Colonel John V. “Jack” Brennan, the first White House Marine Military Aide to the President of the United States, post-presidential Chief of Staff to President Richard Nixon, and longtime, close Nixon friend and confidant, passed away on October 20, 2023 at the age of 86.
“When one looks up the meaning of the word loyal in the dictionary, the name Jack Brennan should be there for all to see,” said Jim Byron, President and CEO of the Richard Nixon Foundation. “Jack served his country with distinction on the ground in Vietnam, before being assigned to the White House Military Office and becoming the first Marine Military Aide in presidential history. In official White House photos, you’ll often find Jack in uniform, standing near President Nixon and holding the nuclear football, or accompanying the First Lady on her precedent-setting visits to Africa and South America. For more than 50 years, Jack remained a loyal friend of the Nixon family’s and faithful supporter of the Nixon legacy. His loss is deeply felt by everyone at the Richard Nixon Foundation and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Brennan was born on August 16, 1937 in Fall River, Massachusetts to John and Olympia (Malgieri) Brennan. After graduating from Providence College in Rhode Island in 1959, Brennan was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.
In 1962, Brennan found himself in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In June of 1967, while serving as Captain of an artillery unit stationed outside Danang during the Vietnam War, the unit was moved en mass to provide fire support to the Marine infantry units who were engaged in fierce battle at Khe Sahn. When his reinforced battery came under attack, Brennan was wounded by shrapnel in the right arm, left hand, and left arm, for which he received a Purple Heart. In addition, Brennan was awarded the Bronze Star for his role in that day’s action.
In 1968, when Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States, Brennan was nominated by the Marine Corps and selected for the position of Marine Corps Aide to the President. Becoming the first Marine to hold that title, he began his work during the transition period from President Johnson to President Nixon.
As the Military Aide to President Nixon, Brennan answered to the Military Assistant to the President and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Among his duties was carrying “the football” — nuclear codes that would enable the president to initiate the launch of nuclear missiles in the event of war.
Additionally, he was responsible for the Presidential Helicopter fleet, and initiated the transition from Army management to Marine Corps management; management of the Western White House facilities at San Clemente, CA; and played key roles in all official diplomatic ceremonies.
He was part of the major advance trips to arrange for domestic or foreign presidential visits, and accompanied the President and First Lady on key trips abroad. Most notably, Brennan accompanied President Nixon on his historic trips to China and the Soviet Union in 1972; visits to the Middle East in 1974; and more than 60 countries in total. He was asked by President Nixon to accompany First Lady Pat Nixon on all of her official solo trips abroad, including to Ghana, Liberia, the Ivory Coast, Brazil, Venezuela and Peru.
Brennan was responsible for coordinating the emergency evacuation plan for the President and those who were in the constitutional line of succession, and he served as liaison to the Department of Defense regarding decisions not related to policy. As a result of his excellent service in this position, President Nixon promoted Brennan to Lieutenant Colonel in September 1973.
When President Nixon resigned the office of the presidency in August of 1974, Brennan accompanied the President and the Nixon family onboard Marine One and the final Air Force One flight to California. In July 1975, Brennan resigned from active duty in the United States Marine Corps to become the former President’s Chief of Staff in San Clemente.
As Chief of Staff, Brennan planned the former President’s trips to China in 1976 and 1979; arranged for a visit to the Shah of Iran in Cuernavaca, Mexico in 1979; and helped plan trips to France, England, Spain, and the Ivory Coast.
Perhaps most famously, Brennan negotiated the terms for The Nixon Interviews with David Frost in 1977. In the 2006 fictionalized, Academy-Award nominated depiction of the interviews, Frost/Nixon, Brennan was played by legendary Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon.
On August 1, 1979 Brennan received his final promotion to Colonel in the USMC Reserves. When President and Mrs. Nixon moved to the East Coast in 1980, Brennan returned to Washington, D.C. and went into business with former United States Attorney General John Mitchell.
Brennan went on to serve on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports under President Ronald Reagan. He was an Honorary Delegate from California at the 1988 Republican National Convention, and was on the Bush/Quayle Campaign staff.
Colonel Brennan served in a civilian capacity as Director of the Administrative Operations Division of the Executive Office of the President in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
From his years of service at the national level, Col. Brennan earned the unique distinction of being able to say that six U.S. Presidents called him by his first name.
In his later years, Col. Brennan divided his time between Rhode Island and California. He was a supporter of the Richard Nixon Foundation, a regular speaker —and attendee— at educational events at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, helping visitors understand the life and times of President and Mrs. Nixon, and he most recently delivered emotional opening remarks to kick off the 50th anniversary of the homecoming of the Vietnam Prisoners of War in May 2023.
Everyone at the Richard Nixon Foundation sends their heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the Brennan family. His was a life of loyal service to his nation.
Tributes to Colonel Brennan
Jack was “one of a kind.” For all of us who were fortunate that Jack was a most special part of our lives, he will be greatly missed.
My family and I shall always remember Jack’s admirable patriotic spirit and extraordinary service to the country he loved. We deeply appreciate his generous and kind friendship through all seasons.
-Tricia Nixon Cox
David and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Col. Jack Brennan. His service to our country, and to my father during and after his presidency, was surpassed only by his deep and abiding friendship to the Nixon family. He was, in the fullest meaning of the term, a great American. We have lost a dear friend and our nation has lost a true patriot.
-Julie Nixon Eisenhower
Jack was a great friend, and an even greater person whose qualities of loyalty and decency were unparalleled. He was a true Marine whose motto, Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful), were at the heart of his soul, and all who had the privilege of calling him a friend will carry joyful memories of him for the rest of our lives.
– Steve Bull, former Special Assistant to President Nixon
The dedicated ranks of the greater Nixon Family are filled with wonderful and giving people. Topping the list one exceptional man shall remain forever: the loyal friend of the 37th President and First Lady, the Marine, the Patriot, our celebrated-brother in all-things-Nixon, Jack Brennan. God Speed Jack.
– Dwight Chapin, former personal aide and assistant to President Nixon, and wife, Terry Goodson
Jack Brennan was a hero. On the battlefield in Vietnam, where he was awarded two bronze stars (the second should have been silver but, heroically and typically, he didn’t want to get involved in paperwork). In the White House, where he served as President Nixon’s military aide. And in San Clemente, where he resigned from the Marine Corps in order to assume the difficult role of the former President’s Chief of Staff.
For more than half a century –from 1968 until this week— Jack was actively and proactively devoted to President Nixon and the Nixon family.
For those of us who were privileged and lucky enough to have known and worked with Jack, he could be depended on as an unfailing source of balanced judgment, good advice, and selfless help. Even in the deepest valleys he could be counted on to reconnoitre the terrain, assess the intel, find a path, and start leading the way with a sly smile and conspiratorial laugh.
Jack Brennan was rock solid. A great friend, a great guy, a great man.
– Frank Gannon, former Special Assistant to President Nixon
Jack Brennan holds a special place in the Nixon galaxy – the glue that held together the President’s team as he rebuilt a magnificent comeback from his resignation. As chief of staff, he managed budgets, kept spirits up, negotiated with David Frost, was a companion to RN on the golf course and juggled press and legal issues along with all his other obligations. Amidst it all, Jack was relentlessly cheerful, boisterous, and full of laughter and energy. There is another thing to remember about Jack and how important he was to Richard Nixon. Jack made an extraordinary personal and career sacrifice out of his intense loyalty to the President. Though he achieved the rank of Colonel in the Marines, Jack would easily have moved up the ranks to general and, I’m convinced, with his personal and leadership skills would have become Commandant of the Marine Corps. It’s a measure of his devotion that Jack Brennan turned his energies and friendship unselfishly to the President and all of us who have benefited immeasurably from having been associated with him. The extended Nixon family could not have asked for a better friend.
-Ken Khachigian, Deputy Special Assistant to the President
From the moment I met him at Casa Pacifica in San Clemente to the last time I saw him at Casa Pacifica, the colonel always had a smile, an unfailing sense of optimism and encouragement for everyone he worked with. A bundle of energy and enthusiasm for life, Jack personified that part of the Marine ethos: “No better friend!”
– Hugh Hewitt, President and CEO of the Richard Nixon Foundation, 2019-2021
We traveled the world over. A great American and a great friend. Rest In Peace.
– Ronald H. Walker, Chairman of the Richard Nixon Foundation, 2010-2018