GREEN, Ohio — Two Canton Township natives are overjoyed to learn a fighter plane housed at a local museum has ties to their pilot brother who went missing while flying a mission in Vietnam more than 50 years ago.
Barb Aman and Rich Schoeppner beam with pride as they look back at photographs of their older brother, Jack Schoeppner.
Aman displayed pictures of Jack Schoeppner when he received his "wings" as a fighter pilot in the Navy, after his first solo flight in 1966, and another photo showing him on board the USS Ranger.
"He loved adventure. He loved speed," Aman said.
While his siblings admired Jack for his service to his country, most of their memories surround growing up with him in Canton Township.
Aman said her brother was a good guy, very smart and an Eagle Scout.
"He graduated at the top of his class at Central Catholic High School in 1961," Aman said.
Rich Schoeppner recalled the time that he accidentally rode a bicycle into a pool and struggled to get out until his brother saved his life.
"He meant the world to me," Rich Schoeppner said.
Lt. Jack Schoeppner served two tours of duty in Vietnam and flew dozens of missions, according to relatives.
But on March 9, 1970, the F4 Phantom he was piloting along with Lt. Rex Lewis Parcels went down in the Gulf of Tonkin. They were reported as missing in action.
"Supposedly, where he went down is unrecoverable," Rich Schoeppner said.
Fifty-one years have passed. Both men are considered dead, but neither has been found.
"There's no closure when they don't come home," Aman said. "It's hard. I think your mind tells you that you know it's true, but your heart tells you something else."
The hope of finding any tangible connection to the fighter pilot faded over the decades, but then something remarkable happened at MAPS Air Museum in Green.
The museum has a mission to preserve the history of military aviation.
"For me, it's the place for veterans to come back and feel it's a safe spot," said Valerie Kinney, one of the directors at MAPS.
In 2003, the Navy offered to loan a different 56,000-pound F4 Phantom to MAPS, which gladly accepted.
However, for 16 years museum workers and volunteers didn't realize there was an amazing link between Jack Schoeppner and the fighter jet on display.
In 2019, that all changed when Rich Schoeppner began having conversations with people connected to MAPS and the group started to realize that Jack had flown that jet as well.
"I was amazed. Totally surprising, couldn't believe it," Rich Schoeppner told News 5.
The family had proof from the meticulous flight book Jack Schoepper kept, indicating which jet he flew by serial number. He made notations before every takeoff and after each landing.
On March 6, 1970, three days before his death, Jack Schoepper wrote in his book that he flew a jet with the serial number 155764, the same number on the fighter now housed at MAPS.
For his family, it was an unbelievable coincidence, or perhaps fate.
"We don't choose the planes. The planes choose us. For some reason, this plane was meant to be here," Aman said.
"He's finally coming home after 51 years," Rich Schoeppner added.
As it turns out, documents showed the jet at MAPS also went up to search for the Jack Schoeppner and Parcels when they disappeared on that fateful day in Vietnam in 1970.
The plane has since been restored and it has the words "Lt. Chops Schoeppner" on the canopy. Chops was his call sign.
The word "freelancers" is also near the back of the fighter, a tribute to his squadron group.
"I couldn't ask for anything more," Rich Schoeppner said.
But something more is indeed being done in the days following Veterans Day.
On Friday afternoon, a headstone will be dedicated in honor of Jack Schoeppner during a ceremony in the MIA section at Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman.
In addition, a dedication of the F4 Phantom in memory of Jack Schoeppner and Parcels will take place on Saturday from 3:00 to 7:30 p.m at MAPS.
"It's like he's coming home and everybody will be able to remember his story," Aman said.