Defense Intelligence Agency
Division Chief, Retired
CLASS OF 1962
As a retired division chief for the Defense Intelligence Agency, Col. J. Thomas McCandless has led an extraordinary career—a career that was shaped at Washington & Jefferson College. Before college, he envisioned himself as a pre-medical student and was certain of becoming a doctor. However, a successful ROTC career and an impossible zoology class turned his sights to a life in the military.
Following graduation from W&J, McCandless was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and spent time in Korea and Kentucky as an artillery officer. Looking for more rigorous work, he challenged himself to master the Pershing missile system, a long-range nuclear missile, and eventually took over the command of a battery in Germany. After serving in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division, McCandless established a U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer training program, which specialized in training officers to become experts on various parts of the world. After completing language training and a master’s program, McCandless was sent to live in Nicaragua and travel throughout Latin America. While his time there was exciting, one of his most salient memories is a somber one. “After an earthquake destroyed the capital city of Managua, I was assigned to work with the United States relief effort,” he says. “I can honestly say that I’ve never been more proud of my country and being a member of the U.S. Army than during those 30 days.”
When his time in Nicaragua ended, McCandless was assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency as an analyst for Latin America. He eventually left the intelligence business and active duty when he helped establish the Unitech Corporation in Miami, Florida, which manufactured and sold repair parts for the bottling and brewing industry in Latin America. After four years with the company, he returned to his intelligence roots, quickly resuming his work with the Defense Intelligence Agency as a civilian. Retired since 2004, McCandless remains dedicated to his career and credits W&J for preparing him ‘to adapt in an ever-changing world.”