Paul J. Fontana Major, U.S. Marine Corps Commanding Officer, VMF-112
Semper Fi General... (1912-1997)
"Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and sternness." - The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Leadership is the essence of an organization. And no leader could have helped formed the Wolf Pack better than Paul Fontana.Born 27 November 1911 near Florence, Italy, Paul Fontana was raised in Sparks, Nevada. He received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Nevada. Commissioned into the Marine Corps 6 July 1936, Lieutenant Fontana served the early stages of his career as a ground officer until designation as a Naval Aviator in January of 1940. Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Fontana stood up Marine Fighter Squadron 112 in San Diego, California. The squadron soon departed for the Solomon Islands where Major Fontana would lead his men into battle at Guadalcanal.A designated "Ace" in his own right, with five aerial victories, Fontana would receive the Navy Cross for gallantry as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross. Upon completion of his command of VMF-112, Fontana would serve as an operations officer with the Tenth Army at Okinawa. For his efforts there, he was awarded the Silver Star. Post-World War II commands included CO of MAG-33 during the Korean War. Later he would command MAG-13. Rising to the grade of Major General, Fontana also commanded MCAS Cherry Point as well as the Second Marine Aircraft Wing (MCAS Cherry Point) and the First Marine Aircraft Wing (Vietnam). Other significant tours included command of the Education Center at Quantico and Deputy Commander, FMF Pacific.
Following retirement 30 June 1973, General Fontana and wife, Beth, retired to New Bern, North Carolina where he served on the Board of Directors for Nations Bank and Carolina Telephone & Telegraph. Additionally, General Fontana served as a Past National Commander of the Marine Corps Aviation Association.In addition to the Navy Cross and DFC, General Fontana was also the recipient of the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Air Medal, and Navy Commendation Medal.Major General Fontana died in New Bern, North Carolina during March of 1997 at the age of 85. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. During grave side remarks at his burial, longtime friend and former Navy chaplain, Monsignor Paul F. Bradley, hypothesized what Jesus must be saying to Fontana as he arrived at the Pearly Gates: "Paul, well done. Mission accomplished. You served your Lord well. You served your family well. You served your country well. And you especially served your Corps well. Good job my son. Come on in Paul, we've been waiting for you.
Many tributes to Fontana have come to light since his passing. A couple are worthy of passing here...
Former Wolf Pack pilot, Colonel James Johnson, USMC (Ret) remembers his first combat mission, which was led by then-Major Fontana. "Flying from Henderson Field we were ordered to strafe Japanese destroyers coming down the 'Slot' in the Solomon Island chain. Flying an F4F Wildcat inbound to the target, periodic tastes of bile served notice that the proverbial knot in my stomach was getting bigger. I had total lacing of fear within me. Fortunately I was a section leader in the forward flight led by Major Fontana. My position left the remainder of my squadron mates behind me. As much as I suddenly and shamefully wanted to turn and drop back, I couldn't. My sense of pride was just too big to let fear take total control of me. Also, I couldn't let my CO (Commanding Officer) or squadron mates down. So I stayed with the skipper [Fontana] and went into my first battle."Expounding on the virtues of his CO, Johnson relates, "Major Fontana was a remarkable leader. Interestingly enough, he did not really have that much more flight experience than the rest of nuggets he was leading. This is just one more testament to his greatness. The skipper led us in [to attack] three destroyers like he had been doing this all his life. Fearless leadership in the face of adversity."A special fraternity exist among those who have met and survived the challenges of combat. It is a bond that must be experienced to be fully appreciated. The respect for Paul Fontana among his men was universal.
Henry Hunter, who served as an enlisted man with the Wolf Pack at Guadalcanal relates a story about his esteemed commander, Paul Fontana: "In 1967, seventeen of us ex-ordnancemen from VMF-112 had a two day reunion at a ski lodge off the Pennsylvania Turnpike to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Guadalcanal. On the first afternoon we were sitting around tapping a keg of beer, renewing old friendships, and playing 'whatever happened to so-and-so?' Of course Paul Fontana's name was one of the first to come up. Someone (I think it was Bud Hynde), brought us up to date. He [Fontana] was a major general, was in charge of all [Marine Corps] schools and training programs, and was based three to four hours away at Quantico. And he just might join us! While we all laughing at that improbability, a man in a sports shirt and slacks opened the door and said 'Hi fellows, I'm Paul Fontana.' We were dumb struck! He spoke to us after dinner that night about Vietnam, then asked if there were any questions. The first one that had occurred to all was: Here was a small group of aging ex-enlisted men a quarter of a century later. Why had he come? He answered by listing all the commands he had had in his career and finished with, 'I came here because you were the best command I ever had.' That did it! A dry eye would have been lonely. But that was the essence of Paul Fontana, wasn't it? Above and beyond in every respect. "It has been many years since Guadalcanal and the formation of Marne Fighter Squadron 112 but the legacy of the squadron and its beloved commander endures. It was born over a half century ago when a special man assembled a group of young untested warriors and took them off to war in the South Pacific. Drawn to each other by service to country and Corps, the Wolf Pack epitomized loyalty, honor, integrity and, most of all, the consummate professionalism Paul Fontana had instilled in them.