Army Colonel from New Jersey killed in Afghanistan

May 20, 2010 2:21:24 PM PDT
The war in Afghanistan is exacting a high toll on U.S. and NATO forces this week. The raw power of a suicide car bomb, thousands of miles away in Kabul, Afghanistan, has sent shock waves all the way to Caldwell, New Jersey.

Five Americans were killed in a suicide bomb attack on Tuesday, and a high-ranking officer from New Jersey was among the casualties.

"Total shock. It's as if the whole world has stopped the last couple of days," Kevin Morris said.

Morris was talking about his friend of 41 years, Army Colonel John McHugh. They met in grammar school.

The colonel was one of 5 troops killed along with more than a dozen civilians when a suicide car bomb went off near a NATO convoy.

He is one of the highest ranking members of the military ever to be killed in Afghanistan.

"He could have been the CEO of a company, but he had this need to serve," Gerald Giannetti said.

Giannetti, also a long time friend, talked about a smart kid, a good athlete and a born leader, who grew up to be special man.

Father to five, Colonel McHugh at 46 just became a grandfather and arrived in Afghanistan just days before the attack.

His friends remember back to the days at James Caldwell High School. That's where Colonel McHugh was a star catcher on the baseball team and where he first met his wife.

"He excelled at everything. Baseball, basketball, golf, but most of all he excelled at being a father," Giannetti said.

McHugh graduated from James Caldwell High School in 1982 and went on to West Point. He is at least the 22nd service member from New Jersey killed in the war. Nearly 100 others from the state have died in Iraq.

A relative says the McHugh family has a history of military service. McHugh's 84-year-old father was shaken by his son's death. Now he worries about his grandson, Michael, who is serving in Iraq.

The Army flew him to Kuwait to meet his father's body and escort him home.

A big Irish Catholic family now pulls together, relying on faith to keep them strong.

"If anyone is going to heaven, he's already there. Probably just bumped Thurman Munson out of the catcher position," Morris said.

On his Facebook page, what mattered most -- his family, his uniform and his faith. There is also a quote that his friends say he posted shortly before he deployed.

"And when our work is done, our course on this Earth is run, may it be said well done, be thou at peace," he wrote.

It is a terrible loss for those who knew and loved him. We're told that several of his children are on their way to Dover to meet his body as it comes back from Afghanistan. No funeral plans have been made just yet.