A retired Army officer and Hawaii island resident whose New Age approach to the military inspired the creation of the Django character in the movie “The Men Who Stare at Goats” is being remembered for his devotion to unlocking human potential.
Retired Lt. Col. James B. Channon, assigned to the Army’s High Tech Light Division, was part of the command that looked at enhancing human performance through unconventional means, such as moving objects through the use of the mind.
Channon, a former Army Airborne soldier in Vietnam, died of cardiac arrest Sept. 10 while walking with friends on his property in Hawi, his family said. He was 77.
In the 2009 movie, soldiers try to walk through walls, become invisible and, yes, kill a goat by staring at it.
Jeff Bridges, the actor who played Django, visited with Channon on the Big Island while studying for the film role, said retired Army Lt. Col. Arnold Strong.
“Channon was an uber-mythological guy,” said Strong, who once was stationed in Hawaii. “He was a big mentor of mine.”
Channon was born Sept. 20, 1939, in Tarrytown, N.Y., and was the son of an Army colonel, his daughter Brooke Dee said.
A graduate of the University of Kentucky and its ROTC program, he served in the Army for 20 years starting in 1962, including two tours in Vietnam. He was attached to the 173rd Airborne Brigade as a first lieutenant.
Before deploying to Vietnam, the brigade underwent extensive jungle training with mass parachute jumps in Okinawa, Thailand and the Philippines.
As information officer, Channon provided a compilation of the first three years of the 173rd Airborne as a separate brigade, including sketches of soldiers and Vietnamese, maps of engagements and a detailed three-dimensional look at a Viet Cong clandestine complex with tunnels.
But the compilation also provided a brief history of the Vietnamese, including their success against the occupation by the Japanese and French, and spoke about the importance of the 173rd Airborne’s civic projects such as building schools and playgrounds and donating rice to villagers so that they wouldn’t support the Viet Cong.
By the time he was rounding out his career, his focus was on building a new kind of Army that he called the “First Earth Battalion,” and he had support for looking at the concept of developing a new kind of soldier.
In a 1988 article in the Washington Post, Channon was among the group of officers mentioned as a part of a Delta Force formed by Gen. Donn Starry, in charge of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. The officers are credited with developing the Army’s public relations motto, “Be All That You Can Be.”
Channon’s daughter Brooke said her father wanted to train soldiers of peace to be able to deal with the kind of trauma faced in war and looked at developing mental strength through meditation.
Staring a goat to death was not a part of his program, although it reportedly was a part of a different covert program looking at the potential military applications of the paranormal. It was included in the nonfiction book “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” by journalist Jon Ronson, later to be adapted into the comedy film, which also starred Ewan McGregor, George Clooney and Kevin Spacey.
Her father found the book and film amusing, Brooke Channon recalled. “He was totally fine with the film,” she said.
She said he was pleased that the film explored human potential.
When he moved to Hawaii in 1989, Channon built an open-air theater as a community gathering place and also became a motivational speaker at corporate gatherings, helping them to look into the businesses’ future.
Corporations from the Fortune 500 would bring him in, and he would do enormous vision boards to help them strategize their future, family and friends said.
Strong said Channon was a “corporate coach” long before the term had been created. “He was just a beautiful, beautiful guy,” Strong said.
Shannon is survived by first wife Rita Channon Brown, second wife Joan Steffy Channon, son James Parker Channon, daughter Brooke Channon Dee and several grandchildren.
A private family service will be held at his property in Hawi on Sunday at 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers, please visit channonarchive.com to find out how to help Lt. Col. Channon’s Foundation.