The original Foundation was established in 1989 at MCAS El Toro. When Base Realignment closed El Toro in 1999, a group of retired Marines from San Diego, led by Major Generals Bob Butcher and Frank Lang, formed the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation and moved the aircraft and artifacts to MCAS Miramar.
The Foundation provides volunteers to restore historic aircraft and staff the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum so it is open to the public six days per week. It also provides funds and materials to support the restoration and maintenance of historical aircraft and artifacts, offers educational programs, preserves oral histories and hosts military service awards and ceremonies.
The Foundation and its University of San Diego partner host workshops for San Diego County teachers. The workshops fill a gap in teacher training. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 12% of America’s high school seniors are “proficient” in U.S. History. Surveys of educators indicate teacher resources are badly needed.
Essay Contest for 6-12 grades
A San Diego County-wide patriotically-themed essay contest for grades 6-12 is held each year.
Art Contest for 6-12 grades
A San Diego County-wide patriotically-themed art contest for grades 6-12 is held each year. Winning artwork is displayed at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum.
Marine Wife Recognition Award
A Marine Wife is recognized annually with a plaque and stipend for outstanding service and dedication to her community, her family and the Marine Corps.
Distinguished Service Award
Periodically an American citizen is recognized for his or her service to the nation. In 2018, Major General Charles F. Bolden, Jr., USMC aviator, patriot, astronaut and NASA administrator was recognized with the award.
Patrick Ball has devoted his career to Education. For over 27 years Patrick served the non-profit sector in various capacities at the Gemologicial Institute of America (GIA) with a career spanning public speaking, project management to public relations liaison.
CAPT Ronald G. Ress (JAGC, USNR - Retired)
Vice Chairman of the Board
Mr. Ress is the CFO/Treasurer of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation, and a valued member of the executive management team. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Government and International Relations from New York University in 1965, and a Doctor of Laws from Cornell University in 1968. He completed his military service as the senior Naval Reserve Judge Advocate in Europe and retired with the rank of Captain in 2005 with numerous awards.
Treasurer of the Board
Patrick Towle is a CPA in private practice. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance from San Diego State University. In 1996, Mr. Towle received his Master of Science in Accountancy, also from San Diego State. He is the son and brother of Marine Aviators.
Lt. Col. Joe Bassi, PhD (USAF-Retired)
Joseph P. (Joe) Bassi, Assistant Professor of Arts and Sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University/Worldwide, completed his PhD in History at the University of California, Santa Barbara in June 2009. A retired US Air Force officer with twenty-six years of active duty, After retirement from active service, Professor Bassi served as a space policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense while working for the Aerospace Corporation.
Col. John Farnam (USMC-Retired)
John served 26 years in the Marine Corps as a Weapons and Sensors Officer flying the FA-18D. He flew numerous combat sorties in Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo and Iraq. John was a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron Instructor and selected as the Marine Corps Aviation Naval Flight Officer of the Year in 1998. He served as the Commanding Officer of Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron -533 (VMFA(AW)-533) and as a Colonel was the Commanding Officer of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Retiring from the Marine Corps in 2015 he is now the Vice President for Business Operations at Receptos.
Patricia Laubach has dedicated more than 30 years to helping organizations define goals, track and increase customer satisfaction, perform internal service audits and launch new products and services. For nearly a decade she also was a highly rated instructor at the University of San Francisco (Orange County Division) where she taught courses in marketing and in evaluation
Rear Admiral Lou Smith (USN-Retired)
Lou Smith is a career naval officer in the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps. He completed three tours in Vietnam, supervising construction of combat facilities for the Marines. Later in his naval career, he was sent to Washington, DC where he worked with the Department of Defense and Congress on military base construction projects. He retired from the Navy in 2000 as a two-star Admiral, directly responsible for more than 360 major naval bases throughout the world.
Sergeant Major Michael Zacker (USMC-Retired)
Mike is a highly decorated and accomplished Marine whose illustrious worldwide career on land, sea and air spanned two wars retiring after thirty years of service. Today he continues to serve though volunteering American Red Cross, and the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program.
Robert “Bob” Cramsie is a career aerospace maintenance and manufacturing technician. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation Technology from Everglades University and a Masters of Aeronautical Science with an emphasis on Human Factors in Aviation Systems from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Today, he is currently a volunteer in charge of restoration of the Douglas SBD-1 Dauntless that is the pride of the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum.
CAPT Bill O'Connor
Captain Bill O’Connor began his military service in 1969 when he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He earned his Naval Flight Officer (NFO) wings 1971, and became a Bombardier/Navigator in the A-6 Intruder.
Lieutenant Colonel Richard "Touch" Toettcher (USMC-Retired)
Richard (Touch) Toettcher was commission a 2nd Lt in Oct.1963. His first duty assignment after being designated a Naval Aviator was with MAG-36 at MCAS Tustin, serving with HMM-363,263, and 361. After a distinguished career “Touch” retired from the Marine Corps in 1986.
“Ex Officio” Members
Christopher Van Stelle
Christopher is the new Museum Director, as well as the Director of the MCAS Miramar Air Show. He is Vice President of the Southwest Council of Air Shows, a Regional Council of the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) and consults on numerous aviation events around Southern California each year
Steve "Smitty" Smith
Steve “Smitty” Smith is the Curator of the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum. Initially as a volunteer in 1994 in the restoration section he joined FLAM full-time in 1999 as Museum Librarian subsequently promoted to Asst. Curator in 2001 and as Curator in 2009.Smitty served in the United States Marine Corps from 1979 to 1999. He retired as a Staff Sergeant and Motor Transport Operations Chief at MCAS El Toro.
Jon H. Epsten
Jon is a valued member of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation’s team and founding shareholder in the law firm of Epsten Grinnell & Howell, APC. Jon works on behalf of community associations encompasses providing advice on all types of corporate matters.