Jason McGarry Interview
This is file #4, cycle 4. Today’s date is November 11, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Jason McGarry, a local fellow, who is going to talk about growing up in Salisbury, his military career, the American Legion and anything else he wants to talk about. But first we’ll start with…
JM:What is your name?
JMcG:Good afternoon. My name is Jason Andrew McGarry.
JM:Where did you go to school?
JMcG:I went to elementary school at Salisbury Central School.
JM:do you have any good memories of first grade?
JMcG:Sure I have all good memories of every grade. There is good and bad in everything as you go through life. I am very fortunate that I went there to school. This Friday I went to the Veteran’s Day ceremony at Salisbury Central. I was the first5 time I had walked into that building since 1988. It a little bit of nostalgia, but also I was asked if I wanted a tour. I said, “No, I want to remember it as it was.” For me the great memories were the teachers. What was unique was the music program with Donna Finn. It was through playing the trumpet and later the bagpipes that I was able to find something that I could excel in. Based on how hard I worked, I could be who I wanted to be despite the various cliques that were in the school. I really had a passion for the trumpet and played for the Salisbury Band as well. It was a way to elevate myself and be recognized for working hard instead of being a narcissist or sycophant. I have never liked a clique.
JM:When did you join the Salisbury Band?
JMcG:I was in the Salisbury Band in 5th grade in 1985. Lee Collins was the band director at that time. Usually they practiced at the Scoville Memorial Library. I could walk from my house to the practice. Lee would go to the elementary school to see if there was anyone who wanted to join. Donna Finn recommended me.
JM:Did Lee get you interested in the bagpipes?
JMcG:Yes for the most part yes. He was the one who taught me how to play the bagpipes. I was interested in Scottish things long before that. The fact that he played the pipes: I started learning from him in 1991. That is kind of late people generally begin playing about age 5-7. That is what I would like to get my girls started playing.
JM:That is interesting. By Scottish tradition women can play the bagpipes?
JMcG:I wouldn’t say it was tradition, but today they do. Men used to be the ones that danced, and now it is the women that are predominant dancers. There is a large surge ow women who play the pipes too. They play the drums and the base drum. They keep the tradition alive. It doesn’t really matter
which gender does what. At Salisbury Central School I am very thankful I had a lot of good friends. We were all of Irish origin: Dennis Whalen, Shannon Blodgett, and Emmet Hussey. The Husseys were immigrants here like my dad was. These were the people I hung out with during that time frame.
JM:Good men all of them.
JMcG:Yes they are.
JM:You went to Oliver Wolcott.
JMcG:I did. It all started because my brother John went there before me and he graduated from high school in 1988 and I graduated from elementary school in 1988. I remember Housatonic guidance counselor had come in during the last month of 8th grade. He sat down with me and saying these are the classes you are going to have at Housatonic next year. I kept telling him, “No, I am going to Oliver Wolcott.” I brought the story up with my current students because I was the only one in my 8th grade class that went to the tech school. It then was looked at as that was where stupid people go. That was what was thought of about the tech schools at the time.
JM:Oh how wrong that is.
JMcG:The band director at Housatonic High School was excited because he thought he was going to get three strong trumpets, me, Chad Bevan, and Brian Pogue. Chad and Brian went to Salisbury School for Boys and I went to Oliver Tech. He did not get any of us. I wanted to go to Oliver Wolcott because I wanted to learn a trade. My dad wanted me to go there too. I did not want to go to Housatonic because of the cliques from Salisbury Central. I could start new. I would be judged for what you did, not who you were. It is not necessarily cliquey everywhere.
JM:It depends on where you work. When did you go into the military?
JMcG:I selected the delayed entry program in 1991. The recruiting officer at that time was in Torrington, Ct.
JM:How many years did you serve?
JMcG:I was 6 years active service in the Navy on submarines.
JM:Where did you go to boot camp?
JMcG:I went to boot camp in San Diego, California on July 20, 1992.
JM:You sub base was “Rotten Groton”?
JMcG: Right “Rotten Groton”!
JM:What was the name of your submarine?
JMcG:USS Alexandria, named after the city of Alexandria, Virginia and Louisiana.3.
JM:Fortunately you are not claustrophobic.
JMcG;No being 5’3” helps I guess. Honestly our captain was over 6 feet tall so height doesn’t matter. For them, they just have to know when to duck. Being on a submarine is like being indoors, except that you can’t look outside. You live where you work.
JMcG:360 feet long, then the tail was another 25 feet, I think it was 30 feet in circumference.
JM:How many years were on the sub?
JMcG:I was one months shy of 5 years straight. That is very unusual. They try to entice you onto a ship right away. They want you to re-enlist. If you do you are on a ship for 3 years and then cycle off for another three years. If you did not file for more years, if you did all you straight years, they would just keep you on that one ship. That is why I was one month away from being 5 years total. I checked out 5 days before we left for 6 month at sea. I did four deployments within the 5 years which was a lot of deployments even then.
JM:You went up to the Arctic three times.
JMcG:I have been above the Arctic Circle three times.
JM:Where else have you been?
JMcG:I was in a battle group in 1993. I have been everywhere Italy, France, Crete, Gibraltar, Norway, Scotland, and Puerto Rico. I have been to 13 different countries in my life, not all in submarines. I was in a sub in the Mediterranean and the Adriatic Sea and the Straits of Gibraltar.
JM:Were you in Yugoslavia?
JMcG:I was not in the country. I was in the area during NATO operations with the former Yugoslavia.
JM:Did you use the skill you learned at Oliver Wolcott in your submarine career?
JMcG:Yes when I went for schooling for my job as interior communication electrician, there was everything I had learned at the trade school, and most of it was taught to me after boot camp in San Diego. I graduated #1 in my class of 25 people learning the job of interior communications electrician. The first week was all law which. There were a lot of things I had learned already. It made everything a lot smoother but there was pressure to stay #1. It was a 19 week school. That last week, there was one person was 0.5% away from being #1. I remember acing the last test. They were just waiting to see if I would mess it up. I just kept the average up there. The benefit is if you were going to surface fleet, the person that had #1 had a choice of orders. The other classmates were happy I was going to submarines which took me out of the surface pool. I didn’t know there was a sub base at Groton before going to San Diego. When the recruiter came in to talk about Groton, Connecticut I said to myself WOW there is a
base in Connecticut. That was my first choice and Hawaii was my second choice. Before Christmas time in 1992, when I was in base school, they had some really nice orders for these guys like brand new ships. After Christmas holidays, something got reshuffled with all the orders and then all the orders they had for those guys going into the surface fleet were really terrible- old ships. With an old ship you are fixing everything non- stop, no new commissions, so I was very grateful that I was going into the submarines. I knew exactly what to expect after I finished ICE school.
JM:You did very well.
JMcG:I was very fortunate.
JM:Good things come to people who earn them.
JMcG:I would like to think so.
JM:Is there anything you would like to add about your naval career before we move on to the American Legion?
JMcG:The thing I would like to add is for my 6 years in the Navy, they were the best people I had ever met. That is something you just don’t find often. They always look out for your back. A couple of months ago I had dinner with some of my old shipmates whom I had not seen since I got out in 1998.My mother said you going down there was the best thing because those are the people you can talk to and not be prejudged. That is exactly what it is. I hope to find an environment again like that.
I am thankful for all that I have seen and done. That is one of the reason that I agreed to take over the Command post of the American Legion because I wanted to give back to the town and the people. I have been a member since 1992 or 3 when the former commander Jim Woods approached me. You do not have to be a veteran or retired to be in the American Legion. You can be on active duty. I took over as commander three years ago. I got the paper work straightened out about 2 years ago. I modernized a lot of the documents and everything else that needed it.
JM:What does the American Legion represent?
JMcG:The American Legion represents the veterans that served during certain times, specifically wars. VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) is a little stricter. The core is to help all veterans on active duty, personnel as well, educating at schools about patriotism. I have tried to use that focus especially in Salisbury and I have raised the membership of the organization. The veterans know that there is somebody working with them. My concern would be for the future to make sure that we have the knowledge, resources and all other necessities to help these older veterans. Most of our vets are older than 55-60. We need to make sure that everything is in place for proper honors and everything else. That is the job.
JM:Was the American Legion through your connection involved with helping Mrs. Roy?
JMcG:With Mrs. Roy I set up a go-fund-me page and we asked for at least $5,000 and the result was over $11,000. I had known Mrs. Roy who worked with my dad to the Salisbury Post Office. I did have a personal connection. (Mrs. Roy had lost her home and 3 dogs to a fire. Ed.) The way I did it, I received an e-mail from Chris Ohmen who is the Commander of the VFW asking if the American Legion was going to do anything. I contacted the legion and they put out a request for money from this or that fund. The other thing I thought was important was to get permission from Terry and her family. I did not just want to start running without permission. I contacted her> “I would like to this for you to help you out. I am very sorry for the situation.” On the go-fund –me site I did not put on anything about the American Legion because I did not want it to be illegal nor did I wish to sound like I was looking for praise. I am very much opposed to a photo op look what I did. What I was going to do was to present a check to her to show that the community cared. She was not available for that. The best thing is gave her access to the account so she could draw her money out as needed. I did not want to pull away from what Veteran’s Day is really about or even to say anything at Salisbury Central School to focus on the anything but the meaning of November 11. I could have brought in more veterans to the legion by saying look what we did for Terry. It was not a veteran thing, it was a community thing. The best thing that came out of it was my mom said she saw Terry a couple days ago and Terry gave her a big hug and said thank you.
JM:That is what it should be.
JMcG:That is it: nothing more and mothing less. I was very grateful that I could help her.
JM:When I saw it in the paper, I knew there was a connection with your dad. It was a wonderful thing to do.
JM:The previous commanders of the American Legion were George Bushnell, Jim Wood and you.
JMcG:Yes. Fred Bushnell was there today at the Veteran’s Day ceremony. Fred told me that one of his jobs when his dad was commander was to clean the rifles before Memorial Day. We always have a problem with the rifles not being cleaned correctly. As a kid that was his job.
JM:When you took over how many members were there signed up?
JMcG:I believe it was 15. We have 37 now.
JM:Your American legion Letter head has a picture of Hubert Williams and George Parsons.
JMcG:That is correct.
JM:At the service this morning your daughter presented me with the flag that was flown over the Capital Building in Washington in honor of Hubert Williams who was the first soldier killed in WWI from Salisbury. Where is that flag going?
JMcG:That flag is going into a shadow box that I am putting together. I wanted to present it today, but there was not enough time to finish it. I want to do it right. By Monday I will have gone to 5 different Veteran events which I am very happy to do. I think the best thing to do with this is to present it when we have the unveiling of the War Memorial. I talked to Mr. Rand. I hope they get it going soon. I’d like it done by Memorial Day. The shadow box will contain the flag, a picture of Mr. Williams along with a brief biography of him. I also have some items I bought from the Centennial Commission. I also have some shells from Memorial Day last year to put in there because it was the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day.
JM: Will it be displayed at the Town Hall?
JMcG:It will be displayed wherever the people want it to be. I shall let the town decide.
JM:I have talked with Jennifer Farwell who is the Veteran Liaison. Do you do a major part of Memorial Day or is that her job?
JMcG:Primarily it is the ordering of items. She talks with various people.
JM:Yes she has a committee to help her.
JMcG:She does that for Memorial Day. As far as Veteran’s Day goes, I do it all.
JM:It was a very lovely service today.
JMcG:Thank you. Memorial Day gets all the hype because of the good weather. Fred also said that our parade is one of the oldest and more an original parade than many others. That is why it has been nationally recognized because it is such a unique parade. I like Veteran’s Day because no matter the size of the group, those are the really dedicated people who show up. In talking to Fred as far as I know, the Veteran’s day ceremony has always been started with the chimes at the library. I feel that this town has always done both Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day right. Mr. Charlie parker down in North Carolina said that he had never seen anything like our parade.
JM:Tell me a little bit about your World War I Digitization Day back in May of 2017.
JMcG:I received an e-mail form you. I contacted Christie from the Connecticut State Library. She responded by asking me to fill out a request form to bring the equipment to the Scoville Memorial Library. As the American legion does not have a physical building. I worked with you and Claudia Cayne at the library. The main plan was to have the Salisbury Band play WWI songs. Then it rained. We did use some of the money to plant two native trees down at the VFW building. One died unfortunately. We wanted the trees to be planted in Washinee Park behind the town hall which had been dedicated to veterans of WWI. We ran into logistical problems there. The day was very successful. People brought things in to be recorded digitally. We saved a lot of information. My mother brought some of her collection including some of my great grandfather’s information. She told stories about him and that opened up things that I did not know about my own family. Personally it brought me closer to
understanding my mom’s side of the family. My mother gave me my great grandfather’s dog tags for being a second cook. I went to Camp Devens near that time when he went to boot camp. My family donated to the museum up there a pencil that was in the shape of bullet that said 1917 Camp Devens. It is on display there as far as I know. All this information that Christie collected will be available for schools.
JM:There was a British lady who came in with a diary.
JMcG:Yes there was. It was pretty impressive. One of the exciting things about that day, especially for the curator from the Connecticut State Library Christie, who was a Navy vet, was the diary. She got excited about the diary because it had pictures of camels. The lady’s father had fought at Gallipoli and other areas and had pictures: it was very extensive diary. One person brought in trench art. One other person who came in their deceased father had been part of the lost marine division that was cut off- the Lost Battalion”. They all were excited to have their information saved by someone who cared. We were the only American Legion that participated in that program. I was very proud of that.
JM:We are special. Is there anything else you would like to add before we close?
JMcG:The last thing I would like to say is it was very hard for me to realize that I could not move back to my home town and give my kids the experiences I had here when I was growing up. After college I didn’t want to move back, but later I really wanted to move back with my family. I came to realize it wasn’t the same place that I loved. It is just different. I am very thankful that I grew up here when I did. I have all these wonderful memories. I wanted my kids to have those same experiences. The people here made me who I am and the education. It is unique from all the other places I have gone. I won’t find it anywhere else. I volunteered for the American Legion because no one else wanted to do it. I wanted to give back to the community. I did what I think it means to be an American. I wanted the American Legion to be non- political.
JM:You will find what you are looking for and good things will come to you.