Westborough – Westborough recently named James J. Tepper as its 2018 Memorial Day Parade grand marshal.
Tepper began his 28-year military career in 1964 when he enlisted in the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course, aviation option, while attending Springfield College. He was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant at graduation in 1967 and went on to 16 months of flight training in Pensacola, Fla. He was awarded his wings, designating him a naval aviator, in late 1968 and was assigned to California for training in the CH-46 helicopter.
In 1970, following a one-year east coast assignment for further training, he received orders to join the 1st Marine Air Wing in Vietnam. He was assigned to a Composite Marine helicopter squadron stationed on and flying from a helicopter carrier. The squadron included all four of the helicopters in the Marine Corps inventory at that time – from Cobras to heavy transport CH-53s.
The carrier, the USS Iwo Jima, was part of a four-ship Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) operating off the North and South Vietnam coast. The MAU was tasked with conducting missions supporting ground troops and providing incursion, recovery and resupply activity in concert with the reinforced company of Marines aboard the MAU ships including major operations Chu Long 44 and Lamson 719 in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1971.
In addition to duties as a squadron pilot and flight section and division leader, Tepper served as a maintenance check pilot and squadron safety officer. His tour ended in June 1971 and he returned to the U.S. and was discharged from active duty.
Following his return home, he moved his wife and two sons to his hometown of Northampton, Mass., and went to work at the University of Massachusetts. While there, he was encouraged by friends to join HML-771, a Marine Corps Reserve Squadron stationed at NAS South Weymouth, south of Boston. The squadron was flying the H-1 (Huey) helicopter, much smaller than the CH-46 he had flown on active duty, but he soon became comfortable with that.
This squadron was assigned with many tasks over the years, including support of ground Marines stationed in Worcester and Cape Cod, administrative support of VIPs throughout New England, participating in air shows around New England, and medical/emergency missions.
One notable example was flying the entire week following the blizzard of ’78 throughout southeast Massachusetts and Rhode Island, collecting stranded folks and ferrying many to hospitals for needed treatment. As the squadron was staying ready for deployment as needed, annual training for the squadron found them in Florida, California, Canada, Maine and North Carolina, among other locations. Each of these training periods required the ferrying of the helicopters and crews which was an experience of its own.
In 1992, Tepper, a lieutenant colonel, was assigned as the commanding officer of MABS-42, a support squadron whose mission was to establish and maintain forward air bases to support flight operations. He continued to fly with his old squadron until his retirement in 1996.
In 1977, he moved the family to Westborough, where he remains. His wife of 44 years, Alice, passed away of Alzheimer’s in 2012. His son Chuck, a Marine veteran lives in Pennsylvania with his family, and son Steve lives in Shrewsbury with his family.