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Discovery at Ohio military air museum offers closure to family of Vietnam-era Navy pilot

fighter jet MAPS air museum
Posted at 2:01 PM, Nov 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-11 16:02:56-05

GREEN, Ohio — Two Canton Township, Ohio natives are overjoyed to learn a fighter plane housed at a local museum has ties to their pilot brother, who went missing while flying a mission in the Vietnam War more than 50 years ago.

Barb Aman and Rich Schoeppner beam with pride as they look back at photographs of their older brother, Lt. Jack Schoeppner.

"He loved adventure. He loved speed," Aman said.

While his siblings admired Jack for his service to his country, most of their memories surround growing up with him in Canton Township.

Aman said her brother was a good guy, very smart and an Eagle Scout.

"He graduated at the top of his class at Central Catholic High School in 1961," Aman said.

Rich Schoeppner recalled the time that he accidentally rode a bicycle into a pool and struggled to get out until his brother saved his life.

"He meant the world to me," Rich Schoeppner said.

Lt. Jack Schoeppner got his "wings" as a Navy fighter pilot in 1966. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam and flew dozens of missions, according to relatives.

But on March 9, 1970, the F4 Phantom he was piloting along with Lt. Rex Lewis Parcels went down in the Gulf of Tonkin. They were reported as missing in action.

"Supposedly, where he went down is unrecoverable," Rich Schoeppner said.

Fifty-one years have passed. Both men are considered dead, but neither has been found.

"There's no closure when they don't come home," Aman said. "It's hard. I think your mind tells you that you know it's true, but your heart tells you something else."

The hope of finding any tangible connection to the fighter pilot faded over the decades. But then, something remarkable happened at MAPS Air Museum in nearby Green, Ohio.

The museum has a mission to preserve the history of military aviation.

"For me, it's the place for veterans to come back and feel it's a safe spot," said Valerie Kinney, one of the directors at MAPS.

In 2003, the Navy offered to loan the museum a 56,000-pound F4 Phantom fighter jet to MAPS. They gladly accepted.

Chops Schoeppner Phantom 1.jpeg

For 16 years, museum workers and volunteers didn't realize there was an amazing link between Jack Schoeppner and the fighter jet on display.

That all changed in 2019 when Rich Schoeppner began having conversations with people connected to MAPS. Thanks to Lt. Schoeppner's meticulous flight book, they realized that Jack had flown the jet that was on display at the museum.

"I was amazed. Totally surprising, couldn't believe it," Rich Schoeppner said.

Lt. Schoeppner's flight log indicated which jet he flew by serial number. He made notations before every takeoff and after each landing.

On March 6, 1970, three days before his death, Jack Schoeppner wrote in his book that he flew a jet with the serial number 155764 — the same number on the fighter now housed at MAPS.

For his family, it was an unbelievable coincidence — or perhaps, fate.

"We don't choose the planes. The planes choose us. For some reason, this plane was meant to be here," Aman said.

"He's finally coming home after 51 years," Rich Schoeppner added.

As it turns out, documents showed the jet at MAPS also went up to search for Schoeppner and Parcels when they disappeared on that fateful day in Vietnam in 1970.

The plane has since been restored, and the museum has added the words "Lt. Chops Schoeppner" on the canopy. "Chops" was Schoeppner's call sign.

Chops Schoeppner Phantom 4.jpeg

The insignia for Jack's squadron, the Freelancers, was also added to the back of the fighter.

"I couldn't ask for anything more," Rich Schoeppner said.

Chops Schoeppner Phantom 2.jpeg

But the museum indeed will do something more in the days following Veterans Day.

On Friday afternoon, a headstone will be dedicated in honor of Jack Schoeppner during a ceremony in the MIA section at Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman.

In addition, a dedication of the F4 Phantom in memory of Jack Schoeppner and Parcels will take place on Saturday from 3:00 to 7:30 p.m at MAPS.

"It's like he's coming home, and everybody will be able to remember his story," Aman said.

This story was originally published by Bob Jones on Scripps station WEWS in Cleveland.