When Francis McCormac attended an Ocean City High School football game a few years ago wearing his World War II Veterans cap, little did he know that he was about to be drafted. History teacher Andrew Bristol spied the cap and asked Francis if he would be willing to visit his classroom to talk firsthand about his war experience. Of course, Francis agreed. Saying yes to service has been a constant in his 98-year life.
Francis Xavier McCormac was born on his mother’s birthday, May 18, in 1921. He grew up in the parish of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mother in Port Richmond, Philadelphia, where he became an altar boy while in grade school. “I continued as an altar server until I was drafted into the Army at the age of 22,” he explained. “I served at Mass on Sunday and reported to the draft board on Monday.”
Assigned to the Army Signal Corps, he entered the thick of action, landing at Omaha Beach and traveling through France, Belgium and, ultimately, Germany, where he entered the Dachau concentration camp and assisted with the burial of Holocaust victims. “We stood at attention when the last one was buried, a baby,” he explained quietly. Throughout the ordeal, Francis said he never lost his faith. “I never turn my back on that,” he said. “When I need help, I ask for help from where it comes. I know I need it and I know that I will be back.”
Francis returned safely to civilian life in the fall of 1945, went back to work at Philco, married his longtime sweetheart, Esther, in early 1946, and resumed service to his church, becoming a Eucharistic minister and lector. Married for 70 years before Esther passed in 2016, the couple raised a close-knit family of seven children. The clan has grown into 12 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. “We are a together family,” he said. “All we need is to make a couple of phone calls and everyone shows up.” Many years ago Francis started a family ritual at Thanksgiving, writing a joyful poem that included the name of every person around the table. “If you want to know who was at dinner in 1985, you just need to go back to that year’s poem,” he laughed.
After moving to Ocean City 14 years ago, Francis and his wife became members of St. Frances Cabrini Church and both served as Eucharistic ministers for several years. Francis has seen hardship late in life. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy destroyed most of the McCormac’s possessions, including their wedding album, and displaced them for more than a month. Three years ago, Francis lost his wife. “But I keep breathing,” he said. “It’s the only way to do it.”
These days you will find Francis in church every morning, saying the Rosary (“Everybody takes a decade,” he said. “Mine has been the fifth.”) and participating in Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. Francis estimates that he has been going to daily mass for 45 years. “If I miss” he said, “it feels as if my arm is broken.” Does Francis have the secret for a successful family life? The secret for a long life? No secrets. “Just follow the leader,” he said.