John Arthur Eielson
19 Jun 1939 - 7 Feb 1991
Class Memorial Pages\C-2 John Eielson.pdf
Place of Death: Fitchburg, MA
Interment: Ashes spread in a special place at their home
WOOL UNIFORMS cling damp against the skin. Our backsides balance on chair-edges. Necks racked back. Knees together. Feet flat on the floor.
Sweat lifts into the air. The Mess Hall smells like a sheep pen.
"Let's have October 28, Mr. Eielson!"
"Sir, the Haverhill (Massachusetts) Record, Sunday, 28 October 1956: "Johnny Eielson does it again!. The star halfback of Haverhill High scores…."
We "beasts" could just catch the reciter in the edge of our eyes. A blur of rough skin at the end of the table haloed by blond fuzz. As he rattled off his high school football exploits, we could see him furl his eyebrows and droop his lips down over gapped teeth. Obedient to his task, he nevertheless mocked his upper-class tormentors into laughing despite themselves.
We came to know he was descended from a famous Arctic explorer. A tough guy who could take whatever anybody threw at him and rocket it back with cheerful, effortless grace. It was always fun to see recipients of his ripostes reel from the unexpected power and focus he could bring to bear, verbally or physically. The kind of man West Point loves to claim as its own. If we couldn't be like him, we wanted to be with him.
John Arthur Eielson was born 19 June 1939 in Orange, New Jersey to Jean and Arthur Eielson. Bright, talented and fun-loving, they were devoted parents. John was the first-born of four. His sisters Sally and Jean and his brother Ben survive him.
God blessed him with many attributes: An uncanny kinetic sense that allowed him to excel in any sport and to ski with his family and windsurf with his son when he was past 50; an unnerving ability to concentrate on things that drew his attention; a child-like curiosity and love of fun.
By the time John graduated, he had posted an admirable record in every area West Point holds dear. More importantly, he had established a strong persona.
He was a committed man. When John set himself to a task, he sought perfection relentlessly. He was an outstanding football and lacrosse player at West Point. He was a cadet officer. He was consistently on or near the Dean's List. He qualified as a Ranger. He would have gone Airborne except that he was so color blind he thought Army fatigues were beige. He was made an Engineer company commander as a lieutenant stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. He was one of the early pioneers who took excess leave without pay or allowances to study medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, spending his summers on active duty at Valley Forge Medical Center, Pennsylvania.
Prior to medical school, he married Sandra Nolet of Methuen, Massachusetts. John met Sandy as a first classman. When he started dating her after graduation, he fell madly in love. Typical of John, he never wavered from his devotion to her. Some of us were vaguely jealous at the thought of "losing" his company to someone else.
After eight years of marriage, John and Sandy had two children in two years. Their son Kristopher and their daughter Kerry brought a joyful sense of completion to their lives.
When he graduated from medical school, he was elected to join Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society. He interned at Tripler in Hawaii and took his residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He achieved board certification in both general and thoracic surgery and was elected to fellowships in the American College of Surgeons. He served as the Chief of General Surgery at the 97th General Hospital in Frankfurt, Germany. He was made Chief of General Surgery and the Surgical Training Program, Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center, Aurora, Colorado.
After retiring as a colonel, he joined an Army-trained surgeon in a highly successful practice in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
In July 1990, John was diagnosed as having a malignant brain tumor known as an astrocytoma that could not be removed. He gradually slipped into a coma and died in February 1991.
What made this man so special to so many?
One important aspect of his makeup was his continuous quest for personal depth of field. In a sense, he was a tireless psychological photographer who constantly experimented to bring focus and clarity to his existence.
This need for definition carried him through a romance with the arts and a profound religious exploration. John was a master of satire and an inventor of outrageously constructed exclamations that often stunned, sometimes shocked but always amused his listeners. His satirical victims were always the pompous and the pretentious, for whom he had low regard.
John's astrocytoma may have been with him for years before it was discovered. Even after diagnosis, those who didn't know of his condition were most likely unaware of any change. His everyday responses remained intact, if somewhat less spontaneous. Sandy, the closest person to him, had sensed an indefinable flattening of emotions long before learning of his illness.
As the astrocytoma took possession of him, John's faith in God, his love of his family and friends, and his patterned responses held him remarkably stable. As those near him endured the agony of watching him lose orientation and control, they were awed by his preservation of dignity and serenity.
We can only guess at John's experiences during his final journey. As God separated John from us, He must have granted him the opportunity to explore the future. As he lost contact with those around him, John likely surrounded, probed and experimented with his invader much as he had with everything else in his life that captivated him.
Knowing John, he must have swirled together with the star-like invader that came to live with him and entered eternity as a Heaven-struck space traveler. Surely, this divine experience was God's final earthly gift to someone whose own life was a gift to all who knew him.