Squadron 10 Learns About Its Namesake
by Captain Alice Mansell,
Public Affairs Officer,
On Tuesday, September 15, 1998, Colonel Jim Bigelow from CAP’s Pacific Region came to Squadron 10 for a talk and a slide show about Jon Kramer, known by his friends as “JK.” Colonel Bigelow first met JK in 1968 at the San Carlos Airport wash rack. JK, a Palo Alto native, was a college student at Santa Clara University and an Army National Guardsman who wanted to fly fighters for the Navy. He knew the Navy used T-34’s for primary training and if he did well at that, he would have a chance at fighters. The San Carlos CAP Squadron, #110 then, had an interest in T-34’s.
Every weekend JK would be out at the wash rack asking Squadron 110 members about the CAP T-34 they borrowed from a Squadron at Hamilton AFB. “How do you get in it?” “Could I sit in it?” After a short while, he joined CAP, earned his pilot license flying with CAP instructors, and started to learn how to be a mission pilot from CAP pilots, many of whom had flown in the then ongoing Vietnam War.
Back then, CAP searches for missing aircraft were much longer than they are today. There were no ELT’s, radar data, or weather satellite photos to reduce the search area. Almost every week, a huge search was underway in the state. Nearly every weekend there was a practice or actual search JK was there flying or helping at the search base. He wanted to master the T-34 to be ready for Navy training and be the most professional pilot he could be.
On April 17, 1970, Mr. Charles Cehr, his wife, and a family friend went missing in a Cessna 172 returning to Fresno from a ski trip in Mammoth Lakes. CAP started a huge search and Mr. Cehr’s many pilot friends joined in the effort as private searchers. One weekend there were over 3,000 search personnel: CAP, all the military helicopters from NAS Lemoore and El Toro, and the private pilots. Five planes went missing during the search over some of the highest mountains in the state. Some were found quickly, but two were not.
On May 8, the Cehr plane was found, but not before a non-CAP search plane piloted by two Fresnans went missing on May 2. On Saturday, May 9 JK and a fellow Squadron 110 member Tony Pena, flew to the search base. As JK told his grandfather with whom he was scheduled to go on a fishing trip that day, “I can’t sit around fishing when someone is out there. If I were down, they’d be looking for me, so I’m going out to look for them.” He took a rain check on the fishing trip.
Col. Bigelow was the Mission Coordinator at the Fresno base that weekend. For their search sortie on Saturday morning JK and Pena took the newly overhauled, repainted, and refurbished T-34 owned by Squadron 110. It had only 60 hours on it since the overhaul. Over a high Sierra lake still frozen solid, the T-34 encountered an unexpected layer of heavy turbulence caused by a temperature inversion. The plane was slammed into the top of the bowl above the lake and tobogganed down. JK was killed instantly and Pena had to wait a day for rescue because the winds that afternoon and night were too strong for all search planes, including a military C-130 that tried to help.
Just three days before the crash, JK had received his Navy acceptance papers for flight training at Pensacola. Less than a month later he was scheduled to graduate from Santa Clara University with honors. The university graduated him posthumously.
JK’s family, his Squadron 110 friends, and others decided to refurbish another T-34 in his memory. Col. Bigelow and another CAP member had the Navy drop them at the crash site that summer to salvage parts in the highest altitude Navy helicopter salvage effort then to date. They took out most of the aircraft, including the engine, most of the canopy and insides, and the control surfaces. The parts were installed in N110JK which flew on CAP searches, cadet orientation rides, and other CAP activities through seven engine overhauls.
Col. Bigelow ended his talk to Squadron 10 by giving us a framed photo of N110JK that had been owned by JK’s grandparents, JK’s E6B flight computer and plotter that he had with him when he died, and photo’s from one of JK’s last CAP missions.
In 1974, a newly formed CAP unit at the Palo Alto Airport chose Jon Kramer as its namesake.