If anybody asks John Gereski Sr.’s three sons who their best friend is, all their answers would be the same: their father.
"All three of us, we spoke to him every day," said John Gereski Jr., 45, the eldest of John Gereski Sr.’s three sons. "Anytime any of us had any professional issues, personal issues or questions that needed to be answered, he would be the first person we would ask."
John Gereski Sr., a decorated U.S. military veteran who, among other positions, served as adjutant general of the Connecticut National Guard from 1985 to 1992, died from complications related to skin cancer at his home in Fairfax Station on Nov. 4. He was 71.
The recipient of more than 10 service medals and ribbons, including the Legion of Merit medal and Meritorious Service medal, was interred with full military honors in his hometown of Waterbury, Conn. last week. Local funeral services for friends and family took place at St. Mary of Sorrows Catholic Church in Fairfax Station on Nov. 13.
JOHN GERESKI SR. chose to settle in Fairfax County after retiring from active duty in 1992 because of the fondness he had for Northern Virginia’s climate and proximity to family members, his family said. The family had lived in the Kings Park West subdivision when John Gereski Sr. was first stationed in the region from 1974 to 1985, they added.
"He loved the area," said John Gereski Jr., a lieutenant colonel in the Colorado Army National Guard. "He was a huge Washington Redskins fan, he loved the golfing and a lot of his grandkids were here."
His love for a beach house that he had along the Chesapeake Bay and enthusiasm for the "active" atmosphere pulsing from the nation’s capital were among the other characteristics of Northern Virginia that caused him to return, his family added.
"He just wanted to be back down here in Fairfax County and Washington, D.C.," said David Gereski, 43, a lieutenant colonel in the California Army National Guard. "For him, it was just the excitement of being here, he loved it."
ABOVE ALL, his sons will remember their father for his endless sense of optimism, particularly in the face of challenges, they said.
"He used to say that his whole career, he never had a bad day," said David Gereski. "He may have had bad parts of a day, but never a bad day outright. He was a very ‘glass-half-full’ kind of guy."
That philosophy was what reflected so positively in his service to the military, according to David Gereski.
"He was a very positive leader, that showed everywhere he went," he said.
Lt. Col. John Whitford of the Connecticut National Guard, who served as captain under John Gereski’s command during the first Gulf War, agreed. John Gereski Sr. lived up to his name as a great leader in 1991, when the Connecticut National Guard was part of the first major federal guard activation in nearly 40 years, in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
"He was the right guy, right place, right time to right the ship," said Whitford of John Gereski Sr.’s service with the Connecticut National Guard. "He very clearly had concern for his troops, concern for everything in the guard. He was the one to make sure that we were ready to deal with any challenges we would face."
THROUGH ALL of his meritorious service to his country, nothing was more important to John Gereski Sr. as his love for his family, John Gereski Jr. said.
"I remember he said to me that while he is proud of all of his medals … his proudest achievement was in the way his sons came out," said John Gereski Jr. "He would speak of his love for my mother and his love for his grandkids, they really were his lifeblood."
That love was returned by every member of his extended family, David Gereski said.
"He was the guy that everybody wanted to see, he was the glue for the family," he said. "He was always the life of the party, just the life of the family."