For more than six decades, former five-time Medford mayor Jack McGlynn was silent about what he did during World War II.
He had spent a half-century serving in state and local government and was in his 80s, enjoying time with his grandchildren and walks about his native city, when a reporter called his family looking for the man who served in the Ghost Army. The question flummoxed his son Michael, who informed the reporter that his father served in the US Army, not a ghost army. Then he phoned his dad, who responded with a serious tone: “Get his name and find out how he knows.’
The cutting-edge warfare and sonic deception that then-sergeant McGlynn engaged in during 1944 with the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, or Ghost Army, had at last been declassified, and he could now discuss how the 1,100 men in his unit fooled the Germans. They staged battlefield deceptions from Normandy to the Rhine River using rubber tanks, phony radio transmissions, and faked recordings of advancing troops and men furiously constructing pontoon bridges, complete with swearing.
“If our secret got out, the unit would lose its usefulness,” Mr. McGlynn told the Globe in 2007. The illusions were credited with aiding Allied victories and saving thousands of lives.
Mr. McGlynn, who earned four combat stars in war and was Governor Edward King’s chief secretary in the early 1980s, died Aug. 20 in the Medford home where he had lived for six decades. He was 94.
Hundreds of mourners paid respects Thursday and Friday at Medford City Hall, where he lay in repose wearing a Ghost Army pin. It was the first wake ever held at the City Hall in modern history, a spokeswoman for the mayor said.
“Mr. McGlynn was a war hero, a dedicated public servant, mentor and friend to the entire Medford community,” Medford Mayor Stephanie Muccini Burke said in a statement. “I share with the City of Medford and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the loss of a great man who showed pride, determination, and love for this city; his legacy will truly never be forgotten.”
Mr. McGlynn, whom Medford leaders honored by opening the John J. McGlynn Sr. Elementary School, was remembered as a skilled manager and politician adept at forging compromises. His Medford legacy includes leadership in building Hormel Stadium and LoConte Rink, colleagues say.
“ ‘Let’s not fight. Let’s talk.’ That was Jack,” said his friend Anthony Arena, whom Mr. McGlynn encouraged to run for Medford School Committee amid a battle over building a new high school.
Mr. McGlynn began his political career in 1956 when he ran for City Council. He owned a floral shop for several years after the war and got to know his constituents.
“As a florist, I was always dealing with people at times of great emotion,” he told the Globe in 1981. “A certain trust develops because of that. It was a natural progression for me to then run for public office.”
He served more than two decades on the City Council. He also was a state representative for eight years and made an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 1966.
“Jack McGlynn was all about God, family, and country. He lived that kind of life. He had this ability to bring people together no matter how diverse the opinions were,” Arena said. “He was, without question, a great American.”
The late House speaker George Keverian once called Mr. McGlynn the “perfect” public servant. “He doesn’t have ego problems,” Keverian told the Globe when King named Mr. McGlynn his top adviser.
Fred Laskey, the executive director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, recalled meeting Mr. McGlynn at the State House when Laskey was a young research analyst. Though Laskey is a Republican, and Mr. McGlynn was a lifelong Democrat, Mr. McGlynn supported his career and gave him “invaluable advice.”
“He was one of a kind, a truly dedicated public servant. He stuck to the issues, not the personalities,” Laskey said. “He put certain things above partisan politics.”
Born in 1922, Mr. McGlynn was the son of Anthony
McGlynn and the former Catherine McCormack. He graduated from St. Clement High School in 1939 and was working in a supermarket when he fell in love with a customer named Helen Lenox, who was also a Medford native.
They married in 1942, just before Mr. McGlynn went off to war, and were devoted to each other, their children said. He told friends that his wife was the reason he was good at remembering people in receiving lines — she would whisper names into his ear.
After Mr. McGlynn was reelected to City Council one year, he added a sticker to his campaign signs: “Helen and I thank you.” She died in 2013.
The whole family worked on his campaigns. “Our family time was stuffing envelopes. I loved it,” said Michael, who left office last year after serving 28 years as Medford mayor.
Michael heard dozens of stories about how his father helped someone get a job, go to college, or survive the loss of a spouse in a bygone era of old school politics. “They all say the same thing: ‘I loved your father,’ ” Michael said.
After serving in King’s administration, Mr. McGlynn was commissioner of the state’s Public Employee Retirement Administration from 1983 to 1997. He also spent many years chairing the Medford Cooperative Bank’s board of directors.
He rarely went out without donning his suit and a pink tie — his wife’s favorite color, his family said.
A service was held Saturday for Mr. McGlynn.
In addition to Michael, Mr. McGlynn leaves three other sons, Jack Jr. of Ipswich, Kevin of New York City, and Dick of Medford; two daughters, Karen McGlynn Devine and Bernadette Davis, both of Medford; two sisters, Jacqueline Raimo and Maureen McGillicuddy, both of Medford; a brother, Richard of Medford; 12 grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.
The freedom to talk about his Ghost Army service gave Mr. McGlynn an extra spark in his retirement years, his family said.
He appeared in a 2013 documentary that aired on PBS. He described leading a convoy during the Battle of the Bulge when an American soldier stationed at a checkpoint demanded he say the password. Mr. McGlynn did not know it, or the password from the previous week.
Suspecting that Mr. McGlynn was a German, the soldier asked where he was from. Boston, Mr. McGlynn replied. Where in Boston? Medford, he answered. The soldier pressed for more: “What is the name of the school on Harvard Street?”
Mr. McGlynn knew the answer. He had walked by the Lincoln School many times.
“Twenty million men and women under arms and he lived a fifth of a mile from me,” Mr. McGlynn said.J.M. Lawrence can be reached at email@example.com.