We met at a charity gala ball while Thomas was doing his final year at the Naval Academy, in ‘55. He was graduating that June, and my family was well connected to the charity groups in the Annapolis area; we summered there a number of years in my childhood. Father loved the sailing and Annapolis was far less crowded than the usual New England haunts. The ball invited the senior Middies to attend, and Thomas and I danced and you might say we were both pretty captivated by each other.
I don’t know if I had ever met a man of such internal strength and determination. He was not much of a talker, though he could be on a subject close to his heart, which meant, of course, the Corps. It was evident to me that he was a career military man, as are most Annapolis graduates. There was never a doubt he would elect to serve in the Marines after he graduated. He was born to be the complete Marine Officer.
In our most private moments, Thomas would surprise me with his passionate and romantic nature. But to any outsider he was a very focused, driven, committed, and tough Marine. Duty came first, most of the time even above family. I did not mind, I had hitched my wagon to his star, I was young but not as naïve as my family thought when we married.
Most of my friends urged me to quit school and marry him right away. I suppose I was a bit of the modern woman, though. I would not permit myself to marry until I finished at Wellesley, which meant a year after his graduation.
I was born in Boston. Our family was quite well off, even in the depths of the depression. We were of a Boston Brahmin family, which may not mean much to people from out of the area but left no doubt to other Bostonians as to our high social status.
“Of” such a family. That’s an important qualifier. To insiders my family was half Brahmin - half Irish. Mother came to Boston as an infant from Cork. On father’s side, we were of old Quaker extraction, though long since converted to Episcopalian, we preserved a family dedication to service and acceptance of others.
Father’s choice of a wife didn’t sit well with the rest of his family, and though we were not officially outcast, we were divorced from much of the power and influence that might otherwise have been our lot. My own personal take on it now is that it was our good fortune to be allied but not too closely inculcated in that tradition, it gave us the best of both worlds. The good values we had in plenty, the elitism passed us by.
Nor did mother’s family much approve of her marriage outside the church; but the result was an eclectic and loving approach to both religion and people. With three religious traditions it could have been much worse.
When I met my midshipman I was on summer break from Wellesley. I was majoring in History, but minoring in Chemistry, and always found science comfortable. Even at Wellesley, an all-woman’s school, I stood out for that interest.
Wellesley's motto: Non Ministrari sed Ministrare – "not to be ministered unto but to minister" will tell you a lot of the values that permeated my early life.
Hooprolling is a tradition at Wellesley. Senior girls roll wooden hoops in a race on Tupelo Lane. The winner gets two prizes. The first is to be thrown into Lake Waban.
I did not get thrown into the lake that May Day, 1956, but I was tied for the second prize the winner “gets”— tradition says she’ll be the first in class to marry. Not a requirement, of course, just a tradition.
Our commencement speaker was McGeorge Bundy, then a Dean at Harvard, but a few years later to be President Kennedy’s national security affairs advisor. It presaged the world in which I was to live. It was not a time of war, and it was surely not a time of peace.
The day after commencement, I was wed in the chapel at Annapolis, an extraordinary event since Thomas had graduated a year before and the chapel is quite busy in June. Midshipmen are not allowed to marry until they graduate, so there is quite some pent-up demand as you might imagine. Still, since we had met at Annapolis, it seemed to us both only fitting that we marry there.
It was quite some transition, to graduate and marry and become a military spouse in the space of two days. It was good preparation; the life of a career military officer and his family is all about being flexible and accepting change without complaint.
Thomas Junior, our first son was born April 1, 1957. At that time my husband was a first lieutenant in the Marines, and we were serving a tour in San Diego, though he was at sea a considerable part of the time. It was our first assignment, we’d been married less than a year.
Tom was a curious delight to his father, who doted on him, and in this lay the source of some of our pain in this life. He expended the time he could on his first-born.
If a first son is a miracle, a second is mere novelty.
William Anthony Hogan, named after my father, was born October 22, 1960, in Boston, where I was staying with my family. His father had just taken up an assignment in a place where dependents were not welcomed, and was able to make only a short visit. Even from the start Thomas could not find much time for his second son.
He had the same assignment when Will’s second birthday became a tense event. President Kennedy addressed the nation that evening and announced the blockade of Cuba. My husband, by then a Captain, was in the worst possible place: he was one of the officers of the Marine detachment at Guantanamo Bay. Of course, he was not in Boston for the birthday party.
This too set a pattern for our family— his absence in the life of our son. It is not that he did not love his sons, he did, fiercely, but between his reticence and his duty, they got precious little of his time. For Tom, it did not seem to matter so much, but for Will, it was quite different.
Thomas raised his children with the sort of discipline you might expect from a Marine. Oh, he was never anything but gentle physically, never in any way cruel for that matter. But he expected unbending compliance, order and self-control, and rarely would he demonstrate affection other than in a back-slapping sort of way.
Up until the time he was three, Will and his father saw little of each other but when they were together the boy toddled along after his father, pursuing him relentlessly. Tom had ever been the independent sort, able to accept attention when it was available, and profiting from it, but Will was much more needy, even at this early age, and his father never understood that, found the clinging distasteful. I think he took it for a sign of weakness.
And both boys were raised with very high expectations. Thomas, as I said, was quite able to meet them, had that intense and driven nature of his father.
Will was very different.
We did our tour in the Philippines when Will was four. By that time the estrangement between boy and father had solidified. While Tom seemed to fit into the niches of his father’s life, Will could not find any place where he fit. He tried mightily to please his father, now a Major on the military fast track, but unlike Tom he did not take to sports, or any of the other things his father valued. Well, perhaps not valued so much as understood.
It saddened me, of course, but I always found him a delight, and perhaps he was more like his mother than his father, but that happens with children.
Over the next three years the separations and estrangement deepened, and I myself became troubled by things I was seeing in Will.
He was not effeminate, I want to say that, but his interests were more intellectual and softer in so many aspects. And sometimes I just saw something in him, in his posture, his inflections, and eventually though I didn’t want to see it, in the way he looked at men.
We had a houseboy, but do not interpret the term too literally, he was a middle-aged man, a grandfather, named Felipe. Will could not stay away from him, and he was a warm and caring man, very loving with children, and he had nine of his own.
Will would follow him all around the house every day, trying to help him with his daily chores, asking endless questions. Felipe bore it patiently, and would often pick him up and toss him in the air, evoking squeals of delight. It was from Felipe that Will learned many housekeeping skills, and he practiced them diligently. This did not meet his father’s approval, and he was eventually told not bother Felipe and not to engage in his beloved cleaning and arranging.
That was the first time he rebelled. His father relegated him to his room for hours at a time, then every day for two weeks. The boy would not give in, insisted he would keep doing it. As soon as he was released from his restrictions, no matter the warnings, he would be back to his domestic hobbies. My husband considered firing Felipe but I pointed out it would be unfair to him, and would not really change Will’s behavior anyway.
There was nothing inappropriate in that relationship. But it was in its own way very sad, I could not help but think that it should be his father doing this, swinging him in the air, spending time with him. It was not to be.
When we left the Philippines Will cried inconsolably at the loss of his friend.
I didn’t really want to think this, no mother wants that heartache for her son, but I had that uncomfortable feeling about him that was all too soon to prove true. And though he might not recognize it explicitly, I have to say I think his father saw it too, sensed it, wouldn’t articulate it, but felt it.
For a brief time he spent more of himself on the boy, trying in vain to interest him in baseball, football, shooting, hunting. But in order to do this he had also to have Tom with them, and the contrast between the two and the frustrations Will and the Major both suffered became focused and sharp. Will eventually came, I think, to feel that he could not please his father, and I must say it was a mutual perception.
The discomfort and alienation between the two was beyond bridging by the time his father took his second tour in Vietnam, in 1968. It was around that time that Will began to see his men.
Of course, I didn’t know what was happening at first, only that my younger son seemed to be drifting further from me as well, was never around, took to playing at the park alone, and of course his brother now being twelve, wasn’t around to watch him. They had never been close, had not had the intensity of sibling rivalry you might expect, had not had a lot of fighting or squabbles. But Tom was almost a teen, wanted to be off with his own friends.
Will on the other hand, seemed to have no friends, and that worried me a great deal.
However his days at the park seemed to leave him feeling happier than I’d seen him. There was something that had changed about Will, he was in many ways mature beyond his very tender years, and yet I knew he was hiding himself, his innermost self, from me as much as his father.
I feared I knew his secret, though I did not dream that early on that he was actually aware of his own nature. I finally realized that things in his life had progressed very much further and faster than I had ever imagined.
Most mothers don’t find semen in their nine-year-old’s clothing.
Discreetly I began to monitor and check and put an end to what I thought was an affair with a neighbor boy, a teenager, who should have known better. I ensured the two were kept apart but then realized that it made no difference. There were others.
The following year my husband was back, but I had still not shared with him my concerns. I don’t believe in keeping secrets in a marriage, especially not secrets about children, but a mother has to think about more than her husband. For the moment, I thought it better to keep this to myself.
I did try to talk to Will about what he was doing, but he just froze and didn’t acknowledge anything. So what could I do?
I tried to keep him from pursuing his exploits, but even at this young age, it became nearly impossible. He would simply ignore us.
Things came to a head when he was ten, and we were in North Carolina. On a half-dozen occasions strangers brought him home, or called us to come retrieve him, he had been hitchhiking on base. Twice it was the Shore Patrol that had picked him up.
What became apparent was that others weren’t calling us, and we both told him he could not do this. He was grounded weeks at a time, but he would sneak out of the house.
The Colonel was not averse to a strapping, and that only made things worse, he began to disappear longer, and refuse to discuss anything with us when he returned. He wasn’t a belligerent child, not rebellious, was sweet, in fact. He just determined to do what he would do.
The Colonel never acknowledged Will’s motives for his wandering and risk taking, though he and I had finally had an explicit airing of the issue. At first he did not want to believe it, but I told him I was certain beyond doubt, and that it was not like him to try to deal with a situation divorced from the facts. I won’t bore you with all the efforts we made, the Colonel tried whatever he thought might make “a man of him.”
Finally he decided the solution was to send him to a military school. I pointed out the futility. Locking him up with a bunch of other boys wouldn’t stop the behavior, it might facilitate it, and unless we told the school in advance it wasn’t conscionable. And of course, if we did tell them, they would not take him.
We tried psychologists, but the first told us he was a “delightful boy” and we should send him more often. That pretty well made me settle on a woman instead, but she couldn’t get him to acknowledge or discuss anything. Will had already set his course, and wasn’t going to let adults interfere. At least, not his parents and their allies.
Over the next year things spiraled out of control, and my husband withdrew emotionally and finally physically, leaving me to deal with this problem on my own.
I can’t say I blame him, he was surely out of his depth with this, not that I knew any better what to do. At least Will began talking to me about what he did, at first hesitantly and then later explicitly.
When he ran away for the first time he was 11. We were terrified, but as was so often the case, we felt powerless. He called, he came by to visit, but it was so strange, it was like having an alien in our living room when he was there.
Who was this child, this small being who was not really a child, not any child I had ever seen, anyway?