The loss of a legend

  • Published
  • By Maj. Nancie Margetis
  • 183d Fighter Wing
It was a sad day December 20th when long-time member and one of the original members of the unit, James A. Prokopp died at the age of 94 here in Springfield.

Retired as a Chief Master Sgt., Prokopp joined the Army Air Corp Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He separated from the Army Air Corp in Nov. 1945 and enlisted in the newly created 170th Fighter Squadron Sept. 1, 1948 and was the first enlisted member of the squadron. He participated in the federal activation to George AFB during the Korean War in 1951 and was activated (at home station) for the Cuban Missile crises in 1961.

He was very involved with the unit from its inception, and more recently by attending the 60th anniversary celebration and the 2008 Christmas party. He spent his entire career with the unit in maintenance, retiring as the NCOIC of the Organizational Maintenance Branch in 1977.

I remember the first time I met Chief Prokopp recalls Chief Master Sgt. Hergenrother, 183rd Command Chief Master Sgt., "It was in 1973 when I first moved to Maintenance Control. Being a chief, with all those stripes, and they way he carried himself, you could tell he knew what he was doing and that he was running the show.

And I remember he was sincerely a nice guy--very energetic, always on the move and always with a smile on his face. He was extremely knowledgeable about aircraft maintenance. It seemed like he was always at the big table when decisions were being made."

The chief was regarded as an expert in the aircraft maintenance field. His entire 170th FS and 183rd FW military career was spent in aircraft maintenance where he served as a crew chief, flight chief, quality assurance inspector and the Organizational Maintenance Branch Chief.

Retired Lt. Col. Lee Spradlin worked with Prokopp when Lee was an enlisted technician in aircraft maintenance. "Jim was extremely dedicated to the 183rd in every way. He was a people-person and sincerely liked everybody. He was an intelligent man was especially knowledgeable of the F-84. When there were any questions on aircraft related issues, people went to see Jim."

Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Baer first met Chief Prokopp in Nov. of 1975 just out of technical school as a crew chief. At that time Jim was in-charge of the Organizational Maintenance Squadron. His first impression of Jim was a very kind and sincere person who was interested in the welfare and morale of his troops. "Always soft spoken but firm when he had to be - Jim was well respected by all."

Retired Col. Robert Murphy was frequently visited by Prokopp while Col. Murphy was the Wing Commander. "Both Jim and Virginia were two of the nicest people I have ever known. Jim always had a smile on his face and a quick story or memory of an event that he could recall that made you see the brightest side of any issue or circumstance. Jim Prokopp was one of the best. I will always remember him as a dedicated member of the 183rd and a true gentleman."

One of his most valued accomplishments was being one of the founding members of the Air National Guard Non-commissioned Officer Academy Graduate Association where he was an active member during his enlistment and well into his retirement.

Prokopp was a lifetime member of the Springfield, IL Chapter 75 Non Commissioned Officer Academy Graduate Association. Even after retirement from the 183rd in 1977, Jim stayed active with the association and attended the National Seminar every year when possible. In July 2007, Jim celebrated his 90th birthday during the national seminar that Chapter 75 hosted at the Springfield Hilton. Retired Master Sgt. Theresa Snyder remembers that time well, "What an honor it was for us all to have been able to celebrate this milestone with him."

In July of 2008, Jim and three other association members drove an RV to the national seminar in Knoxville, TN. Snyder recalls that trip, "What a time that was. Jim was a great riding companion and entertained us with stories of long ago. He had a wonderful memory. On the first morning of the trip we couldn't find him. Since he was 91 we all worried about him and the first day of the seminar when we were waiting around to leave for our meetings we couldn't find Jim.

"Of course we all thought the worst and were afraid that the trip may have been too much for him. We were to the point of having the hotel open his room when we found out that he had been up and gone at 6 a.m. to hang out with his other retired NCOAGA buddies over breakfast. That was such a memorable trip. What a wonderful person and what a great loss for his family and the NCOAGA. Jim will be greatly missed."

Janice Kirk, Chief Prokopp's daughter sent a heartfelt thank you to unit members regarding her father's funeral. Her words gracefully sum up what the unit meant to her father and their family:

"Everyone from the Guard, current members and retirees, went out of their way to express appreciation for what dad had done to enhance the experience of those he encountered at the Guard. Several people commented that as children they had enjoyed a tour of the facility with dad doing his favorite thing, showing off 'his planes'.

"Dad lived and breathed the 183rd. It was more than a job to him -- it was a way to reach out to the wider community and let them see what wonderful men and women served them. He looked forward to the monthly gathering of the retirees for breakfast, and was always anxious to attend the NCO Grad Association conventions.

"I want everyone associated with the unit to know what they meant to Dad. Thank you all for your care and support during this difficult time."

Col. Michael Meyers, wing commander, gracefully sums it up. "The 183rd would not be what it is today if it were not for Jim Prokopp. He insured that the unit got off to the right start and that things were done right during his almost thirty years of service. And in all of his over thirty years of retirement, he continued to affect the unit in a very positive manner. We are very lucky indeed that James A. Prokopp, Jr. was the first person to join what has become the 183rd. It has been honor to know him and serve in the unit in which he was so instrumental."

Chief Jim Prokopp was one in a million, and the unit was fortunate to have been blessed with his dedication. He will be truly missed. Memorial in his honor may be made to Alzheimer's Association or St. Martin de Porres.