Maj. Eugene Thomas McCarthy, a Marine Corps reservist and Drug Enforcement Administration agent who was killed in action in the Persian Gulf War, was remembered Friday as a gung-ho warrior who thought he could serve his country best by “being where the war was.”
McCarthy, a helicopter pilot, died Feb. 1, when his Cobra gunship crashed while he was flying a mission in support of ground troops in Saudi Arabia. A memorial service attended largely by DEA agents and Marines was held for McCarthy, 35, at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Carlsbad, where he was a parishioner.
Funeral services were held earlier this month in Brooklyn, N.Y., where McCarthy’s family lives. Friday’s memorial service was the first public ceremony held for a Southern California serviceman killed in the Persian Gulf War.
DEA Agent Doug Hebert, who shared a home with McCarthy, said that his friend “wanted to be where the war was,” whether it was fighting Iraqi aggressors in the Persian Gulf or drug traffickers in the jungles of South America. McCarthy, who was an active duty Marine for 11 years before joining the DEA in September, 1988, got to do both.
“Before war broke out in the Persian Gulf, Gene never had a chance to fight in a war as a Marine,” said Hebert. “That’s why he joined DEA. That’s where the war was, fighting drugs in South America. That’s where he went to fight his first war.”
DEA Agent Joe Moody, who was McCarthy’s boss, gave an emotional eulogy, in which he described him as a warrior who often marched to his own drummer.
“I was proud and privileged to have been touched by his free spirit. . . . Gene was a warrior who lived his life as he chose,” said Moody.
Without exception, everyone who knew McCarthy described him as highly motivated and gung-ho, but caring. In his remarks, Moody read from a letter that McCarthy wrote to a friend while serving in Operation Snowcap, the DEA code name for an anti-drug operation conducted with police and military officials in Peru, Colombia and Bolivia.
McCarthy, who was single, volunteered to remain in South America during Christmas, 1989, and the following New Year so married agents could spend the holidays in the United States with their families.
“I volunteered (to stay) because I know that a lot of these guys are dying to be home,” McCarthy wrote. " . . . I’ve been away so long from home at Christmas that one more won’t make a difference.”
Hebert said that McCarthy volunteered to go to Saudi Arabia when the buildup of American troops began last year, and when he returned from South America in November. Anxious to get some combat experience under his belt, McCarthy volunteered to deploy with another reserve unit that was called up, said Hebert.
After going through refresher training with the Cobra gunship, McCarthy was sent to Saudi Arabia with a Marine unit Jan. 6, less than two months after returning from his overseas duty with DEA.
St. Patrick’s pastor Msgr. J. Raymont Moore praised McCarthy as a man who constantly put his life in harm’s way for the sake of others. Recalling McCarthy’s dangerous assignment as a drug agent in South America, Moore said he “risked his life so that others may be safe from the evils of drugs.”
“Obviously, Gene made a decision to serve society. . . . He was a man in the fullest sense of the word,” said the monsignor.
Earlier, the priest singled out a passage from the gospel to describe McCarthy’s life.
“The greatest love a man can have for his friends is to give his life for them,” he said.
During the memorial service, a Marine color guard stood at parade rest to the right of the altar. The service included a mournful dirge of religious and Irish songs, including Danny Boy and Amazing Grace, which were sung a cappella. Both songs left some mourners struggling to keep a dry eye.
After the service, a Marine honor guard fired a 21-gun salute in front of the church. This was followed by the distant sound of taps, played by a Marine bugler. Jim Taylor, a Marine rifleman and Vietnam veteran, closed the ceremony by playing the Marine Corps Hymn on bagpipes.