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.
In March 2021 the leadership of MCAS Miramar announced that it could no longer host the museum on the grounds of the base. The City of Irvine offered to host the museum in its original hangars at the closed MCAS El Toro, now called Great Park. The move of the aircraft and artifacts to Great Park is being overseen by Brigadier General Michael Aguilar, the Executive Director of the Flying Leatherneck HIstorical Foundation. The target date for opening the museum at its new location is August 2023.
The Foundation provides volunteers to restore historic aircraft and staff the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum. 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 regional, patriotically-themed essay contest for grades 6-12 is held each year.
Art Contest for 6-12 grades
A regional, patriotically-themed art contest for grades 6-12 is held each year. Winning artwork is put on display at the offices of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation and in a gallery on the website.
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.
CAPT Ronald G. Ress (JAGC, USNR - Retired)
Vice Chairman of the Board
Mr. Ress is Vice Chairman 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.
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.
Secretary of the Board
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.
Major Francis “Mike” Wifler (USMC-Retired)
Mike enlisted in the Marine Corps and served as a Field Radio Operator with a rifle company. He served a tour in the Republic of Vietnam where he was wounded. He later became a commissioned officer. Awarded: Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with combat ‘V‘ for Valor.
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
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.