Friday, April 24, 2009

Leo Hall of Fame Honoree - Lt. Col. Tom O'Dea, Vietnam Hero

Leo High School at 7901 S. Sangamon is the home of heroes - thousands of them. Leo Men remain committed to providing an education for poor kids from their old neighborhoods. Leo High School serves African American young men from Auburn/Gresham, Englewood, Brainerd, Grand Crossing and Chatham with a college preparatory education that sends 93% of our guys on to great colleges and universities.

Leo Men are aging white, Catholic middle class guys. They might have left the neighborhood, many to go to war for America, but they never left their school nor the kids who are a different color than them and tend to worship at different churches than the Catholic boys who went here decades ago. Ninety-nine and nine tenths percent of the financial aid coming to the one hundred percent black kids comes from these white Catholic gentlemen.

Tonight Leo honors a body of men who exemplify the school's motto -Facta Non Verba -Deeds Not Words. Among the honorees that includes a former Leo principal, the current Leo Alumni President, a long-time Leo teacher/coach,the CEO of the John Buck Company, a basketball icon, a rock-ribbed union tradesman, a Chicago Fire Department Hero, an Oil Company executive, and the manager of Florida Marlins is a fallen hero of the Vietnam War.

Read Erin Mattingly's moving tribute to her grandfather, Col Tom O'Dea!

I'm headed to Chicago this weekend for an incredible event. Thomas Francis O'Dea, my mom's father and my Papa, is being inducted into his high school hall of fame at Leo Catholic High School in Chicago. It's incredible enough to think that, if he was alive, at the age of 82 my Papa is being recognized by the high school he left in 1944, but it's even more incredible considering Papa's history...
Papa was a military career man, much like most of the men on both sides of my family. My mom talks about Papa as a brilliant man. One who knew 7 languages. One who tutored mom through math in elementary school and encouraged his children to get their education. One who wrote her letters while serving overseas telling her to study had, be a good girl, and help Nana. One who loved my Nana and made her the best person she could be.
He went to Leo Catholic High School, where he served as class President and editor of the yearbook

(his granddaughter was editor of the good ole' Ottawa Hills yearbook, too!) (he's the good looking one in the upper left corner... Apparently I have his nose!)

Unfortunately, I never had the joy of knowing my Papa. I found this online and thought it summed up best the legacy that my Papa left when he was killed serving in Vietnam on December 25, 1968:

2 January 1969 - Army Lieutenant Colonel Thomas F. O'Dea, Jr. knew what it was like to be fighting a war thousands of miles away from home on Christmas Day - the loneliness, longing, and fear. He was a career soldier, and Christmas found him him acting as military advisor in Tay Hinh province northwest of Saigon.That morning he climbed into a helicopter to fly over the province and wish his men a Merry Christmas.It was his last mission. He was killed when the Viet Cong shot his helicopter down. He was 42.Lieutenant Colonel O'Dea of 10120 Morgan Street, Chicago, left a wife, Roberta; and four children, Thomas 18; Cynthia 15; Therese, 12, and Sandra 8.

My mom is Therese. As I've mentioned in previous posts, whenever I go up to DC, I go to visit my Papa and Nana at Arlington National Cemetery, under their oak tree. And whenever Phil takes me on his awesome running route through the Monuments, we stop at the Vietnam Memorial and touch Papa's name and say a quick prayer. And although I feel like I know the legacy of the man from what my mom has told me, I'm really looking forward to meeting those who knew him back in high school. Apparently, his best friend from high school will be sitting at our table Friday night. I know my mom is thrilled to celebrate his life with his friends, my Dad, Phil, and me and I can't wait to get to know Papa even more through the stories and reminiscing of his years at Leo High. Chi-town, watch out, the O'Dea/Mattinglys are coming to town!

*Leo High School Hall of Fame Class of 2009
James Corbett – 1952
Bob Kman – 1959
Tony Parker -1973
Bob Schablaske –Faculty
Mike Coyle – 1958
John Eckenstein – 1951
John Boles -1966
Rich Furlong -1959
John O'Donnell -1968

Lt. Col. Thomas J. O'Dea (posthumous) -1944

Click my post title for hundreds of more Leo Heroes!