The Great Santini

Pat Conroy wrote in Parade magazine about his favorite food as a boy in the South, and was later introduced to his dad's favorite sandwiches (Red-Hots) in the Chicago area.

Colonel Don Conroy (USMC, retired) died from colon cancer in 1998. He was the inspiration for the best seller, The Great Santini (later made into a movie), written by his son, Pat.

I met Colonel Conroy at the Army hotel in Bremerhaven, Germany, while TAD from the embassy in Copenhagen in 1988. I always wore a bright red windbreaker with USMC on it when visiting this Army base on business. I had been out for a bite to eat one evening and when I came into the lobby there sat a gentleman wearing a goatee who said, "I like your jacket, stud!"

We introduced and hit it off right away. Had a couple of Beck's and talked Marine Corps. Every year the colonel flew Space A to Europe to bum around. His wife had died several years before.

This was in October, so I invited the colonel to the Marine Corps ball in Copenhagen as my guest, and he could stay in our home. He would, and asked if a lady friend could also attend. She was a Marine widow and they were meeting in Amsterdam later and would travel up to Denmark.

This was a small dilemma for Bente and I: as a "lady friend," how friendly were they? We had only one extra bedroom and I sure didn't want to ask about their personal sleeping arrangements. Anyway, when they arrived in Copenhagen we took them home and showed them the one bedroom, which was fine.

I took the colonel to the American Embassy and introduced him to the Marine Detachment. They were thrilled to meet The Great Santini. He was happy to meet the Marines and talked with each one. Bente had an extra gown for the colonel's date at the ball. Even though he walked with a cane, he could still get out and dance very well. He looked quite distinguished and was a hit with the other guests.

They stayed with Bente and I for a few days, then took off to travel around. Colonel Conroy visited us in Copenhagen a couple more times. Then his health began to go down hill and he could no longer travel. Found out he was with the 1st MAW at Iwakuni the same time I was, in 1956-57. I was a sergeant then, so we didn't socialize. But he knew some of the pilots I flew with as a crew chief on R4Ds.

One of my prize possessions is a gift from Colonel Conroy: a hardback edition of The Great Santini signed by Pat Conroy and inscribed with this message by the colonel:

14 Feb. 89
Tom and Bente Mix,

Semper Fi and Happy Valentines Day. Enjoyed the Nov. Marine Corps Ball at the Danish Naval Academy in Copenhagen, Denmark. I had open-heart surgery at Walter Reed Hosp. on 13 Jan 89 as I turned into the Nurnburg Army Hospital and was air evac to Wash. DC. I'm blaming those rowdy Mixes for my heart condition. Hope to see you next year.

Love,
Don Conroy
Col. USMC ret.
"The Great Santini"

P.S. Reserve my room in your lovely quarters.

*     *     *
The author: Thomas Mix joined the Marine Corps in Sept. 1952 as a 16 year old. Served mostly with Marine Aviation. Vietnam in 1965 with H&MS-16, again in 1966-67 with HMM-165. Marine Security Guard with the American Embassy, Copenhagen, 1954-55. Married a wonderful Danish girl then; still happily married. Commissioned as a Warrant Officer 1962, retired with the rank of Captain, October 1972.

Click HERE to eyeball pix of the author at war

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Colonel Don Conroy
aka, The Great Santini
He would then line his seven kids
up against the wall and say:

  "Who's the greatest of them all?"
  "You are, O Great Santini, you are."
  "Who knows all, sees all, and hears all?"
  "You do, O Great Santini, you do."

Source: Eulogy for Col. Conroy
by his son, novelist Pat Conroy