The plaster of paris jet Johnny Sax made for his dad, Steve, in the third grade is more precious to the former Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman than his two World Series rings and all the baseball awards he won in his nine years with the Dodgers.
“When he made that jet for me he said, ‘Dad, this is what I want to be, an aviator,’” Sax said. “I was the same age when I told my dad I wanted to be a major league baseball player.”
Sax pauses and shakes his head as he looks at the framed pictures of his son dressed in his U.S. Marine Corps uniform and flight gear. He still can’t believe Johnny’s gone.
It’s been over a year since his son and four other ace Marine pilots stationed at Camp Pendleton died in a training mission crash in the remote desert near Glamis, California. They were flying in an MV-22B Osprey – a hybrid airplane and helicopter.
“It was double engine failure,” Sax said. “They fell like a rock out of the sky. Never stood a chance.”
These men were the best of the best. On board that day was Capt. Nicholas Losapio, 31, designated by the Marine Corps as a “one in a generation” pilot. Far and away the best the Marine Corps had in training.
He was on track to become head pilot on Marine One, the call sign for the aircraft – usually a helicopter – carrying this country’s most precious cargo – the President of the United States.
We’ve all seen Marine One take off from the White House lawn with POTUS waving from the window. Godspeed.
“John was so proud,” Steve said. “Losapio had handpicked him to be his co-pilot on Marine One.”
That little third grade boy who made a plaster of paris jet for his ball-playing dad had come a long way to fulfilling his own dream.
“I’d sit in the stands at his Little League games, and watch as the pitcher was delivering the ball to home plate,” Steve said. “Johnny would be standing in the outfield looking up at the sky at a plane flying by.
“He’d come running in at the end of the inning and say, ‘Dad, did you see that C-130 going over?’ He knew how much it cost, what the pounds per torque and engine specs were. He was like a sponge. Relentless in his pursuit.”
John was assigned to the elite Purple Foxes at Camp Pendleton, the only Marine Corps squadron with a swear word as a moniker on its planes – “Give a s–t.”
It dated back to Vietnam when the opposite was too often the answer when supplies and morale was low. Not the Purple Foxes.
“If a ground unit requested help, who gave a s–t how hot the LZ (landing zone) was? Our brothers in arms needed assistance and we were there,” recounts Wally Krywko, who flew with the Purple Foxes in Vietnam.
His son fit right in with that attitude, Sax said. He came from a family of doers, not talkers. Steve’s father worked three jobs to give his family the life he thought they deserved, and Steve himself had to scrap and claw his way through the minor leagues into the majors.
Taking no for an answer was not a branch in their family tree.
“When he got to high school I helped him buy a car, but told him he’d have to come up with the insurance money and pay all the maintenance and repair bills himself,” Sax said.
“He must have walked into the local Safeway 10 or 15 times asking for a job every day. They finally got so tired of him coming in, they hired Johnny.
“That was my son. He never gave up. He was relentless.”
On Sunday, Nov. 5, there will be a luncheon at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to benefit the Captain John J. Sax Foundation. Anyone attending is free to tour the library, as well. If you’re a golfer, a tournament is scheduled earlier in the morning.
“We want to help people who have the same passion John had for aviation by offering scholarships and hardship grants,” Sax said. “Johnny was always looking to help younger pilots. I still feel his presence everyday I walk through the house.”
Past all the baseball awards and trophies to the centerpiece of his life – a plaster of paris jet.
For more information on the event or to make a donation, go online to johnnyourhero.org
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at [email protected].