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John O. Sommercamp, Sr

Company K-2

4 Feb 1939 – 18 Jun 2003

Place of Death: Sacramento, CA

Interment: Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery
Point Loma, San Diego County, California

John Owen Sommercamp, Sr died of a heart attack on Wednesday, June 18, 2003 in Sacramento, CA.  Services for John were held at 11:00 am on Saturday, June 28th at the Village Community Church (6225 Paseo Delicias) in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.  Reception at Marty's home followed the service.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to: Solana Beach Little League,  John Sommercamp Memorial Fund, at PO Box 181 in Solana Beach, California 92075; or Village Presbyterian Church,  Military Outreach Ministry,  John Sommercamp Memorial Fund at PO Box 704 in Rancho Santa Fe, CA  92067 [Provides support for the wives and families of service men and women overseas.]

Condolences may be sent to Marty Sommercamp at 1016 Santa Florencia, Solana Beach, CA  92075-8314, (858) 481-8314.

Saturday, 28 June, eleven 1961 classmates gathered in Rancho Santa Fe, CA to say good-bye to John.  It was a beautiful service of worship in thanksgiving for his life.  Members of the family gave moving tributes to him and we all can be proud of his legacy that remains with his wife, children, and grandchildren.  After the church service we attended a reception at the Sommercamp home in Solana Beach.

Standing: Goldtrap, Brady, Mucho, Randolph, Adams, Nevins, Zaldo.
Seated: Jones, Barry, Campbell, Brooks.


Class Memorial Pages\K-2 John Sommercamp.pdf

John, we all reported to the “man in the red sash” that second day of July 1957. Eight of us were assigned to the same squad in 2nd New Cadet Company. Among them were John Sommercamp, Ed Jones, Gene La Borne, Alan Lubke, Sam Marsh, Gabe Gabriel and two others. We learned how to do Squads Right, Right by Squads. We learned to help each other. We each had something to contribute. John, you impressed us all with his physical abilities, your musical interests and dogged determination. You were always upbeat. You were always ready to lend a hand. As all of us did, you lost some weight that summer, but you were already so solid that you did not have much to lose. Fortunately you found the Corps Squad tables when the academic year started and put it back on as you lettered in C Squad Football. Also with Reorganization Week, we parted ways as you headed to K-2 and I went to D-1. Over the next four years we would get thrown together on a class trip, at Camp Buckner or a football trip where I tagged along as a Cheerleader. John, my name may be Gabriel, but you were the man who blew the horn. Now the bugle will blow taps once more, but not from your lips. Be thou at peace as we grip hands through the shadows.


Assembly/Taps Memorial Article:

No. 23698 • 4 Feb 1939 -18 Jun 2003 • Died in Sacramento, CA. Cremated

John Owen Sommercamp's life was notable for continual service to others - his family, his classmates, his military comrades, his many friends, and total strangers. John personified the code of Air Force Air Sea Rescue, "That others may live." Born to Margaret and Peyton Sommercamp in Redlands, CA, John had one younger sibling, Jo Ann. John grew up in Beaumont, CA, and graduated from Beaumont High School, where his academic accomplishments were complemented by even greater achievements on the football and baseball fields. In 1956, his athletic prowess as a running back for the Beaumont High School "Cougars" was recognized with a first team selection to the All Southern California Football Team. Aggressive recruitment for college-level football programs followed, with Stanford and West Point emerging as leading contenders. With the influence of Coach Earl "Red" Blaik, West Point won this recruiting battle.

John entered West Point in July 1957 with the Class of 1961. Many years after graduation, John questioned classmates as to whether he had ever officially entered West Point and, therefore, might be serving under false pretences. With typical wit, he argued that continual interruptions from numerous upperclassmen on the first day of Beast Barracks prevented him from ever completing the required report: "Sir, New Cadet Sommercamp reports to the First Sergeant of Second New Cadet Company for the first time as ordered." Throughout his cadet years in K-2 and for the rest of his life, John was always cheerful, outgoing, reliable, and tenacious. When a Plebe year knee injury ended his football playing career and his dream of scoring in an Army-Navy game, John continued to actively participate in football as a coach for the Army B Squad team. John shared his musical talent, singing in both the Cadet Glee Club and the Chapel Choir. Those who experienced John's amiable nature and knew him well at West Point would remain his lifelong friends.

John was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force and initially assigned to study meteorology at New York University. Typical of John's kindness to strangers was his insistence on visiting an NYU cafeteria worker who had been scalded in an accident. John knew her only from the cafeteria line but went to see her in the hospital and, of course, cheered her up. Also, during his time at NYU, John indulged his love of trains and took a three-day train trip home over the Christmas break. Next in his developmental training, John earned Navigator Wings at James Connolly Air Force Base in Waco, TX. Subsequent assignments with the Military Airlift Command involved continual C-130 supply missions between the U.S. and Viet Nam. John particularly disliked the return flights when his C-130 transported the remains of fallen comrades. Beginning in late 1966, John's flight missions became more challenging and much, more dangerous. Flying out of Da Nang with the crew of an HU-16 Albatross, John's beat was Yankee Station off the coast of North Viet Nam. The mission was to rescue downed airmen. One memorable day, his crew made a water landing in Haiphong harbor and picked up a downed Air Force pilot. Under fire from shore batteries, they taxied for about a mile across the harbor to pick up a downed Navy pilot. Except to admit that missions such as this made him a bit nervous, John related little about this event for which he was awarded one of two Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroic duty in Viet Nam.

In 1971, John earned his MBA from San Diego State University, which led to several assignments with the Air Force Systems Command. Of note was his service as project manager for anti-satellites in the Space Division of Systems Command. In 1981, John retired from the Air Force and he and his family moved to Solana Beach, CA.

John was blessed with a close and supportive family. His mother, father, and sister came to West Point for Plebe Christmas in 1957. In a 1963 Long Beach, CA, ceremony, John married Marty Cleveland, a "Navy brat." 'That same year, John's sister Jo Ann extended the West Point connection, marrying Neil Nydegger '62. John and Marty had two sons, John, Jr. and James. John was very proud of his sons and particularly their athletic achievements. He enthusiastically related to friends John's soccer achievements and James' football and baseball accomplishments. John also spent countless hours coaching sports for John, Jr., James and their friends. His sons remember John as follows:

"There are many great men in life, great for different reasons. Dad was great because he had character. Not character in the sense of personality, although he certainly did have plenty of that. His character was de fined by what was within. He lived a good life. He did the right things. ‘That was really the only option in his book - to always do the right thing. 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ he would say. It's what he lived by. He instilled that in his sons, his friends and his family. He was rarely mean, mostly nice. He was kind and soft and willing to listen. He was responsible and a hard worker. His morals and his values were second to none. He rarely faltered, and he seldom failed to achieve any goal. Strange that we never saw him really fail, for failure is something that most of us frequently encounter. Sure he had his shortcomings, but out-and-out failure was seldom experienced by our Dad. The reason for this, we believe, was simple: one does nor often fail if one is truly trying to do the right thing."

In June of 2003, John made a trip to Sacramento to visit his sons and their families. While on that trip, he died suddenly and unexpectedly from a cardiac arrhythmia. Fortunately, he had happily spent the previous day playing with his grandchildren and enjoying time with his sons.

John, your family and many friends miss you and your classmates salute you. Well done. Be thou at peace.

-Ed Jones, Ken Siegenthaler, Larry Noble, Neil Nydegger, Gene Witherspoon, and Don Lionetti