Peter J. O’Hagan Jr. took his role as a Marine seriously– so seriously that his priest was nervous about participating in the retired colonel’s funeral mass on Thursday in Morristown.
“I woke up at 3:20 this morning and I said, ‘I had better put my first coat of shoe polish on,’” Msgr. Patrick Brown told a large gathering at Assumption Church that included a spit-shined Marine honor guard.
“And then I did a second coat at 7 o’clock to do justice to the man…who had the most polished shoes in the state of New Jersey and Morris County.”
O’Hagan, who died last Saturday at 81 after a long fight with pancreatic cancer, was remembered as a shining example of public service, a devout father of six who wove stints as Morris Township’s mayor and a Morris County freeholder with a military career and high-profile state- and private-sector appointments.
“He was called to serve diverse organizations, from the CIA to the Triple-A,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist), a lifelong friend of the O’Hagan family who delivered the eulogy.
O’Hagan’s devotion to the Marine Corps was the common thread. As bagpipes played and bells pealed, Marines carried his casket into the Catholic church. A rifle salute was planned for the burial at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover, according to his son, also named Peter.
Listen to the eulogy
“Back in 1985, President Ronald Reagan said, ‘Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. The Marines don’t have that problem.’ If there ever was a man who didn’t have to wonder if he made a difference, that was Col. Pete O’Hagan,” Frelinghuysen said.
O’Hagan had a bird’s-eye view of the Cold War and a couple of hot wars, too. According to his son, the Marine was at Checkpoint Charlie when the Soviets exchanged downed U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers for a Soviet spy in 1962.
Three years later, O’Hagan was with Marines who intervened in the Dominican Republic. He served on security details for the late Allen Dulles, the CIA director, and for the American embassy in Saigon during the Vietnam War, said his son.
O’Hagan was recalled to duty for Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and marched in the victory parade. In 1995, he led the Morris County St. Patrick’s Parade as grand marshal. A few years ago he accepted a special assignment with Homeland Security at Newark Liberty International Airport, and he had security roles at the last four GOP conventions, according to his obituary.
His family learned of his military exploits mostly by accident, in his later years, said his son. Frelinghuysen said O’Hagan also was active behind-the-scenes helping Marine veterans and their families and survivors.
“He’s done things that people will never hear about because he was too modest to talk about them,” said the Congressman, remembering how proudly O’Hagan wore his military dress blues–and how they still fit him perfectly in his 70s.
Throughout Frelinghuysen’s service in Washington, O’Hagan helped him vet candidates for the U.S. service academies.
“And he kept a special eye out for potential Marines, chuckling he ‘only needed a few,’” said the Congressman.
The O’Hagan military tradition continues. One of O’Hagan’s 12 grandchildren, Army Capt. Amanda Sharp, read from the Bible at the funeral.
Morris Township Committeeman Peter Mancuso, who served on the committee with O’Hagan in the late ’70s, also gave a Gospel reading.
When illness finally gained the upper hand, O’Hagan faced the end with the same resoluteness and quiet faith that underscored his other endeavors, said Monsignor Brown, acknowledging the round-the-clock support of O’Hagan’s second wife, Barbara. O’Hagan was married to his late wife Patricia for 49 years.
Frelinghuysen, who knew ”Little Pete” and his father, “Big Pete,” from childhood days in New Vernon, said he always believed O’Hagan would “defy the odds and the laws of nature” to conquer cancer.
Even so, “there was a lot of life in Pete O’Hagan’s years,” said the Congressman. “He was always busy, always focused, always disciplined, methodical, expectant, resolute and prepared. Not a moment wasted.”
In nods to O’Hagan’s Irish roots, the church sang Lady of Knock and The Irish Blessing. The service wound down with America the Beautiful and, of course, The Marine Hymn.
Frelinghuysen concluded his eulogy the same way Col. Pete O’Hagan ended the message on his home answering machine: