Joseph C. Mehaffey


Joseph Mehaffey, the son of William Robert and Mary Brooks Mehaffey, was born in Lima, Ohio, on November 20, 1889. After completing his secondary school education, he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point. His graduation and his commissioning as a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers took place in June 1911.

Mehaffey’s early assignments (between June and November 1911) were to the District Engineer’s Office in Rock Island, Illinois, Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans, Louisiana. In the fall of 1911, he was sent for the first time to the Panama Canal Zone, where he remained until June 1912, at which time he entered the District Engineer’s Office in Pittsburgh.

Mehaffey took his second set of courses with the United States Army at the Engineering School at the Washington Barracks in the District of Columbia. He entered in August 1912 and graduated in October 1913 with the rank of first lieutenant. In May 1914 he was named assistant engineer of the Eastern Department; in 1915 he served in Alaska with the Board of Road Commissioners.

From October 1917 to May 1919 Mehaffey was again on duty in the Office of the Chief of Engineers in Washington. After World War I he served at St. Nazaire, France, and in London as assistant engineer purchasing officer. In July he was promoted to the rank of major.

In 1922 Mehaffey was named professor of practical military engineering at West Point. He returned to the Panama Canal Zone in December 1929 as assistant maintenance engineer. He was back in the United States to take courses at the Command and General Staff School in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; he graduated in June 1935; then for the third time was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Engineers in Washington, D.C.

In September 1941 Mehaffey once again was assigned to the Panama Canal Zone as maintenance engineer, serving in that position until 1941. He became a brigadier general in June 1942 and was appointed Panama Canal Zone Governor on May 15, 1944. In 1945, Congress appropriated $1.5 million and directed Mehaffey to report what changes would be necessary to modernize operations of the Canal.

In December 1947, Mehaffey recommended the construction of a sea-level canal, running approximately along the same route as the present one. This matter was still under discussion when Mehaffey finished his four years as Governor in May 1948.

Mehaffey retired on November 30, 1949, and died on February 18, 1963.