two sisters, Mary Curtis and Grace Tittel. The Liturgy of Christian Burial will be celebrated at the Church of the Assumption, Morristown, NJ on Thursday at 10:00 AM. Interment Gate of Heaven Cemetery, East Hanover. Hours of visitation at the Doyle Funeral Home (www.doylefh.com), 106 Maple Ave., Morristown, NJ on Wednesday from 2-4 & 6-9 PM. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation, P.O. Box 37, Mountain Lakes, NJ 07046 or to the Morris Minute Men, P.O. Box 192, Morris Plains, NJ 07950.