Thoughts of Captain John Flinn on Memorial Day

It's another Memorial day today and my thoughts once again drift to my former cadet commanding officer Captain John Flinn.   We would first meet way back in 1959 when I “joined up” into the Will C. Crawford Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps which was an Army R.O.T.C. unit.   We wore out-of-date mud-brown World War II vintage uniforms made for real soldiers and we had to have our parents buy us black shoes if we did not have any already.  Many joined up because it was a ticket out of gym classes but many had their eyes on military careers in the near or distant future beyond college.

My company commander Cadet Captain John Flinn was among the latter who everyone knew was going to go places in the regular military someday.  None of the war surplus olive drab (OD) or kaki uniforms that the minions wore were for him.  On Thursday uniform days Captain Flinn was always dressed in a tailored officer’s OD uniform or gaberdine khakis with a permanent military press. He must have acquired his uniforms commercially which was fitting for his “Steve Canyon” general appearance and military bearing. 

For being a member of what we called the “chicken officer’s corps” in our R.O.T.C. unit; Flinn was what everyone thought of as being stern and demanding — but generally a regular guy.  Due to several of the kids moving away to other school districts; we were left with only me, Cadet Corporal Jagodinski being the only person remaining on Crawford’s four-person color guard which was in demand for many school and civic functions.   A mere sophomore at the time, I quavered when asked if I could take responsibility for Crawford’s military color guard.  Cadet Captain Flinn stepped into the situation and told me that I looked to be up to the task and that he would remain after school to help both me and others train for all of the marching and presentation circumstances that we would encounter.  

I was later promoted to “color sergeant” and the Will C. Crawford Color Guard would place second in the annual Field Day Competition involving all of the San Diego City Schools.  All four of the Crawford Color Guard members would receive plastic ribbons for service to the San Diego City Schools and to the surrounding community.  We marched in what seemed at the time to be endless parades — many of which do not exist any more.

Captain Flinn would enter my life again:  this time as an Air Force R.O.T.C. cadet at San Diego State.  Regular R.O.T.C. Captain Finn was the executive officer of the elite San Diego State Saber Air Force R.O.T.C. Drill Team comprised of about thirty marching individuals.  I tried out to make the team for about a period of two weeks whereupon, with Flinn’s coaching and assistance, I made it!
The San Diego State Sabers were flown around the country for various competitions and events.  We were awarded the Western United States Championship for drill competition with perhaps our best competitive moment being the winners for the “Best Drilled Platoon” trophy at the San Diego Marine Recruit Depot.  Staying in barracks wherever we went; at times it seemed that we really were in the military.   When President John F. Kennedy came to San Diego to speak at State's graduation ceremony, the Sabers were the honor guard.

The end of the school year came and the Sabers had a sort of going away party for the now Cadet Major Flinn and the other graduating seniors.  The seniors were off to Air Force careers which would take them to every corner of the globe.   It sounds sort of corny, but we all gathered by the light of the fireplace at the end of the evening and sang old songs.  There was a certain finality in the air as we all sang off key and said our goodbyes and tears still come to my eyes when I think of that last time when all of us were together.

United States Air Force Captain John Leroy Flinn was killed in action 2 July 1969 when his A-1 Skyraider aircraft was shot down during an attack at Muon Soui, Laos.

Rest in peace Captain Flinn

Ronald H. Jagodinski
Cadet Staff Sergeant  

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