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Hornet pilots mourn loss

By Cpl. Micah Snead | | May 18, 2005

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WASHINGTON, D.C - Marines from Beaufort, S.C., joined the close-knit fraternity of fighter pilots who gave a tearful farewell to one of their own recently.

Family, friends and fellow service members said goodbye to Lt. Col. John Charles Spahr during a burial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, May 18.

Spahr, a 42-year-old Cherry Hill, N.J., native, died May 2, from injuries received when the F/A-18 Hornet he piloted was involved in an aircraft mishap. Spahr and Capt. Kelly C. Hinz died following the mishap over South-central Iraq. Both pilots were flying single-seat Hornets when radio contact with both jets was lost.

“The Marines and Sailors of Marine Aircraft Group 11 and 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing mourn the loss of their fellow warriors,” said Col. Earl S. Wederbrook, the MAG-11 commanding officer. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of these two patriots who have given their lives upon the altar of freedom.”

United States Representative James Saxton, whose district includes Spahr’s hometown, called the loss of the pilot a sad day for the community.

“My heart goes out to (his) family,” Saxton said. “He was a dedicated Marine and accomplished fighter pilot who has given his life in service to his country and the war on terrorism.”

Spahr, posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, was serving as the executive officer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323, MAG-11, 3rd MAW, based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. The squadron is currently deployed aboard the USS Carl Vinson. Family and friends at the ceremony were nearly out-numbered by Spahr’s fellow Marines, Sailors and veteran pilots. Many came to give their final goodbyes to a man who fought alongside of and taught most of them.

“He was a great tactician and Marine,” said Lt. Cmdr. John D. Boone, a pilot with Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 86. “However, it was his all-around talent combined with his humble and vibrant personality that was truly inspiring.”

In 1996, just three years after receiving his wings, Spahr attended Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., and completed the course at the top of his class. He returned to the school in 1999 as an instructor pilot. Over the next three years, Spahr trained fighter pilots to be the best in the world and influenced his fellow instructors to be even better, according to Boone.

“I met ‘Dukes’ in July 1999 when I checked in to TOPGUN,” Boone said. “Dukes had already been through the course but was back as an instructor. Once I finished the course we spent three years instructing together. Lieutenant Cmdr. Steven Hejmanowski, Spahr and myself were all geographical bachelors for assorted reasons so we spent a lot of time together in Fallon.”
During his time at Fallon, Spahr’s interest never strayed far from his family, according to Boone.

“He was a loyal father who spoke very highly of his daughter,” Boone said. “It broke my heart to see her at the funeral. I had never met her but knew so much about her. That’s how proud a father he was. He never complained about working 14-hour days at TOPGUN then rushing off to get on a plane to see his family. He would just work, smile and say he would be there for the 0530 brief on Monday.”

Spahr excelled on the athletic field long before settling into the cockpit of a Hornet. At St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, Spahr lettered in football, baseball and basketball as well as competing with the crew team. When he graduated in 1981, he was listed as the school’s “best all-around athlete.”

While working towards his bachelor’s degree in physical education at the University of Delaware, Spahr quarterbacked the school’s football team and went on to earn a master’s degree in exercise physiology. His athletic prowess did not fade during his time away from the gridiron, according to Boone.

“I had no idea he was a starting quarterback in college until someone else told me,” Boone said. “Hence, his humility. It was very evident when we played flag football that he still had it. I had to have my wedding ring resized when I mishandled one of his passes and cracked my finger. He could still rifle the football down the field. It will be my reminder of Dukes (that) I will carry for life.”

The entire community of fighter pilots lost a friend and ally in Spahr but their time with him is to be cherished and he will not be forgotten, according to Boone.

“He had it all and he is in God’s hands now,” Boone said. “I just am thankful I had the privilege to know him.”

Contributions may be made in Spahr’s memory to The John C. Spahr ’81 Memorial Fund at St. Joseph’s Prep School, 1733 West Girand Ave., Philadelphia, PA, 19130.

Donations to the “Spahr Fund,” established to support Spahr’s daughter, can be made at any Navy Federal Credit Union location worldwide. Donations can also be mailed to The Spahr Fund, P.O. Box 45151, San Diego, CA 92145.
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