NO. 17687 • 3 November 1927 – 6 November 2013
Died in Austin, TX
Interred in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, CA
Albert John Fern Jr. was born in San Diego, CA, the son of Albert John Fern Sr. and Dora Frances Fern. He was a second generation San Diegan with a proud military heritage. His grandfather Arthur Fern served in the Army and is buried at Presidio National Cemetery at San Francisco. His father was a Navy lieutenant commander; and his brother Paul Arthur Fern was a Navy lieutenant, who was killed in action in 1943 at age 27 while serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
Al attended San Diego High School, excelling in sports: quarterback of the JV football team, top in his weight class on the high school wrestling challenge board and annual medalist in the Southern California Interscholastic Federation Championships (SCIF). He won an individual championship, co-captained his team to the SCIF Team Championship and earned the title of all-time individual wrestling champion in 1945.
Al also demonstrated writing talent, serving as both a columnist and editor of the high school’s award-winning newspaper, theRuss. Writing was a skill he may have inherited from his uncle Charles Fern, an aviation pioneer who was editor and publisher of the Garden Island newspaper in Hawaii.
After graduating from high school, Al attended Boyden’s Prep School in San Diego and earned an at-large appointment to West Point for merit due to his cumulative performance in academics, athletics, and extra-curricular activities.
Al was a hard-working West Point cadet and a conscientious student who continued to excel in athletics. He was captain of the Academy’s intercollegiate wrestling team and achieved the rank of first sergeant of A-2 (affectionately known as “Runt Company”). He graduated in June 1950 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army as a member of a unique and distinguished class of peers.
Nineteen days after graduation, on June 25, 1950, the Korean War broke out while Al was still on graduation leave. He was called off leave early and assigned to the Second Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, WA. He served as an infantry platoon leader with his unit, which was among the first deployed to Korea.
Al fought valiantly in Korea, along with many of his classmates, and carried out his duties with bravery and distinction. He earned numerous combat awards and decorations, including the Silver Star Medal for valor, the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. Of his 670 fellow graduates from the class of 1950, 41 died in the Korean War and one was captured. Despite the devastating loss of cherished classmates who gave their lives defending people they didn’t know in a land they’d never seen, Al never lost sight of the fact that these precious sacrifices made possible the ultimate victory and triumphant outcome of freedom.
After returning from Korea (and promotion to first lieutenant), Al met and married Joan Eleanor Conn at the Presidio in San Francisco. He then trained to fly fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters and continued his service at home and abroad with a tour in Germany and two tours in Vietnam. He achieved the rank of colonel by his second Vietnam tour and commanded roughly 2,000 men in an Aviation Brigade that engaged in daily combat and supported the 101st Airborne Division in Southeast Asia.
Throughout his career, Al earned rank and respect as an Army aviator and leader. His assignments included posts at West Point, the Naval War College in Newport, RI, the Pentagon and many others, serving everywhere with dedication and distinction.
In addition to those named above, his awards included the Combat Infantry Badge, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Vietnamese Cross for Gallantry, more than 24 Air Medals and numerous Legions of Merit awards.
After his final post as Chief of Staff, Headquarters, Combat Development Experimental Center at Fort Ord, CA, Al retired from active duty in 1979 as a full colonel. He went on to work for Science Applications and General Dynamics and retired in 1991 from civilian work in San Diego. He remained there, living in his family’s longtime home in Mission Hills until age 84.
After suffering a stroke in 2012, Al moved to Austin, TX to be near his daughters Catherine Franklin and Charlene (Charlie) Fern. He remained in Austin until his death in November 2013 at age 86. Al was interred at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, CA, close to his brother, father, and mother. He is survived by his son, Paul, and daughters: Susan, Catherine, and Charlene.
Al is remembered as a man of keen wit, strong faith, and inherent leadership. He was an avid sportsman and outdoorsman who loved hunting, fishing, camping, travel, golf, tennis, music and the occasional afternoon nap.
What Al held closest to his heart - beyond his family and four children - were three words: Duty, Honor, Country. These words were more than an ideal, they were a way of life, which stood upon the bedrock of an abiding faith in God. He attended Point Loma Community Presbyterian Church, where his parents were founding members, and he steadfastly held to his beliefs, which brought him peace and comfort in the final years of his life.
For those who knew and loved Al, his life story is far bigger and brighter, far more meaningful than words printed on service ledgers and more powerful than dramatic accounts of military history. It is the timeless classic which tells us that in the end the hero may die, but the story lives on forever.
— Charlene (Charlie) Fern, proud and loving daughter