O’Meara said it was “pure dumb luck” that he came up with the correct answers.
“I don’t where I got it, but I put my foot down and said ‘we don’t do that,'” he remembered. “Another officer that wanted to be popular or whatever or [was] just as angry, just as crazy, might have said something else.”
Today, his philosophy remains fundamentally the same and it informs his approach in what might be called his third career.
O’Meara was to spend 33 years in the military, retiring from the army reserve at the rank of brigadier general. And over 20 years, he built up a successful legal practice. However, almost a decade ago, he decided to study and teach, and nowadays he gives college courses that focus on the overlapping areas of human rights, torture, genocide, ethnic conflict and international relations.
O’Meara’s friend and colleague General James Cullen said: “He now shares with his students so much life experience as well as academic accomplishment.”
Cullen, who is well-known in Irish-American circles, said: “If there was only one man I could choose to protect my back in a foxhole or in life, I could think of no one more dependable, courageous but quietly sensible than General Rick O’Meara.
“He is one of those unique people you are privileged to meet in life who puts the well-being of others first, whether they are his soldiers, clients or students,” Cullen added.
O’Meara believes that it helps him as a teacher that he has been to most of the important conflict zones. He has, for instance, visited after the fact several countries where genocide has taken place
His interest in human rights brought him to Northern Ireland in the 1980s where he helped with some trials in Belfast.
O’Meara’s own roots in Ireland go back to the Famine. His became reacquainted with his heritage when he met his future wife, Mary Hourihan of Sunnyside, Queens, whose family connections to the ancestral homeland were more recent.
He said the couple gave their four children typically Irish-American names: Kerry Ann, Erin Kathleen, Daniel Patrick and Michael Timothy. When they were grown and college was paid for — they are respectively a professor of higher education, a clinical psychologist, a movie producer and a chef – he decided to devote himself to an academic career. The New Jersey resident now teaches at Rutgers University and other colleges.
Yet even those hungry for knowledge, he was willing to admit, aren’t automatically drawn to his areas of expertise.
“American students as a general rule don’t know very much about what’s going on overseas; our media doesn’t know anything about what’s going on overseas – it’s not a focus,” O’Meara said.
“The media tells us what’s important. So Darfur hasn’t been in the news for eight months, why? Because we’ve had an election and the media is more concerned about a vice presidential candidate’s clothes,” he said.
Rick O’Meara himself had early exposure to the world beyond America’s shores.
When he was 14, his businessman father relocated with the entire family to Switzerland.
“I grew up with French and Germans, Dutch, Italian, Spanish,” said O’Meara, the oldest of four sons. “I tend to think more internationally, than nationally.”
Nonetheless he heeded the patriotic call and enlisted in the U.S. army at age 20 in 1967. He saw combat in Vietnam, and then went to officer candidate school. After that, he led an infantry platoon, and then a reconnaissance platoon for a year in the 1st Infantry Division.
Meanwhile, things had been changing rapidly back home.
“I can recall in 1967 being an enlisted man, having no money, and being able to put my uniform on and get on the turnpike and hitchhike to Washington DC. People would stop you and take you wherever you wanted to go,” he said.
“Then by the end of ’68 and beginning of ’69, you didn’t let anyone know you were in the military if you could help it. Because essentially the clich