My name is Jerry Preston and I served with VP-21 from September 1963 to August 1966. I flew on CAC-8 for most of that time, finishing out my enlistment with Bill Locke as our PPC (I think I remember the right term).
I was the radio operator on CAC-8 although I was also trained to work radar, JEZ, JULIE, MADD etc. Somebody suggested that I “go” to radio operator’s school at NAS Brunswick shortly after I arrived. I did for nine weeks and I really loved my work as the radio operator.
I am 6’7” tall, so you can imagine that my height posed a small problem in getting around inside Airmail 8 (or 7BMO, the morse code call sign). In fact, it was a problem outside the aircraft as well, particularly one time when I was doing an inspection, writing on a clipboard, and walked into the flaps which were set at 30 degrees. I cold-cocked myself…next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital.
I played a little basketball for NAS Brunswick and for the squadron wherever we flew to. Most memorable was our deployment to Keflavik Iceland and our championship game against the Marines. Their center stepped on my foot when I went up for a rebound. I left the foot on the floor, tearing some ligaments. I remember Bill Locke being just a little upset that I had been grounded for the flight the next day.
In Keflavik we had our fun, flying around Little and Big Surtsey, both active volcanoes, and flying a high speed, low pass over the field that the tower said we could not fly. We did it anyway. I was in Gitmo for our deployment…I think in 1963. We flew around the whole crazy island; it seemed like one day after the other. I remember our low, high speed approach into Havana Harbor, close enough to the waterfront that I could read the sign “Havana Hilton!”
I suppose my “rack” cost the Navy quite a few bucks when it came loose in the bomb bay while we were underway, I think, to Key West. My 7’0” rack pierced the left door of the bomb bay. After that episode, my Brunswick rack was grounded, and everywhere we deployed to, the AM’s would fix me up with a new long rack.
We had a great crew and super pilots – I flew with Mr. Hartranft, Lyle Hanson, Bobby O’Connor, Carter Nute, and of course Bill Locke, who in my opinion, was absolutely the best. Our enlisted crew members were great guys as well – Leo Picone (he and I were quite a contrast in height!), Dave Detterman, Mike Weatherington, Bill Rule, Ron Novay, and others whose names slip my mind at the moment.
I finished my enlistment on August 19, 1966, and went to Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, then to Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. I married Margy Hanna in September 1971. I was ordained as a Lutheran pastor on July 14, 1974.
In 1979 I was commissioned as an Air Force Chaplain. I served at Barksdale AFB, LA, home of the B-52’s (I have 17.0 hours in a Buff), Sembach AB, Germany, (A-10’s and CH-53’s), Gunter AFB in Montgomery, AL, Woomera AS, Australia (deep space surveillance, crucial during the first Gulf War), and Vandenberg AFB, CA (space and missile country). I retired from active duty on July 14, 1995 as a Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF. I loved every minute of active duty and I know that I was a much better chaplain because of my service with VP-21.
I have been married for 32 years and have two sons, a daughter, and two and a half grandchildren (one in the bomb bay!). I have bee an ordained Lutheran pastor for 30 years, currently serving Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Shreveport, and in December 2003 will begin my new position at Lutheran Church of Hope in Broomfield, Colorado, a beautiful place.
I think often of all my mates in VP-21. I only wish I knew the whereabouts of some of the guys who are not on the current roster – Ed Heathcote (CAC-9), Dick Stuart, and others. I won’t be able to attend this coming reunion in 2003 but will one day make it.
All the best to former mates, crewmates, and friends!
Jerry Preston 9/03
Al Petrich - 2003 Reunion
Al was born in New York City, NY, in 1934 to German immigrant parents. The family emigrated back to Germany in 1941 so that Al's father could serve with the Wehrmacht. Al then became a member of the Hitler Youth group. When Al's father was killed on the Russian Front in 1942, Al became the family breadwinner. His mother would bake bread, and Al would trade it on the streets for other foods. He also would collect cigarette butts and trade the tobacco for food.
Al returned to the USA in 1946, joined the U.S. Navy in 1954 under the NAVCAD program after some major security clearance challenges, and married Mona in 1956. After flight training in Pensacola, he joined VP-21 in 1956 and became the XO's (CDR. Griffith) Navigator on crew 7. Al also enjoyed his assignments as the Ordnance Officer, and the fresh new Ensign also became the SLJ Officer.
In 1958, Al got his own crew. The kernel of this most junior VP-21 crew consisted of Al as PPC, Bill Locke as Co-pilot, Bruce Willey as Navigator, and Angie Spera as Crew Chief. Al departed VP-21 in 1960 as a LTJG.
After General Line school in Monterey, CA, and assignment to VT-28 at Corpus Christi, Al was switched to VS duty. Al had a career total of 9500 flight hours and 950 carrier landings.
Commands included VRC-40 and the Logistics Air Wing. The latter command was quartered at New Orleans where Al, now a Captain, was given the honorary rank of Commodore. Here he commanded all stateside VR squadrons, and two VC squadrons, plus the CNO detachment in Washington, DC.
Al's other assignments included COMNAVAIRLANT, and COMLANT/ COMLANTFLT/ SACLANT Staffs, the USS Essex(CV-9), and the USS Nimitz (CVAN-68) as ship company tours. Al retired as Naval Safety Center Chief of Staff in 1984.
After retirement from the Navy, he worked for a few government contractors. Al now volunteers as a docent guide for the USS Wisconsin (BB-64) on the Norfolk Waterfront.
Al passed away on 17 December, 2004. Go to his obituary .
Gordon L. Peterson
Gordon L. Peterson AT3, VP 21
On July 18, 1933, I was born in Mason City, Iowa, an only child, to Lewis and Lillian (Ramus) Peterson. I spent my initial 18 years there and joined the Navy on February 19th, 1952, as an airman. I was sent to San Diego for basic training, then to prep school at Norman, Oklahoma and on to electronics school at Millington, Tennessee. After graduating
from electronics school I traveled to Pax River, Maryland to join VP-21. I spent the majority of my tour with VP 21 on flight crew and primarily on Commander Walker's crew.
During our search and rescue and anti-sub warfare training in the Mediterranean, we twice had engine failures and were forced down. Once was in Nicosia, Cyprus where we had to remove an engine and replace it before returning to Malta. The other occasion was when we were on our way from Malta to search for a downed plane off Sicily and we lost an engine. During the return to Malta, we kept losing altitude, but fortunately the updraft gave us enough lift to clear the cliffs and land, although we did veer off the side of the runway. We celebrated our safe return with a bottle of Scotch.
I left the Navy on January 12, 1956 to return to school and I graduated from University of Iowa in 1960 with a BSEE and BA degrees. Shortly after graduation I married my first wife and later had a son, Eric, in 1961, and a daughter, Cassie, in 1963. I spent the next 30 years working in the semiconductor industry, first for Motorola in Phoenix, Arizona
(1960-70), and then in California's "Silicon Valley" for Fairchild in Mountain View (1970-76). From there I joined Monolithic Memories (1976-88) and finally to LSI Logic (1988-90). These companies are also located in the Bay Area just south of San Francisco. Positions included Vice President & General Manager of Military Products Division for
MMI and Vice President of Marketing at LSI, from whence I retired in 1990.
After a difficult divorce in 1972/73, I later met and married Veronica (Ronnie), also a semiconductor industry employee, in 1976. We have five children between us and they have provided us with nine lovely grandchildren. Ronnie and I split our time between our homes in Cool, California in the Sierra Nevada foothills (the "gold country") and the coastal town of Florence, Oregon. Since our retirements we've traveled extensively and continue to enjoy seeing new places and meeting new people and renewing relationships with old friends. END
WARREN GEORGE PONTO November 16, 1922 to November 29, 1995
Back, L-R: Richard Bates, G.F. Kreitz, Warren Ponto,
Bob Dunbar, Hattie Jamnik, Clayton Stokes, Yates.
Front, L-R: Walter Martell, Henry Muters, Vincent Marimpietri,
Carl Bartelt, J.C. White
In 1922, Warren Ponto was born in Cudahy, Wisconsin, a blue-collar suburb of Milwaukee. His German immigrant grandfather was an early pioneer of the community who, in 1892, built the Ponto Hotel, a modest rooming house, tavern and restaurant that still stands near the center of town. Warren's father was also an entrepreneur- for a time he was the proprietor and piano player of the Coliseum Electric Theatre, Cudahy's first silent movie house. Warren grew up in a small flat with his two older sisters. The close-knit family was hard-hit by the depression and relied on income from additional roomers and a small bakery run by Warren's mother. His high school interests included science and the performing arts. After graduation in 1940, he was employed for a time as a clerical worker. He continued singing and performing in community theater where he met his future wife, Marilyn, during a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Iolanthe'.
With dreams of becoming a pilot, he enlisted in the Navy in March 1943. His two years of training took him through a series of schools and bases, including Pensacola and Jacksonville, Florida and Hutchinson, Kansas. Thoroughly intimidated by his first flight in a Vultee trainer, he wrote home in December, 1943 that “there are so darn many instruments and gadgets that if the Navy offered me a job of driving a station wagon, I'd jump at the opportunity.” However, Warren persevered and eventually received certification to fly PBYs and PB4Ys. Warren and Marilyn wedded in March 1945, while he was assigned to VPB-197 at Camp Kearney in San Diego. His best man was bunkmate Marc Breaux, who was later to become a Broadway performer (Li'l Abner, Destry Rides Again) and a Hollywood choreographer (Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music). One can only imagine Warren and Marc's late night songfests over a bottle of wine: “ Stick close to your desks and never go to sea, and you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navee!”
As Bob Dunbar's co-pilot, Warren helped ferry their B-24 and crew, first to VPB-200 at NAS Kanehoe, Hawaii and then to Palawan airfield in the Philippines (“Elevation: 37 feet at the Tower”), joining VPB-111 in May, 1945. Their primary plane was a Privateer nicknamed It's a Pleasure (BuNo 59456), which featured a nose design based on original artwork by crewmember Airman/2c C. D. Stokes. The fuselage was adorned by the cocky caricature of Bugs Bunny leaning to one side, preparing to release a bomb from his outstretched hand. Other embellishments included a small pinup and the names of the co-pilots' sweethearts, Hattie and Marilyn, painted below the canopy. The Shellbacks of Combat Air Crew #7 made numerous flights along the coasts of Borneo, Malaya and Indochina and saw their share of action. On July 19, 1945 they were hit by anti-aircraft fire, but managed to return safely. Lieutenant (jg) Ponto was eventually awarded four Air Medals for his participation in these patrols.
Peacetime meant rejoining Marilyn in Wisconsin and settling down to raise a family. Warren soon began a long career with Ma Bell, first as a telephone installer and eventually retiring as an engineer. He became a member of the volunteer aviation unit in Milwaukee (VAU 9-18) and also served for 14 years in the active reserve, where he was initially assigned to USNTC Great Lakes, Illinois. After more schooling and a promotion, he became a technical training officer for VP-722 (and, briefly, VP-721) based at NAS Glenview, Illinois. His 1956 annual cruise even took him to Port Lyautey, Morocco, where VPB-111 had been based before moving to the Pacific. Warren finally retired from the Navy in 1982, just a few days shy of a 40-year stint.
Though family and work kept him busy, Warren still found time to indulge his many interests, which included choral singing, stained-glass art, genealogy research, and cutthroat card-playing (sheepshead, and with Marilyn as a partner, bridge). It's probably not surprising that someone who willingly shared his passions for taking pictures, gardening and opera raised three children who became, respectively, a photographer, a floral designer and a music professor. None, however, inherited his facility with a deck of cards.
Though Warren never expressed a desire to return to the skies, he was a frequent visitor to the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual Fly-In held at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. In later years, he eagerly anticipated the biennial reunions of his old VPB-111 crewmembers and contributed to the publication of his unit's tale, The Story of One Eleven by Robert L. Wolpert.
Warren and Marilyn both lived to host a glorious celebration of their 50-year marriage for family and friends. Sadly, Warren died soon after and, within two years, was followed by his wife. Like many of his compatriots, Warren rarely discussed his wartime experiences, but was clearly proud of the service he had rendered to his country. Part of his legacy is the treasure trove of photos, letters and souvenirs from this period that he left behind. Poring over this inheritance has allowed his family, for perhaps the first time, to get a sense of the amazing experiences of a young man they had never truly known.