John Robert Schoeck
Final Flight on March 02, 2003
John Robert Schoeck
March 18, 1953 - March 02, 2003
Information Provided by David Schoeck
John Schoeck entered the Air Force at McGhee Tyson, TN. Air National Guard base for officer training and was commissioned in 1978. He then reported for flight school at Ft. Rucker, AL., graduating with the "yellow hat" group in Feb 1979. Then advanced helicopter training at Kirkland AFB, NM., before his regular assignment to the 106th Rescue Wing (ANG) at Gabreski Airport, NY. He left the ANG around 1983 and received his final discharge in 1990.
Friends Comments and Tribute To John Schoeck by his brother David Schoeck
"THE best pilot I have ever flown with..." John Robert Schoeck, Captain, 106 Rescue Wing (ANG), Westhampton Beach, NY (March 18, 1953 - March 2, 2003)
John Schoeck left us too early, suddenly dying of a heart attack when he was 49. Everyone who knew him agreed he was a solid family man, very successful entrepreneur and businessman and expert pilot. He was also a man of extreme integrity – the kind of guy who always told the truth even if you did not want to hear it. One of his business partners said at his funeral that a handshake with John was all that was required. A colonel from his Air National Guard outfit said he was one of the best pilots he ever met. They always matched less experienced pilots with John, particularly in rough flying weather.
Charlie Crawley, who flew C-141s on active duty and the HH-3E in the air guard said, "I flew with John and he was THE best pilot I have ever flown with...safety and knowledge, plus great hands, he was as smooth as they come! I miss him as a friend and a great stick to fly with; we had and have great flying memories to dwell on. Let me know any time you want to hear some!!! What a guy!!"
~ Tribute ~
This is part of my tribute on his flying career that was delivered on March 8, 2003 to a packed church at his funeral mass.
In the early 1970s, John developed the same interest as our Dad had in flying. He learned to fly out of the grass field at Spadaro in East Moriches, Long Island. He became very good at it and earned his license in minimum time. In the cockpit, he was a cool professional, always in control, always striving to perfection – touching down right on the numbers at airports like Brookhaven or Suffolk.
Right after he got his license, John asked me if I’d like to go up with him and, “get a feel for it.” Well, I wasn’t too sure. After all, this was my kid brother flying me in a small plane from a grass field? But we went on many rides together. He gave me lessons and let me take off a few times. I remember him sitting next to me. Very serious and patient. “Okay kid, airspeed up to 60, now pull back on the throttle and rotate. Gently. Now a slow bank to the left over the Sunrise Highway and potato fields heading over the bay and another turn as we headed east over the beach toward Montauk.” One time, I asked if I could land, but he said, “Kid, you’re not ready yet.” I think this was the point that I realized that John was no longer just my kid brother, but had broken out on his own.
In 1977, John called me and asked my advice about joining the local Air Guard unit as a rescue helicopter pilot. There was a pilot slot open and he was offered it. At the time he was 24, a speech therapist in the local school system and had earned a Master’s degree. In short, he had a good life with many friends and enjoyed flying on weekends. He would have to take 18 months off to train with guys several years younger as an officer and then flight school. Many people were advising him not to join the Air Force but I disagreed and reminded him of what our Dad had always said, “Opportunities appear like clouds. They seem to linger and never go away. The next thing you know, they’re gone. Forever.” I said that you’re single; this is something you want to do – take the shot.
As he did in his other endeavors, John excelled in the most difficult pilot training program in the world. He had no trouble mastering the transition from fixed-wing aircraft. He enjoyed the helicopter’s ability to take off and land vertically, to hover, and to fly forwards, backwards and laterally. His instructors noted that he was a natural pilot – really at ease in the air. When we went to his graduation at Fort Rucker in 1979, I spoke with a waitress at the Officer’s Club, a Vietnamese gal who said, “I see all kinds of hot shots come through here, but your brother is a real gentleman.”
John reported for duty at the 106th Rescue Wing (ANG) in Westhampton Beach, Long Island and flew the HH-3E Jolly Green rescue helicopter for years. The unit’s mission is combat search and rescue. During peacetime, the wing also provides search and rescue services to the maritime community and NASA. The motto of Air Rescue is, “So Others May Live.” Pilots like John and the Pararescueman often flew hazardous missions over the stormy North Atlantic pulling fishermen, sailors and other people in trouble to safety. Even though the crew on the “Perfect Storm” mission were his friends, John resisted seeing the movie at first. For him, aerial rescue was not theater, but required great skill and courage.
However, he did have one humorous incident. His was co-pilot on an urgent mission to fly a heart patient into Manhattan when the ceiling closed near Glen Cove. Air Traffic Control ordered them to circle over the area. Well, a big twin engine helicopter makes a lot of noise at a few hundred feet and it turned out they were orbiting directly over the Soviet mission to the UN! This was at the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and tensions were high. Next day, after the complaints were registered, the FBI questioned the entire crew. Of course they did nothing wrong but within the unit it became known as the, “red scare” mission. Years later, after detent, one of John’s friends was in Moscow at an aviation conference and met one of the former Soviet officials and they had a chuckle over the incident.
John remained an active pilot after he left the Guard and could often be seen in a Pitts or other small aircraft over the eastern end of Long Island. One of my favorite stories is when John and a friend flew a small plane from St. Martin to St. Barts in the Caribbean. St. Barts has one of the most difficult approaches and landings in the world – over a mountain, then dive the plane to the short 2,133 foot runway. If you don’t do it correctly, you will either hit the mountain or go in the ocean. Anyway, John did it and on the way across the channel saw a pod of whales. In all his years of flying, he rarely saw whales. But there they were; mothers and babies breaching as he flew over them. Sadly, this was his last flight – he died a few days later.
Many of our talks centered on aviation and although he was a highly rated fixed wing pilot, I think he enjoyed helicopters the best. This is an example of an email I received while heading to Germany:
Guten tag Herr Schoeck.
So what lessons did this vibrant, strong, loving guy leave us? Honesty. Integrity. Excel in all you do. Have a good, kind and generous heart. Always be there for your family and friends. We learned from him to take yourself seriously, but not too seriously. Treat all people with dignity and respect. Don’t be bashful about engaging with people at all levels and honestly expressing your feelings. Most of all put your family first.
I knew my brother pretty well, probably as much as anyone outside his immediate family. He would not want you to spend lots of time grieving for him, even though many of us will miss him very much. Rather, celebrate his zest of life. Try to learn from what he left us. I’ll close with the final stanza of the poem dedicated to my grandfather. I think he would agree that it would apply to his grandson.
Oh yes my man we love you well
And when on high, we’ll gladly tell
The angels there the joy you gave
And bless you too beyond the grave
I think that my brother, to use his own words is, “out of the U.S. and over the Atlantic on track whiskey just east of Gander N.F.” and in heaven right now. He’s probably debriefing my Dad and the others on all that has happened in the last thirty years. My Dad is probably enjoying hearing about what John had achieved in his brief 49 years, the flying, the business success and especially his family.
As one of his flying buddies said as we left the cemetery, “Happy Landings, old friend”
Comment in email from David regarding John's funeral.
The guard guys all showed up at his funeral; the commander, pilots, crew chiefs, PJ's. He was well liked and respected.
John Schoeck's Photos
Provided by David Schoeck
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