The truth of the matter

Lawyers find evidence that leads to a nomination to restore four-star General John Lavelle’s full rank and honor.

By Susan Curphey

It was the laborious efforts and diligent work of a retired Air Force general in California and his son, a criminal defense lawyer in Pennsylvania, that uncovered the truth, which, for so many years, had been concealed in the Pentagon’s notorious firing of four-star General John D. Lavelle ’38. The evidence they found led to President Obama’s recent posthumous nomination to the U.S. Senate to restore Lavelle’s full rank and honor. (Click here for more information about the general and the false charges against him.)

The evidence in favor of Lavelle surfaced while Aloysius and Patrick Casey were writing the book they co-authored, “Velocity: Speed with Direction,” a biography of Air Force General Jerome F. O’Malley and his extraordinary accomplishments. After several years of reading and discussing books together, the father-son team decided to write a book and chose O’Malley as their subject. O’Malley, who led numerous noteworthy missions, was nominated as the youngest four-star general in Air Force history and eventually served as vice chief of staff and commander of Tactical Air Command. He also was a life-long friend of Lieutenant General Aloysius Casey.

Casey and O’Malley graduated from St. Rose High School in Carbondale, Pa., in 1949. The young O’Malley went on to West Point. Casey attended the Naval Academy, and like O’Malley, served a distinguished career with the Air Force, retiring as a three-star general in 1988. Tragically, O’Malley and his wife were killed in a small plane crash near his hometown in 1985.

After several years of researching their book about O’Malley’s career, the Casey team began to study documents about the controversial missions ordered by Lavelle whom O’Malley served under at the time. The issue centered on whether Air Force pilots were permitted to bomb enemy missile sites whose tracking radar hadn’t locked onto their planes. The rules of engagement publicly forbade this; however, President Nixon issued secret orders, conveyed to Lavelle by his Pentagon superiors, to allow protective reaction strikes against enemy missile sites, based on the threat they could pose to U.S. aircraft.

“We spent an ungodly amount of time recovering records: congressional testimony and unit histories,” Patrick Casey says. “As a criminal defense lawyer, I read transcripts by the day. The testimony didn’t add up for me. So we looked at Gen. Lavelle’s career. He had the same reputation as Jerry O’Malley – fiercely truthful. He distinguished himself as a person of integrity. A four-star general like Lavelle wasn’t likely to take such action without having authority.”

So, while Aloysius Casey continued with the book, Patrick spent more than a year listening to Nixon White House tapes, which had been made available to the public by the National Archives. He also was successful attaining (after 18 months of tireless pursuit) declassified documents of electronic messages in cryptic form. The documents revealed top-secret orders from the Defense Department further confirming Lavelle’s insistence that he was following orders.

The senior Casey summarizes the impact of the findings: “On the Nixon tapes, when you hear the commander in chief say: ‘I just don’t want him to be made a goat. We all know what protective reaction is.’ That’s incriminating. Nixon clearly gave the orders. And, he gave his opinion of how bad it was that they let Lavelle swing in the wind when they knew he was right.

“I’m still astounded as to why the senior leaders between Nixon and Lavelle allowed this to happen,” he adds.

Shortly after Aloysius and Patrick Casey wrote an article for the Air Force Magazine in 2007 revealing their findings, Lavelle’s wife, Jo, hired Patrick’s law firm, Myers, Brier & Kelly, to have her husband’s military record corrected. Along with Casey, his law partners, Daniel Brier and John Dempsey, worked on her behalf, along with assistance from retired Air Force officers Brigadier General Edward Rodriguez and Colonel H. Gordon Wilder. The U.S. Senate is expected to vote soon on the president’s nomination to restore Lavelle’s rank. For more information about Lavelle and the controversy surrounding his command of the Seventh Air Force in Vietnam, visit

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