David Petraeus still a hometown hero in Hudson Valley

Eamon Fallon, owner of the South Gate Tavern

Eamon Fallon, owner of the South Gate Tavern in Highland Falls, displays a medal for excellence sent to the bar owner by ex-CIA Director David Petraeus. Petraeus patronized the bar when he was a cadet at the nearby U.S. Military Academy. Fallon said he still holds Petraeus in high regard despite the scandal surrounding his resignation. (Nov. 11, 2012) (Credit: Meghan E. Murphy)

Eamon Fallon stood quietly behind his bar at the South Gate Tavern in Highland Falls, holding in his hand a metal coin embossed with the words "For Excellence, David Petraeus."

"I still hold him in the highest regard," Fallon said, holding out the collectible sent to him by the retired general after a visit in 2010 to West Point and Orange County. Petraeus had remembered the watering hole, located in the shadow of West Point, from his days as a cadet there.

"He's a good man," the bar owner said.


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During that visit, Petraeus, who grew up in Cornwall-on-Hudson, received a hero's homecoming in the Hudson Valley. He gave the commencement address at his old high school, Cornwall High, from where he had graduated 40 years earlier. During that visit, Orange County named Oct. 8 Gen. David Howell Petraeus Day and renamed a portion of County Road 107 after him.

A dark cloud now hovers over the four-star general with his resignation last Friday as CIA director after admitting he had an extramarital affair. It was later revealed that the affair, which a former top aide said Monday began two months after Petraeus became CIA director in 2010, was with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

The top U.S. spy's affair came to light because the FBI had been investigating threatening emails Broadwell, 40, allegedly sent to a Petraeus family friend, Jill Kelley, 37, who serves as an unpaid social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.

For many in his hometown, however, Petraeus, 60, remains a luminary whom they take pride in calling one of their own.

"It's very sad," Marjorie Morgan of Cornwall, a patron at South Gate Tavern, said of the scandal. "That's what he'll be remembered for, instead of the wonderful things he did for our country. He should be remembered for what a hero he is."

Petraeus was born in 1952 in Cornwall-on-Hudson, the son of a Dutch merchant marine and a librarian from Brooklyn. He grew up in a house on Avenue A that his parents, Sixtus and Marion, built in the 1950s. Nicknamed "Peaches," Petraeus grew up with a passion for playing soccer and worked as a newspaper delivery boy.

Shortly after graduating from West Point in 1974, he married Holly Knowlton, the daughter of an Army general. Petraeus spent 37 years serving in the Army and had two children with Knowlton. His son, Stephen, recently led an infantry platoon in Afghanistan as an Army lieutenant.

"This is a punch in the gut for those of us who know him," said Col. Michael Meese, who heads the social sciences department at West Point and was a top adviser to Petraeus when he served as a general.

Rather than the tabloid headlines of recent days, at Prima Pizza in Cornwall-on-Hudson it is stories about Petraeus' ascent to military stardom that can be read in newspaper clippings under the glass tabletops.

An employee at the eatery, which Petraeus frequented as a child, said it was her graduation two years ago at which the general spoke.

"As long as he did his job for the country, I don't care," said one local man who was picking up a pie to go.

However, not everyone from Petraeus' hometown or nearby was eager to give him a pass for his affair.

"There are standards he needs to live by, and he fell," said one critic, John Henriksen of Saugerties.

With The Associated Press

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