Each year on Veterans’ Day, we remember those who have served in the armed forces. It is in sharing the stories of these brave men and women that we carry on their legacies and celebrate their lives. This story is one of friendship, love and respect. This is the story of Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Carney '59.
General Carney had a distinguished 35-year career in the U.S. Army, retiring in 1994. He was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and earned his master's degree in operations research and systems analysis from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
But that isn’t where his story began. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Carney attended Saint Ignatius High School.
"I remember the day in eighth grade when Fr. Sullivan came to our house and asked me why I wanted to go to Ignatius,” Carney recalled. “I told him, and then left at his request so that he could talk to my dad, a fireman. Tuition was a big deal. When he left, Dad said I was going to Saint Ignatius.”
It was during his time at Saint Ignatius when Carney started to consider a life in the military. Through a conversation with Coach John Wirtz, Carney developed an interest in attending West Point.
“Coach Wirtz told a visiting West Point football scout that I would make a great Army officer,” Carney recalled. “Thirty-five years later I retired as a lieutenant general. During those years I believe I brought many men to Christ, in and out of the war zones of my history.”
While in the Army, Carney held a number of combat commands, including serving as Commander of the 5th Infantry Division and assistant division commander operations of the 82nd Airborne Division. An airborne-qualified Ranger, he served two tours of duty in Vietnam, was awarded two distinguished service medals, three legions of merit, three bronze stars, the combat infantryman's badge for coming under fire in combat, and a combat jump star for making a parachute jump into Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
It was during that time that he met and became friends with Peter Bentson.
Bentson was born in New London, Connecticut, on December 22, 1940. He was president of his class at New London High School and was captain of the football team. Bentson graduated from West Point and met Carney when they were on tour in Vietnam.
At Fort Bragg, Bentson married Peg Jupe, a young woman who had captured Cadet Bentson’s heart.
“I knew the minute I saw him that he was the one,” says Peg.
Peg recalls life in Monterey, California, where they began their life together. The two had three children, Kristine, Eric and Jodie, and spent their weekends socializing with fellow soldiers.
“Peter enjoyed playing golf on the weekends and after they played, everyone would come to our house to watch football,” says Peg.
Everyone – including Tom Carney.
Bentson and Carney were men who shared values and qualities that bonded them in friendship. Over time, their friendship grew into something more akin to family.
“He became Uncle Tom to my children,” Peg recalls.
Eight years after Peg and Bentson were married, Bentson was killed in Vietnam.
“When you’re the wife of a man who is walking out the door going to his job, you don’t think about it,” says Peg. “You kiss him and say ‘I love you’ and you don’t think about that.”
Bentson paid the ultimate sacrifice on July 9, 1972. A man of integrity, Peg describes her late husband as, “strong, always happy, a best friend to everyone and without a doubt a believer.”
Peg and her children mourned the loss of their husband and father. Carney mourned the loss of his friend.
Following his second tour in Vietnam, Carney decided to commit his life to the Army.
“He had a personal investment in the success and strength of the Army,” Carney’s cousin Maureen Hess says.
When Carney returned home from Vietnam, he made a trip to visit Peg. They offered each other support as they mourned the loss of Bentson and through that support they built a cherished friendship. Eventually, that friendship grew into love.
“Peter and Tom were both incredible soldiers and incredible men,” says Peg. “They were so different from so many other people I had met.
A year later, Carney and Peg were married at West Point in what Hess remembers as a fairy tale wedding.
“Tom had a deep love for Peg and raised her children as if they were his own,” Hess says.
“Peter’s name was spoken frequently in our house,” says Peg.
And as a way to honor Bentson’s memory, Carney started a scholarship at Saint Ignatius High School and named it The Maj. Peter Bentson Scholarship. This scholarship is awarded to a senior who is considering attending a military academy.
“Pete Bentson was my dear friend and Peg's first husband who was killed in action in 1972–a distinguished soldier and a great man." Carney wrote those words in an email to our Advancement team when he started the scholarship in 2013.
Named and Endowed scholarships
provide a permanent source of funding for qualified students and families attending Saint Ignatius High School. Funding a scholarship allows students from all financial backgrounds to attend Saint Ignatius. This was something near and dear to Carney’s heart. Since its inception, five students have benefitted from The Maj. Peter Bentson Scholarship.
Peg says she wasn’t surprised when Carney proposed the idea of starting a scholarship at his Alma Mater in Bentson’s name. “He respected his friend and wanted to give young people someone to emulate.”
“Tom was known for his unwavering integrity and he put that at the door of the Jesuits,” Hess says.
The scholarship at Saint Ignatius mirrors Carney’s dedication for creating opportunities for others to succeed in the military. He believed in the opportunity for education and worked to ensure the strength of that in all ways.
There is a Latin phrase used often in Jesuit education, cura personalis
, which means, “care for the entire person.” Carney personified cura personalis
in how he cared for fellow members of the Army, his family, his friends and even still, for future generations of Saint Ignatius students whom he will never meet.
Carney passed away on July 20, 2019, at the age of 78. Following his death, his wife Peg made her first visit to Saint Ignatius High School this fall.
“There was so much more that I understood about Tom from visiting the school,” says Peg. “I could see his personality in the students walking through the halls.”
Hess describes her cousin as a man of faith, recalling that he was always strong in academics, disciplined and always remained prayerful throughout his life. “He gave the Jesuits high praise for his background and moral compass.”
While on campus, Peg met Daniel Vrablic ’20, The Maj. Peter Bentson Scholarship recipient.
“What an incredible young man!” Peg says.
Her hope for Daniel and for future recipients of the scholarship is that their lives are truly fulfilled.
While in town, Peg also attended a memorial service for Carney that was held in St. Mary of the Assumption Chapel on campus. In attendance were about 75 friends, family and a handful of classmates who gathered to pay tribute to a man who was special in more ways than one.
“Tom Carney was a beautiful man,” says Peg.
As we pay tribute this Veterans’ Day, let us not only remember the service of all veterans, but let us remember the men and women who love deeply, who impact our world and who live on through the stories we tell.
Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Carney ’59 was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on December 11, 2019. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus and will be honored posthumously in 2021.