Brian J. Quirk Sr., a Marine veteran who never forgot the comrades he fought with in the Pacific during World War II, died on Memorial Day [May 31, 2010] in a nursing home in Des Plaines.
Mr. Quirk, 88, had suffered from a brain tumor and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, said his son Dennis. He most recently lived in Homer Glen.
Known as “Whitey” since boyhood, Mr. Quirk grew up in the Our Lady of Peace Catholic Parish in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood and graduated from De La Salle Institute. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Marines and volunteered for an elite Raiders unit under an officer named Evans Carlson.
Carlson had developed the idea for a more egalitarian fighter unit, where officers and enlisted men worked together, based partly on his experiences in China observing communist guerillas. He is credited with popularizing the term “gung-ho” for the enthusiastic cohesion with which his Raiders would fight.
Like many young men at the time, Mr. Quirk was gung-ho to join the battle. When Carlson asked him why he wanted to join the Raiders, he replied that he figured that was the fastest way to fight the Japanese, his son said.
After several weeks of rigorous training outside San Diego, “Carlson’s Raiders” went to war. In August 1942, Mr. Quirk and a unit of Raiders boarded submarines for a surprise raid against the Japanese on Makin atoll. The Japanese were routed, but not without a cost, and some Marines were left missing in action.
Bloody battles in Guadalcanal, Bougainville and Guam followed. On Bougainville, Mr. Quirk took hits to his face, neck and arm, winning a Navy Cross and his first Purple Heart.
Word of his exploits had already reached the South Side when Bob O’Keefe, who knew Mr. Quirk from the neighborhood, joined the Marines.
“I wanted to see if I could do it,” said O’Keefe, now living in Springfield. “I was going to join the Raiders and go over and see Brian Quirk.”
O’Keefe wound up fighting by Mr. Quirk’s side on Guam. Under heavy fire, both men were wounded, Mr. Quirk in the leg (garnering his second Purple Heart), while O’Keefe was hit in the left arm and suffered a concussion when an enemy round banged off his helmet.
He underwent surgery on a hospital ship and was still groggy when he looked up and saw his old buddy.
“He wanted to know if there was anything he could do for me,” O’Keefe said. “I said, ‘Yeah, you can shave me. I’m filthier than a pig.’ And he did.”
The war ended, and Mr. Quirk returned to Chicago, marrying his grammar school sweetheart in 1946 and graduating from Loyola University in 1950. He remained in the Marines, on active duty during the Korean conflict and later with the reserves, until the early 1970s, retiring as a lieutenant colonel, his son said.
As the Marines media representative for 13 Midwest states, he coordinated several early Toys for Tots drives. He went on to work for a public relations and fundraising firm. He then started his own one-man agency, spreading the word for clients including Mercy Hospital, the city’s convention bureau and Misericordia. He later sold fire-suppression systems in a business with his son.
Active with a Marine Raiders alumni group, Mr. Quirk and others kept attention on efforts to find the remains of fellow Marines missing and presumed killed on Makin. Eventually, forensic pathologists identified more than a dozen victims.
About eight years ago, Mr. Quirk and a group of fellow veterans returned to Makin for a ceremony honoring the dead. The veterans then accompanied the remains back home.
“Always faithful,” said his son, expressing the Marines slogan Semper Fidelis. “His issue was not on the fighting and the killing. It was on his (feelings) that these guys really were the heroes, who didn’t come back.”
Mr. Quirk would talk by telephone with O’Keefe as often as once a week to discuss family, work and friends, O’Keefe said. The war came up rarely.
O’Keefe had stayed away from Raiders reunions —- “Didn’t care to go,” he said — but when a get-together was scheduled for Omaha, he and Mr. Quirk decided to attend. They wound up having a wonderful time.
“All they talked about was the fun things,” said O’Keefe, who later went to a few more reunions. “There’s a lot of stuff you don’t want to discuss.”
Mr. Quirk is survived by his wife, Kathryn; two other sons, Brian Jr. and Sean; daughters Margaret Flanagan and Mary Pat Neylon; a sister, Maureen Keegan; and 11 grandchildren.
Visitation is set for 3 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Blake-Lamb Funeral Home, 4727 W. 103rd St., Oak Lawn. Mass will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Friday at St. Michael Catholic Church, 14327 Highland Ave., Orland Park.