The bulk of this obituary has been written by our good friend “Toot” LaGattuta ’48. I was in Jack’s Class of ’47 and with him that long ago summer of 1943 when the bulk of our Class entered Amherst. Arriving at the College, I found myself on the same floor of the Alpha Delta House with Jack and his roommate, Les Webster ’47. It was obvious from the start that Jack, who actually started college with a small group around January of ’43, was the unofficial leader of the Class. I am quite sure he was president of the house and perhaps the Class, and most of us looked to Jack for guidance in our new college experience. Jack and I both left for the service around the winter of ’43 or ’44, Jack to the US Navy Air Corps and I to the US Army.
After College, we were both trial lawyers in the Boston area and, later on, judges. I had quite a few cases with Jack and, in the later years, appeared before him in his Court.
Jack was a good friend for over sixty years, and I can say I know of nobody who had a more distinguished career in the military service and the law than Jack. We will miss you, old friend.
—Fran Newton ’47
During the war years, the civilian population of students was extremely small. Many spent our freshman year living in fraternity houses. Although we were under eighteen, we knew our time would be a shorter one at Amherst before our turn came to enter in the service. We were unable to form solid friendships at Amherst at this time.
Jack and I were members of the small band that lived in Alpha Delta House. Approaching our eighteenth year, we all said our farewells to fellow classmates and entered the service, becoming part of “The Greatest Generation.” Jack chose the US Navy Air Corps.
After the war, Jack returned to Amherst a married man and was given accommodations on campus at the GI Village. His enthusiasm and dedication to Amherst never waned during his undergrad days.
Class affiliation meant nothing; we were all Amherst men. He was at ease with any Amherst man, regardless of Class affiliation. The epitome of an Amherst man, he had a good singing voice, which I believe was from his habit of having a dry martini before dinner.
After graduation, we developed a lasting friendship. His Class was ’47, mine ’48, and due to the small size of the classes, we held Reunions together. He was the perpetual president of his Class, organizing Homecoming and Reunion weekends. Jack and I never missed one. We roomed together, had dinner, played golf and made our rounds visiting members of other classes, especially ’45, ’46,and ’49. We were always together. We were known as “Frick and Frack” by the Alumni Office, especially by Betsy Cannon Smith ’84, Alumni Secretary.
Jack never missed a Reunion weekend. He also organized a reunion in Boynton, FL, of members of ’47 and ’48. He wintered in Boynton, giving me an open invitation to spends three days with him playing golf. For years, thanks to his wife Prissy and my wife Helen, we were given our freedom to enjoy our trips to Amherst and Florida.
Though he was proud of his service, Jack never discussed his experience in the war, with one exception. Automatically placed in the US Naval Reserve, when the Korean War broke out in 1952, he was called up as a naval pilot to serve in Korea., When his plane was hit and he bailed out, he parachuted into a fox hole of a marine. When the chute was pushed aside, he looked at his fox hole buddy. He was surprised to see a marine with whom he had gone to high school. This fact was published in Star and Stripes. He became a celebrity.
Returning from Korea, he went on to be a judge following his father’s judgeship in Boston. Last year, he had a severe stroke that prevented him from attending Homecoming and our 60th Reunion. He passed away February 9, 2008, joining the many veterans of WWII who preceded him. We had a beautiful friendship. He will be missed by all the living veterans of the Classes of ’46, ’47, and ’48.
—N. John “Toot” LaGattuta ’48