MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- Dominic Jecker was drafted into the military 63 years ago during World War II. He was given a choice of services, chose the Marine Corps and was assigned as a chaplain’s assistant and the unit’s barber with the “Hell’s Belles”--a nickname given to then Marine Fighter Squadron 311 during World War II.
Throughout his time as a Marine, Jecker remembers spending time watching the Navy ships battle the Japanese kamikaze attacks from a vantage point on VMF-311’s air strip in Okinawa, taking refuge in underground tombs when a huge typhoon struck Okinawa, Japan, and saluting an officer who happened to be the movie star Tyrone Power.
Sixty-three years later, the 91-year-old former Hell’s Belles Marine, toured his former squadron’s hangar June 12.
His son, Mark Jecker, a TriWest Healthcare communication specialist, arranged the visit with VMA-311.
“I thought that the Marines of VMA-311 might enjoy meeting one of the surviving members of the original Hell’s Belles, said Mark Jecker. “My father was thrilled about the opportunity to visit.”
Jecker joined the Corps when he was 26-years old in 1943 and served until shortly after Japan surrendered in 1945. He served with the unit at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and the Marshall Islands in the North Pacific Sea. He also served with the occupation forces in Yokosuka, Japan, for a short time after World War II ended.
When Jecker was part of the squadron in World War II, the squadron destroyed 71 Japanese aircraft in their four-month invasion of Okinawa.
VMA-311 former commanding officer Lt. Col. Robert C. Kuckuk, guided the tour beginning with showing Jecker the AV-8B Harrier jets. Jecker was a Tomcat when the squadron flew propeller-driven F4U Corsairs.
Over the years, the aircraft changed and so did the squadron. Their role was shifted to a ground attack outfit.
“Speaking to a former Tomcat from any era is a real treat, but to shake the hand of a World War II Marine from VMF-311 is something I will never forget,” said Chief Warrant Officer-2 James B. McGeachy, VMA-311 avionics officer. “He was there and he was a member of this squadron when it began. Just being able to spend a little time with him was very special to me.”
McGeachy showed Jecker some of the new technology available on the AV-8B Harrier and got the opportunity to talk with him.
Jecker was amazed to learn the capabilities of the AV-8B Harrier and was surprised to hear how much the jets cost, said McGeachy.
“It was an honor for me to exchange stories,” McGeachy said.
Jecker was shown around the squadron hangar where photographs and memorabilia from VMA-311’s history are displayed.
“I think he really enjoyed seeing the Corsair photos on the walls around the squadron,” said McGeachy. “He even asked me if we had any of the old planes still around.”
“The veterans from World War II are the greatest generation of our time,” said Sgt. Maj. David W. West, VMA-311 sergeant major. “It was great to be able to meet and talk to a Marine who was part of this squadron 63 years ago.”
Jecker’s visit concluded with Kuckuk presenting him with some of the squadron’s original patches and T-shirts.
“There are few things that I am prouder of than my Marine Corps service,” said Jecker. “I am very grateful for the opportunity meet with the members of this unit and the chance to be able to reminisce with fellow Marines.”
Jecker thanked the Marines of VMA-311 for their service and reminded them that no matter what difficult situation they may find themselves they must have faith in God to get them through safely.
Marines value their heritage and hold traditions close. Hearing words of encouragement or receiving advice from a veteran means a lot, said McGeachy.
“We were honored to have been able to show him around the squadron today,” said Kuckuk. “It was just as much as a treat for us as it was for him.”