I took this photo of Tom Egan teaching soldiers on the grenade course at Camp Rilea, Oregon
Tom Egan was a cavalry officer.
I served with Lieutenant Egan starting in 1977 in the 162nd Infantry Brigade, 2nd regiment, alpha company. At the time, not too long after our troops had returned from Vietnam, strength in the unit was low and Tom and I were two of only three commissioned officers in the company. The third was Captain Tony O’Connor. The three of us spent a great deal of time together, along with another commander, Captain Ray Byrne. (This article was reprinted in the Register Guard on Christmas Day, 2016, titled: Unforgotten Soldier, memory of Tom Egan moves community to act)
In November 2016 I traveled to Washington DC along with Mayor Kitty Piercy and our guests Terry McDonald and Jon Ruiz to receive recognition and celebrate Michelle Obama’s challenge to house homeless veterans. Locally operation 365 housed 404 homeless veterans during 2015.
Ours was a great effort, but far too late to help my friend Tom Egan, who died a few feet from where I am standing, homeless, freezing cold–suffering from alcoholism and its accompanying despair.
After spending time in the White House being congratulated for Operation 365 in Lane County I spent the next day with retired Colonel Tony O’Connor. We decided, and its true, that celebration of efforts is hollow—eggshell thin—as long as a single person, veteran or other, is on the street while the rest of us enjoy what every man woman and child should have—a warm and secure place to sleep.
That is why I am dedicating the next five years of my public service to funding, locating and building at least 600 new units of housing—permanent apartments, tiny houses, single room occupancy units—that are dedicated to people suffering from behavioral health disorders—substance abuse, mental illness, PTSD. These supportive housing units will not only come with a safe, secure, sanitary place to live but with wrap-around case work and care. It will be hard to do, and it will require a monumental coordinated effort of government, nonprofit and private citizens and organizations.
We will call it Operation 600 (see story here). And it will be dedicated and designed to prevent tragic endings such as the one Tom Egan suffered right here in this place.
The idea came from a breakout session at the Lane County Poverty and Homelessness Board’s annual retreat in October. Kitty Piercy, Steve Manella, Jacob Fox, Michael Kinnison and I were brainstorming ideas for the board’s aggressive strategic plan which includes adding a large number of supportive housing units, and Kitty said, “Operation 365 rang a bell with a lot of people, how about Operation 600?” We all grabbed the idea.
And Operation 600 has begun. A project for 60 studios on Lane County property next to the Behavioral Health Center on MLK Blvd has received commissioners’ support and is in the artist conceptual stage…another project with up to 60 supportive housing units for single moms and their children is being discussed and supported, also on Lane County property. The Oaks, a joint effort of Sponsors and the Housing and Community Services Agency (HACSA) in west Eugene, is nearing completion. Last month we opened HACSA’s second phase of Bascom Village which along with St. Vincent DePaul’s first phase now houses hundreds of men, women and children.
Square One Villages, St. Vincent DePaul, HACSA, ShelterCare, are all in the process of adding permanent supportive housing. Eugene Mission is a powerful partner in the efforts.
Lane County is engaged, Eugene is engaged, Springfield is engaged…Cottage Grove, Oakridge, Creswell, Junction City, Florence—we will all be engaged. And it is happening.
Tom Egan was a brilliant man and will never know the impact he has had. But his friends who are engaged in making sure he will be memorialized here will always remember.
As we reminisced about Tom Egan, Colonel O’Connor reminded me of Tom’s humor. His engaging manner was popular with his soldiers and his friends alike. While sitting around the tactical operation center during bivouac training Tom would lull us to sleep with laughter.
He had an amazing sense of humor and could deliver extemporaneous monologue on almost any topic. His renditions of his role model, Teddy Roosevelt—who he was the spitting image of—left us all in stitches.
He taught soldiers at Fort Bliss Texas, and one of his favorite classes was in the use of the M67 fragmentation hand grenade. He’d hold one up and say, “Meet Mr. hand grenade.” Then he’d pull the pin. “Without the pin, Mr. Hand Grenade is not your friend…” He captured the class’s attention.
His puns were classic, such as, “If lawyers are disbarred for misconduct, are cowboys de-ranged? Are librarians dis-carded?”
Captain Ray Byrne is now retired General Ray Byrne. Ray shared a few words, “He was a good reliable friend and a good soldier. He enjoyed being a soldier and a scholar and serving his country. Alcohol can get the best of men and every day can be a struggle, which Tom unfortunately lost. Everyone who knew him misses his quick wit, jokes and toasts. I remember him as never being down or discouraged.”
Now let us all remember Tom Egan’s life with a smile and his death with a promise.