Posted by Lee Forman on June 10, 2021
I knew Thomas Peter Headen for a long time, and it’s time to finally tell the world who he really was.

Pete Headen was a fraud.

Let me happily explain.

When I was assigned to MAG-41 Det A, Andrews AFB in May 1984, the shop was less than great. The personnel, the state of aircraft maintenance, the shop equipment…….train wreck. And on top of it, the Assistant NCOIC, GySgt Headen, was an inscrutable, perfectionist, ex-artillery hardass who found fault with everything and was impossible to please or get along with. Welcome aboard.

Whatever the case, I was assigned to Night Crew to work with an individual who fit right in with the rest of the dysfunction, even to the point of pencil-whipping aircraft inspections. At that point, I drew the line and started insisting on doing the work correctly. Shortly thereafter, Headen took more interest and started watching closely and questioning everything I did, making my life in MAG-41 even more miserable. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had passed his initial test, which was giving a damn.

I have plenty of flaws as a human being, but one thing I was gifted at was reading people. With the enigmatic, guarded Headen, I began to figure out that he passionately hated incompetence, lying, and short-cutting, and he just as passionately wanted things to be done right and honorably.

Slowly, an alliance formed between us. When he later became NCOIC and could effect the changes needed, he’d already determined that I’d never lie to him, and I’d found that he’d protect me the best he could for doing things right. Slowly, we started enjoying working together, and we ended up doing some pretty amazing and enjoyable things. 

One of those things was when Mr. Headen came to me after hours in his usual, Mafia-like way and showed me an Air Force schematic for building an electronic simulator for the AIM-7 missile. In conspiratorial tones, he told me I had to keep my mouth shut and asked me if I could build it. I looked at the drawing, and with enthusiasm and only vague consideration of consequences, I assured him I could. He had me order parts, and upon receipt of same, he moved me to my own one-man shift from midnight to 0800 to make the unauthorized simulators. They were a smashing success, and we ended up making probably 50. The aircrews loved them and nobody was ever indiscreet enough to ask where they came from.

Working for Pete, I learned that if supporting the mission meant clandestine appropriation, or more plainly, stealing from other units during the hours of darkness, I had his total approval. He was a natural kleptomaniac anyway, and his cardinal rule was, ‘Anything goes. Just don’t get caught.’ There were a couple of close calls, but after every covert shopping trip, I would receive his highest accolade, which was a smirk, and “That’ll work”.

So why do I so correctly label him a fraud?

It took me awhile, but I began to understand him, and it’s something that men, especially in the warrior trade, don’t talk about.

He cared deeply, and not just for the mission. He cared for people.

Love is often misconstrued as an emotion, and in a limited sense, I suppose that’s true. In a far greater sense, though, love is caring about people, leading them, guiding them, correcting when necessary, and taking responsibility for their well-being. Indeed, in the truest sense, caring for our fellow man without regard for personal gain is carrying out the mission of the Almighty as described in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Pete Headen’s fraud was this: carefully hidden under cover of his hardass, groundpounder personality, he loved like few people I’ve ever known. He cared so much that he got angry when people insisted on doing stupid things that would hurt them. He cared so much for his fellow Marines that he went back for two more tours in Viet Nam. He cared so much that, twenty-five years later, he volunteered to go to Desert Storm, because in his words, “The younger guys needed somebody who’d done the deal and knew what was going on.”

So yes, Pete Headen was a warrior in the truest sense, but in his heart of hearts, he cared deeply for people. Interestingly, I never heard one word from him about that. I learned it through his actions, his life.

And over time, I discovered another facet, that he was a warrior by choice and calling, but with the soul of an artist. 

Once at Andrews, he told us he’d bring in some of his slides from Viet Nam if we wanted to see them, so I brought in a projector. I’m not sure what I expected, but that night he showed us pictures of farmers plowing their fields, people in the market place, sunrises on a mountain top, children playing while their parents worked in rice paddies…….

Not one picture of war. 

Later, seeing some of his artistic creations confirmed that he was far different from anyone else I knew.

We stayed in touch in the years since because he never let go of relationships. Some of his greatest satisfaction was seeing young Marines he cared about go on to excel. He was always proud of the part he played in our lives. He also enjoyed reminding us of our less than stellar moments, too, so I guess that kept us balanced. Squirrel grenades come to mind, but that’s another story for another time………

One of Pete’s favorite sayings was, “I will obey all orders I agree with.” I liked that, and one of the things I’m proudest of regarding my time in the USMC is that there were times that I broke rules or disobeyed orders to take care of my people. Thanks to Pete, I’d learned to do it discreetly and was never caught. Some of those times he knew about, others he didn’t, but he didn’t care as long as I thought the person was worth the risk.

I could go on and on, but for me, it’s best summarized thus; the guy who showed little or no emotion loved more than most people who speak much about it. Pete, you epitomized ‘Semper Fidelis’. You were faithful to the mission, faithful to your people. Thank you for that. It was my great privilege to be your friend.

Lee Forman
Posted by Paul Kelly on June 9, 2021
I was the S-1 Admin Officer (Reserve) and remember him. Focused and hard working. Will miss him.
Semper Fi Top.
CWO-4 Kelly
USMC (ret)
Posted by Joe Galvagna on June 7, 2021
Having served many many years with Pete I can truly say he will be sorley missed. A true friend and one of the greatest Marine I have serve with.
Semper Fi and God Bless Top
Joe Galvagna Jr USMC CWO4 (ret)

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