Marine Corps Pilot Celebrates 100th Birthday

Mark Foster (POF Pilot) poses with Major John Tashjian. Photo by Britt Dietz
Aircorps Art Dec 2019

This Saturday, Planes of Fame Air Museum (POF) will host the 100th birthday party of former Marine Corps aviator and World War II combat veteran Major John Tashjian.  The public is invited to join in the festivities! Museum doors open at 10:00am.  The party will run from 10:30am until 12:30pm. At noon the museum’s Corsair will take to the sky for a twenty-minute aerial demonstration.

The event will be more than just a birthday party, it will be a reunion between two old friends.  John Tashjian was born on July 10, 1921, and grew up in Oakland, California.  In 1942, with the country at war, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and became an aviator.  In 1944, Tashijan was assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron Four Four One (VMF-441) and took part in Operation Flintlock– the capture of the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Major John H. Tashjian Lt. Col. Ferrill A. Purdy 2016
Major John H. Tashjian Lt. Col. Ferrill A. Purdy in 2016. (photo via Planes of Fame)

The museum’s Vought F4U-1A, BuNo 17799, rolled off the Stratford, Connecticut assembly line on August 31, 1943, and eventually made its way to the southwest Pacific and took part in Operation Cartwheel.  Throughout its time in combat the aircraft was attached to VMF-217 and possibly VMF-213, 214, 215 and 216.  By 1944, it had been reassigned to VMF-441 Blackjacks where it also took part in Flintlock.  The Blackjacks flew hundreds of combat sorties during Flintlock, but only one that is germane to Saturday’s festivities at POF took place on June 10, 1944, when Tashijan was at the controls of 17799 during a combat air patrol over the task force.

Major John H. Tashjian Lt. Col. Ferrill A. Purdy 1944 1
Major John H. Tashjian (left) and Lt. Col. Ferrill A. Purdy (right) in 1944. (photo via Michel Spry)

Both the aircraft and the aviator would see the end of the war and both would return home to the United States.  Tashjian settled in the San Diego area, where he became a firefighter before following his true passion – zoology. He worked at several major zoos and became an expert in reptiles and amphibians.

After 17799 was stricken by the Navy it was purchased by MGM Studios in 1946 and relegated to a backlot where it fell into disrepair until Ed Maloney saved it in 1970.  The original Chino Kids, Steve Hinton and Jim Maloney returned it to flight in June 1977 after which it immediately joined the cast of the NBC series Baa Baa Black Sheep where it appeared in 11 of the 13 episodes of season two.  Over the years, it has performed regularly in airshows and other events, and will make its motion picture debut in the soon-to-be-released motion picture- DEVOTION. Read our article about the movie, published inside issue #91.

These two combat veterans will reunite this Saturday, July 10, 2021 beginning at 10:30am. The public is invited to take pictures as they reminisce about their time together seventy-seven years ago. For more information, visit



1 Comment

  1. Since those photographs were taken, Lt. Col. Ferrill A. Purdy died. Major Tashjian is presently hospitalized.

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