Maj. Gen. Neal Creighton served as Fort Riley’s Commanding General from 1982 to 1984 and during that time he formed indelible bonds in the community.
He passed away Sept. 15 and will be buried at West Point.
His son, Neal Creighton Jr., has fond memories of his father from throughout his lifetime, including those two years at Fort Riley, which he spoke about with the Union Oct. 8 in a phone interview from his home in Massachusetts. Neal Creighton Jr. went through his last two years of high school during his father’s stint with Fort Riley. He played tennis and football at Junction City High School and ultimately graduated from JCHS.
“I remember my dad coming to the games,” he said.
His sister Lisa, who now lives in Kansas City, had already graduated from high school by the time the Creightons made it to Kansas, but she ended up attending college at Kansas State University, where she played tennis for four years.
“I remember him going to all the high school athletes and going to watch my sister play at Kansas State,” Neal Creighton Jr. said. “I also remember going to quite a few K-State football games with him as well.”
He recalls his father bringing a group of Fort Riley’s wounded warriors — soldiers who were being rehabilitated — to a K-State football game.
“I have so many memories of my dad,” he said. “The time at Fort Riley was two years and probably the pinnacle of his military career."
Fort Riley was Maj. Gen. Neal Creighton’s last assignment.
“It was really what he wanted to do,” his son said.
After commanding the 1st Infantry Division he retired from the military at age 55 and left to take on the job of City Manager for Asheville, North Carolina, but the family retained connections to local communities. Later, the retired Major General would take over as CEO of a large foundation called the McCormick Foundation in Chicago, which his son said touched many lives through large donations to worthy causes.
One of these causes was the formation of a museum at Cantigny Park, a museum in Illinois dedicated to the Big Red One — the division he had once led.
Maj. Gen. Neal Creighton would go on to serve for about a year and a half as President of Westminster College.
He led efforts for the National Museum of the United States Army which is expected to open later this year in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
A project with a Kansas connection included being asked to run the campaign for the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City — a dilapidated World War I Memorial that had been closed down that has since been restored and reopened after fundraising efforts brought in roughly $60 million for its restoration.
Though they ultimately left Kansas — Neal Creighton Jr. settled in the Northeast — this state retained a special place in their hearts.
Neal Creighton Jr., who was born in Panama, didn’t really have a hometown growing up. It’s hard to when one moves every two years.
But Kansas feels like home for Neal Creighton Jr. and his two sisters.
Neal Creighton Jr., for his part, attended West Point and joined the military — just like his namesake. He only stayed in the Army for five years, but his last duty station was Fort Riley. Like his father, after he left the military he started a business career which he still has to this day.
His sister settled in Kansas, he said, and for all of them this area retains good memories.
“My sister did stay in the area and we’re very fond of it,” he said. “It brings back a ton of memories.”
His father formed a close friendship with then-Manhattan Mercury Publisher Ed Seaton, he said, a friendship that continued after his father had left the Manhattan area.
“I know my dad was very close to the community in Junction City and Manhattan,” Neal Creighton Jr. said.
He is, to this day, amazed by how many lives his father touched, including local ones.
When he left the area in 1984, Seaton wrote an editorial about everything the departing commander had done for the community surrounding Fort Riley.
“Few Fort Riley commanders in recent years have won such respect from political and social leaders in Kansas as has this two-star general,” Seaton wrote. “The military’s role in American life is a distinctive one, and one that not every general is able to integrate so frictionlessly into the tapestry of the civilian communities that embrace a military installation. This two-star general set a new standard for understanding, cooperation, friendliness, and joint existence that certainly has no finer example in the entire military establishment.”
So many people from his younger days, he said, reached out to his father in his old age and maintained relationships with him.
His earliest memories of his father involve his father’s military career. He recalls his father coming home from fighting in Vietnam, then a full Colonel. He remembers his father as a busy man. But more than anything, he remembers what a good parent and husband his father was.
“The greatest thing about my dad was really the kind of person he was,” he said.
He recalls family vacations, which took place every year no matter where they were stationed.
More than anything, Maj. Gen. Neal Creighton was there for his family.
“Every sporting event, every meaningful event for the kids, he was there,” his son said. “He had something he did with each kid. He was a pretty unique guy.”
His oldest sister, Linda, he recalls enjoyed dancing, so his father would enter dance contests with her.
“He could jitterbug, disco, you name it — he was just really good at dancing,” he said.
Their dad also played tennis well and he would join his middle child, Lisa, on the court, which is what led her to her college tennis career.
With his son, however, Maj. Gen. Neal Creighton shared a passion for sports and military history. He always attended his son’s games.
“We'd camp out at Verdun in France,” Neal Creighton Jr. said. "We walked so many battlefields together.”
Neal Creighton Jr. recently went through his first birthday celebration without his father there to help him mark the day, something that was uniquely hard for him.
“He died peacefully, holding my mom’s hand,” he said. “It’s still kind of hard."
It has been difficult as grief always is, but the memories are still sweet.
“He kind of did just about everything he wanted to do in his life,” his son said. “But the greatest thing I think that he did was — you know, he loved people, he loved life and he was just a great dad."