Burke grad to become nation's highest-ranking officer

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:43

But around here, Gen. Martin Dempsey is famous for his Irish singing, pickup games and gift for friendship, By Ginny Privitar GREENWOOD LAKE — On Monday, May 30, President Obama nominated a Greenwood Lake native to be his highest-ranking military advisor. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, moved to Greenwood Lake when he was in the seventh grade. He graduated from John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen in 1970 and from West Point in 1974. He married his high school sweetheart, Deanie Sullivan of Monroe, at West Point. Ever since his first commission, as an armor officer, he’s had an exemplary military career and served several tours of duty in Iraq. But locally he’s remembered as a fine human being and an outstanding friend. Over the years he’s kept up his many friendships with area residents. John Debold of Warwick, a former student and now teacher at Burke Catholic, was good friends with Dempsey’s younger brother Mike and spent a lot of time with the family. “He was remarkably personable,” Debold said. “He was genuine, and you had a sense you understood him and knew that he was sincere. The commitment he brings to the military is the same he brings to his family, friends and the community. Evidence of that is the long-term friends he has kept and maintained through the years. When he was made Army Chief of Staff about two months ago, his whole West Point class showed up.” Fun and games Debold also remembers Dempsey’s sense of humor. Many years ago, when Dempsey was a plebe at West Point, he came to speak to the students at Burke, along with a fellow Burke grad, then-midshipman George Scott, from Annapolis. “They were both in dress uniform,” Debold recalled. “When Marty was done, he took his dress uniform jacket off and underneath was a T-shirt that read 'Beat Navy.’” Dempsey also had a flair for singing and would belt out a tune at the least provocation. “His favorite music is Irish, and he sings 'New York, New York’ quite well,” Debold recalled. “Marty is such a welcoming presence,” he said. “I would go with Marty’s brother Mike and play pickup basketball games when Marty was at West Point, and friends were always welcome to a pickup game wherever he was. When he was stationed in Germany or the Middle East, he always wanted family and friends to come over and visit.” Goshen lawyer Dave Donovan was also close with Dempsey’s younger brother Mike. They went to high school and college together and were best man at each other’s weddings. “He sang 'The Irish Rover’ at his brother’s wedding,” Donovan recalled. “Marty Dempsey is probably one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever met in my life,” he said. “He’s a really deserving guy.” Andy Cox, who still lives in Greenwood Lake, became friends with Dempsey in the seventh grade and remain close today. “My parents used to have a family campground,” Cox said. “Marty used to spend a lot of time at my parents’ house on weekends. It was entertaining to be there, and he would help out.” Cox has two other brothers. His parents always referred to Dempsey as “their fourth son.” His father, Everett Cox Jr., a retired lieutenant colonel, was a big influence on Dempsey. “Marty had high respect for him, and my father influenced him to achieve high in the military,” he said. Marty and Deanie’s children, Megan, Christopher and Caitlin, have all served in the Army. Chris now teaches at West Point. A natural at making music Demspey was as great at track as he was at hoops. In his junior year of high school, he won the Orange County quarter-mile track championship. But when it came to basketball, Cox said, “sometimes it was better if you were on the other team. If you were on his team, the next thing you knew, you had the ball and you weren’t expecting it.” Cox and his wife, Nancy, used to double-date with Marty and Deanie. Cox was best man at their wedding. “People always gravitated to him,” Cox said. “Nancy and I probably went to 90 percent of the bases he was stationed at. I never heard a bad word about him from any soldier. He has a talent for giving direction without people feeling they were being told what to do — a great communicator.” Cox also paid respect to Dempsey’s musical abilities. “Way back, years ago, we were all trying to make noise out of a conch shell,” he said. But nobody could do it — except Dempsey. “Not only did he make noise, he went up and down the scale on it,” Cox said. Cox was present at the gathering when Dempsey became Army Chief of Staff in April. Among his tributes to Dempsey, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted his performance of “New York, New York” on YouTube. Cox summed up how Dempsey’s hometown friends feel about him. “He’s the best person ... that anyone could pick for that job,” Cox said. “He doesn’t think with emotion, he thinks with logic. His whole family had high values and knew right from wrong.” Best of all, he’s a soldier’s soldier. Cox said he’s always asking his soldiers: “What are your concerns?” And he listens. Editor’s note: You can judge Gen. Martin Dempsey’s singing for yourself on www.youtube.com/watch?v=oX6-S3v3aTQ.