Tell Your Story

Holy Cross Armed Services Stories

This online collection of personal recollections from Holy Cross alumni and other members of the College community who have served in the military has been established to preserve and share the stories—some touching, some funny, some even heartbreaking—of the men and women who chose a path to serve their country.

Are you a Holy Cross graduate, current student, parent, faculty member, staff employee or friend of the College with a military background? Please help us collect the stories of our community’s service personnel by filling out this simple form and typing up a memory of your service in the armed forces. Whether your designation is ROTC, OCS, V-12, enlisted, officer, retired, active duty, reserves…please consider writing in with your story, and read submissions from other alumni who have served.

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Barbara Thibadeau ’81
Hometown: Upper Saddle River, N.J.
Current town: Loudon, Tenn.
Captain, SC, U.S. Naval Reserves

I attended Holy Cross via an ROTC scholarship. I started off Marine option but transfered to the Navy after I sprained my ankle in Quantico. I majored in biology but somehow (typical military) I ended up in the Supply Corps. I wanted to go to Europe but never got there until I joined the Reserves. After Supply School in Athens, Ga., I served in Adak, Alaska, and Alameda, Calif. All of those bases are now closed. After my four years active duty, my obligation required an additional two years in the Naval Reserves. I ended up staying more than 20 years. I was recalled during the Operation Desert Storm and served in Saudi Arabia. We were the first reservists recalled in decades and it wasn’t all that smooth. Current recalls are much more organized and they actually know what to do with the women in the military. I learned a lot about myself and what matters. I had several very interesting reserve tours and some that were just dreadfully boring. All in all, it was good and I have no regrets. I would never have met my husband had I not been sent to Alameda. I encourage everyone to go this path—you never know where it will lead you.


Arthur V. Ferrara ’52
Hometown: Bronx, N.Y.
Current town: Orleans, Mass.
1st Lt. U.S. Army

Hi friends, 1st Lt. Arthur V. Ferrara ’52 reporting in. Enlisted in 1949 while an undergraduate. U.S. Naval Reserve, honorably discharged Aug. 3, 1952. Enlisted Aug. 3, 1952 in the U.S. Army. Following graduation from Leadership School and The Artillery School at Fort Sill, Okla., commissioned a 2nd Lt. Aug. 23, 1953, one month following the end of the Korean War. Remained at Fort Sill until discharged as 1st Lt. in February of 1955. Served in the active Reserve until 1958.


John Kelley Robertson ’49, P74, 80, 87
(submitted by Catherine Robertson Souter ’87)
Lynn, Mass.
U.S. Navy

Dad’s in the photo! When I glanced at the photo of the V-12 recruits in the Summer issue of Holy Cross Magazine, I wondered if my father would have been in it. Not seeing him, I read the article and moved on. He didn’t even see himself in the picture, no one did until my younger sister, Jean, pointed him out. And, yes, there he is.

John Kelley Robertson ’49, eighth man in the front row, counting from the left of the photo. He is the second face between the two officers walking toward us. At 18-years-old, fresh out of high school in July of 1943, Dad joined the Navy, hoping to become a fighter pilot. He was sent to Holy Cross with the V-12 group, even though as an aviation prospect, he was actually in the V-5. They all started together, studying, drilling and exercising, before being sent to their various programs. Dad spent one year at Holy Cross before being transferred to Williams College and then to Chapel Hill to complete training. He wasn’t chosen as a pilot so he joined the Navy as an enlisted man and headed for boot camp and then radar operation school before being sent to San Francisco to board the USS Appalachian. During his tour, the ship travelled to Hawaii, the Philippines and Guam before arriving in Japan. The country had just surrendered and his new admiral was charged with the occupation of Japan, so Dad got a first-hand view of the beauty and devastation of the country immediately following the war. One of his favorite photos shows him standing, hands on hips, on Ground Zero in Nagasaki. After his tour was over, Dad was sent back to Los Angeles where he was decommissioned and given a fee to travel back home. “They would either send you home or give you the money for the fare,” he said. “So I took the money and hitched home.” Wearing his Navy uniform helped him get rides from a number of people across the country—truckers, families and even one solider on his way back to the Midwest. Dad left on a Sunday, he says, and arrived home just in time for Good Friday. My grandparents and aunts’ excitement to see their returning hero must have made that a wonderful Easter weekend that year.

Dad returned to Holy Cross to complete his studies the following autumn, which I found interesting because he had grown up a Boston College fan, going to games with his father on weekends. Yet, after 18 years of being a BC man, he returned to HC after only one year on campus. “That was it,” he said of the change in loyalties, “I was a Hoiah now.” Must have been the beautiful views of Worcester or the meals at Kimball. Whatever it was, his loyalty was passed down to his children, four of whom attended the Cross (Bill ’74, John Jr. ’80, Catherine ’87 and Joanne).

Today, at 85, Dad lives in the same house in Lynn where my eight siblings and I grew up, not one mile from the house his father built a few blocks from the beach. He and Mom (Irene Casey Robertson, Regis College ’49) visit the Holy Cross campus at least once a year for the annual reunions, something he refuses to miss since he was made a “Purple Knight.” We kids and our kids pore through his book of memories, photos of people he still meets with on an annual reunion of men who served aboard the USS Appalachian. The photos of the people in Japan get the most descriptive replies: “Everyone had a bicycle,” he tells us or “Ground Zero was so quiet. There was nothing there.” It was the trip of a lifetime for a young boy who had never travelled much outside of his home state. And it all started at Holy Cross.


John diPretoro ’45
Hometown: Providence, R.I.
Current town: Harrison, Maine
Lt. CDR, U.S. Navy

I was a member of the first ROTC unit in the fall of 1941. I left in my second year in July 1942 for flight training as a Naval Aviator. After receiving my wings and some further training I was sent to carrier duty in the Pacific. I served in combat on the carriers Franklin and Hornet. In 1945 I joined the regular Navy and served on carriers and ashore until I retired in 1963. As for most, it was the experience of a lifetime and has influenced almost everthing I have done since. I feel honored to have served my country through WWll and the Cold War. I am pleased to be a part of the military history of Holy Cross.

William M. Polk ’55 P’86
Hometown: Pelham Manor, N.Y.
Current town: Grand Beach, Mich.
Captain, U.S. Air Force

Upon graduation and commissioned as a 2nd Lt in the U.S. Air Force I was ordered into pilot training. The USAF that year had decided that they were short of pilots so every ROTC graduate who was physically qualified was ordered into pilot training. Fine with me as I didn't have any other plans and it only added one year to your active duty requirement of two years. I flew the T-34 and T-28 in primary and the TB-25 in multi-engine basic. The commander of the base where we received our wings was Col. Travis Hoover, the pilot of the second B-25 to take off from the carrier after Doolittle on the famous Tokyo raid.

After two and a half years on active duty (flying the SA-16 air rescue amphibian) I was released from active duty, the Air Force having decided that they had too many pilots on active duty! I then went with Northeast Airlines where I often looked down on Holy Cross from my co-pilot’s seat on a DC-3 or DC-6 landing at Worcester. After four years with Northeast (which later merged with Delta) I was furloughed. A year or so later I was hired by TWA and within four years was a captain on the CV-880, a four-engine jet. I retired from TWA as I was nearing 60 years old.

I became active with the pilots’ union while with TWA and sometimes ran into a Holy Cross classmate, Tom Beedem, at ALPA functions. Tom had become the chairman of the pilot’s union at Northwest Airlines where he had wound up at after his USAF service. Tom had been a great member of the glee club at Holy Cross and we would harmonize over some of the classic HC songs.

There wasn’t any combat going on during my short tenure on active duty with the USAF. The closest I got to that was during Gulf War I when as a B-747 captain with TWA—I flew troops into and out of Saudi Arabia. The U.S. activated the CRAF plan (Civil Reserve Air Fleet) for the first and only time, and of the million or so troops flown to Saudi, approximately two-thirds were flown by the civilian airlines. Once, in Rome, I was told to take a 747 full of troops to “King Khalid Military City Airfield.” “Never heard of it,” I said. “Where is it?” There were no radio aids for it, they only told me the latitude and longitude. The INS onboard led me to its approximate location and there it was: a lot of concrete, no buildings, and a sea of tents! We landed, dropped off the troops and flew back to Rome.

After the Gulf War, we flew the troops back to their home bases in the U.S. where we would be met by their families and military bands in a great reception ceremony. We would taxi in with the escape hatch on top of the cockpit open and a couple of the soldiers/marines standing up there with a big American flag we carried and their regimental banner. What an awesome experience!


Philip Gregory Hilton ’87
Hometown: Severna Park, Md.
Captain, U.S. Navy

I entered the Navy during the waning days of the Cold War. After my initial active duty period I served in the Navy Reserve. I did not believe that I would ever serve again in an active capacity. In 1997 the Navy had a different idea. I deployed to Afghanistan in support of the U.S. Army in 2008 mentoring Afghan senior officers in how to conduct a land campaign—imagine the irony. I completed the irony by raising the standard of Holy Cross (remember the Crusader on a purple field) over Afghanistan. The flag is now prominently displayed in the Department of Naval Science (see the photo on page 26 of Holy Cross Magazine, Summer 2010 issue). My tour in Afghanistan was truly a life experience. I hope to go back there someday and see it in better light. To the sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen—God speed.


John E. McAuliffe, ’45 D.D.S.
Worcester, Mass.
PFC, U.S. Army

I was pre-med ’45 but graduated in ’44 and was immediately drafted and sent overseas to join the 87th Inf. Div. 3rd Army in the “Battle of the Bulge.” I served three campaigns to V-E Day, May 8, 1945. My awards include: Combat Infantryman Badge; Bronze Star Medal: EMEA Campaign Bar with three Campaign Stars. Have memories of being on mission up over the Rhine River looking for mortar targets, the day after crossing under German fire. On return to base our four-man patrol received “friendly fire” from Rifle Squad, which opened fire on us from 30 yards with air-cooled machine gun. We were concealed in brush but took cover behind rocky precipice…it finally let up upon recognition and proceeded down hill. Encountered a dead German soldier lying on his back: I automatically held back, leaned over him and said an Act of Contrition. This was the result of Catholic teaching by grade school nuns, Catholic Brothers School and Jesuit training. Years later, recalling the incident, I thought to myself, I was praying for my enemy. I continued study at Georgetown University Dental School; served during the Korean War as a Dental Officer at Ft. McNair. I’ve returned to battlefields eight times over the years — recently made an Honorary Citizen of the Town of Rochefort, Belgium. Serve as President of the Central Massachusetts Chapter 22: Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge.

Thomas Humann ‘93
Plymouth, Mass.
Major, U.S. Marine Corps

Throughout my Marine Corps career, I had the good fortune of being granted my first choice of duty assignments, not the least of which was pilot for HMX-1: the Presidential Helicopter Squadron. My initial flight with George W. Bush was the night he threw the first pitch of the World Series at Yankee Stadium before an emotionally charged, post-9/11 crowd. I was privileged to be along for the ride when he became the first president to spend Memorial Day outside the United States. We provided an aerial tour of the D-Day invasion while Secretary of State Colin Powell narrated along the way to Normandy Beach cemetery.

But the most memorable time was the aftermath of 9/11 itself. My role was to escort Vice President Cheney to undisclosed locations. It was a bit unnerving to leave my family behind in Washington, DC while the Pentagon smoldered and uncertainty abounded, but the gravity of the situation made us all proud to serve. It was these events and planning for other potential emergencies that inspired me to write my first novel. The Carnival Diversion details an account of an assassination attempt on the president and the efforts made to thwart the terrorist plot.