JOSEPH FRANCIS SANTILLI, JR., was born in Hershey, Pennsylvania on 6 January 1930, the son of Alice E. and Joseph F. Santilli. He always blamed his penchant for chocolate on those first hours of inhaling the aroma from the candy factory across from the Hershey Hospital. And he was sure that was what made his sister Mary Louise so sweet.
Educated at Wyoming High School and Mercersberg Academy, Joe fulfilled his colonel father’s hope that he would attend West Point (despite a football scholarship to Vanderbilt). Though Joe played football as a plebe, he soon found USMA’s rigorous academics demanded his full attention. He limited his spare time to participation in track, French and art clubs and The Pointer staff which, with the Catholic Chapel Choir, became the major focus of his energies in his upperclass years.
Classmate Jim Rodrigues shares the story of the threatened demise of The Pointer in 1951. During that time, he, Joe and the staff mounted a strategic offensive to re-organize, refinance and save that honored publication. Jim became business manager and Joe became chairman of the board. Their valiant efforts paid off for years to come.
Joe’s friends knew him as a man of committed beliefs and personal integrity. He was so impressed with West Point’s Honor Code that he wrote a detailed letter about it to Mercersburg friend Jim Pfautz, who was studying in England during Joe’s Plebe year. Jim recalls that it was Joe's letter that convinced him that he, too, wanted to go to West Point. (Jim graduated in 1953.)
Classmate Bill Schroeder writes: “Joe and I became friends during Beast Barracks. I remember roll call one morning when a sleepy first classman pronounced ‘Santilli’ as ‘Sam Kelly.’ Joe, without hesitation, responded affirmatively. From then on, he was a.k.a. Sam Kelly to me. After graduation, we took jump training together. I was standing at the door on our first jump, Joe next to me. On the ground, he commented on how cool I looked standing in the door for what seemed like hours. It was then that I first sensed he had a highly sophisticated, albeit at times warped, sense of humor. Through the years we stayed in touch and were doubly honored when Joe and Donna selected Joan and me as godparents to their sons James and David. In more recent times, Donna arranged a weekend visit to the beach for their 40th anniversary. Unknown to Joe, we decided to celebrate together. Joe was speechless when we walked into the dining room. We celebrated with a bottle of Dom Perignon. These are some of my memories of Joe, a true friend.”
After graduation, Joe selected Infantry, married his childhood sweetheart and embarked on one of several tours at Fort Benning.
Alternating with Infantry assignments, including service in Korea (1953-54 with the 5th RCT) and Vietnam (1968-69, Headquarters, IFF), Joe served the Army 12 years as an education specialist. His love of French, intensified by the cadet trip to Paris in 1950, provided his first teaching assignment. After two years of study at the Alliance Francais, and a residency at Middlebury College, Joe received a master’s degree in French in 1965. Colonel Walter J. Renfroe, then head of the Department of Foreign Languages, observed that he “always felt happy about the successful outcome of the plan to have Joe assigned as an instructor in French. Joe did a most outstanding job for us in composing our departmental SOP, a strenuous and comprehensive work which he accomplished while carrying out all his normal duties as instructor.” For Joe and his family, the tour at West Point was inspiring and gratifying.
After Vietnam, and a two-year tour with the Fourth Army Intelligence School at Fort Sam Houston, Joe attended C&GSC at Fort Leavenworth. He remained there an additional five years as an instructor and doctrinal writer on the faculty. His rating officer at that time wrote, “As the sole author of FM 100-15 (Larger Unit Operations: Echelons Above Division) he displayed a profound tactical knowledge and the ability to clearly articulate complex ideas.”
Other works by Joe were: “The Division in the Defense,” a doctrinal concept paper, 1974; “Tactical Nuclear Doctrine,” 1974; “NATO Strategy Updated: A First-Use Policy,” Military Review, March, 1974.
After a heart attack, Joe retired from the Army in 1977 and relocated to the Orlando, Florida area. There he worked with the Orange County Emergency Services for five years, designing and engineering the county’s emergency operations center. He also worked for the Naval Training Systems Center, Orlando, as specifications writer and technical editor of documents for flight and weapons systems simulators.
Troubled by increasing heart complications, Joe spent his last five years at home, gardening and writing. He was nearing completion of a historical novel when he died.
Gentleman, analyst, author, tireless student and teacher, Joe is missed by family and friends. He leaves behind his wife of 41 years, Donna; his sister Mary Louise; four sons, Joe III, (USMA ’77), Jim, Dave (USMA ’81) and Matt; his daughter Susie; and six grandchildren, Jenni, Joe IV, Melissa, Aubrey, Lauren and Michael. To a man of boundless Christian faith, a family man of principled loyalty and genial reserve, we say thank you for your strength and love.
Peace be with you.
- Class of 1952
- Mrs. Joseph F. Santilli