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Honoring Our Heroes

Col James Edwin Salminen: Age 79

Colonel James Edwin Salminen is a United States veteran who served 27 years in the U.S. Air Force, and his Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) was pilot and pilot-commander. He flew fighters and interceptors including the F-101 and F-102 interceptors as well as the RF-101 reconnaissance fighters, F-100 fighter and four models of the F-111, swing-wing fighter. In Vietnam, he few 183 RF-101 combat missions including 100 of them over North Vietnam. Col Salminen served as a Squadron Commander at RAF Lakenheath, England, and as Commander of the 27th Tactical Fighter Wing at Cannon Air Force Base (AFB) NM and its one hundred F-111D aircraft. His awards and medals are: the Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, four Meritorious Service Medals, 14 Air Medals, Presidential Unit Citation, Outstanding Unit Award, Combat Readiness Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Air Force Overseas Ribbon for Short Tour, Air Force Overseas Ribbon for Long Tour, Air Force Longevity Ribbon, Small Marksmanship Arms Ribbon and the Air Force Training Ribbon.

Col Salminen was born July 3, 1941, at Greenport, NY, to his parents, Edwin F. Salminen and Genevieve B. Salminen, was reared there and graduated from Greenport High School in June 1959. Having been introduced to airplanes and flying by his uncle who had been a lead navigator on B-24 Liberators in WWII, he completed AFROTC training and graduated from Hobart College with a B.S. Degree in math and psychology in 1963.

Col Salminen’s entry into the Air Force began at Craig AFB, Selma, AL, where he trained as a pilot of the T-37 and T-33 for 13 months. He was then sent to Perrin AFB, TX, to fly the F-102, Delta Dagger, where he received the Outstanding Pilot Award. Next, he went to the Air Force Survival School in Nevada for three weeks and returned to Perrin AFB spending a month in training for instrument flight and training in flying the F-102F, a twin seat, side by side seating trainer. His next assignment was to Suffolk County AFB, NY, flying the F-101B having trained at Tyndall AFB, FL, for aircraft checkout and basic F-101 intercept training. In the fall 1965, he had his first assignment as an operationally ready Air Force pilot at Suffolk County AFB where he and the crews were on five minute alert, living in a facility called the “scramble shack.” This occurred during the threat from Russian long-range bombers that flew up and down the coast line following the Cuban missile threat. This was followed by his training at the RF-101C reconnaissance school, Shaw AFB, SC.

Col Salminen deployed to Tan Son Nht AB, Vietnam, where he flew the RF-101C aircraft with the 460th Reconnaissance Wing. He flew missions taking pictures over “hot” target areas like the “Iron Triangle” between Saigon and the Cambodian border as well as missions over South Vietnam and over targets in North Vietnam. He was there for the Tet Offensive, a major escalation and largest military offensive during the Vietnam War.

Following his tour to Vietnam, Col Salminen was deployed to RAF Upper Heyford, England, a former SAC base, where he was attached to the 366th

Tactical Reconnaissance Wing and the 18th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron flying the RF-101C. He later flew the F-100D and the F111 as well. He then attended and graduated from the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, AL, followed by an assignment as Staff Officer, Tactical Operations

Division, Headquarters, Tactical Air Command, Langley AFB, VA, where he served as the Operations manager for TAC’s F-111 fleet of aircraft. He was then assigned to the 391 Tactical Fighter Squadron at Mt. Home AFB, ID, to fly the F-111F. In 1976, he volunteered for deployment to Korea and served at Osan AB as a staff officer. He was given temporary duty (TDY) at Shaw AFB, SC, serving as the Air Force Liaison Officer for 9AF five day exercise. He was assigned to serve as the Operations Officer with the 390th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Mt. Home AFB, ID. He was then sent back to Korea to Taegu AB for a 90 day TDY as the Operations Officer. He was then deployed to RAF Lakenheath, England, where he was in charge of the Wing Air Crew Training monitoring all aircrew flying time for the crews in the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing. His next assignment was as Commander of two NATO Stand-by support bases, RAF Welford and RAF Greenham Common, England.

Col Salminen graduated from the Air War College at Maxwell, AFB, AL, followed by an assignment to Cannon AFB, NM, to serve as the Assistant Deputy Commander for Operations where he could resume flying the F-111, and then to become the Vice Commander (VC) and finally the Commander of the 27th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) with its 100 F-111D aircraft. His last flight in the F-111 was on August 23, 1984. Returning to Maxwell AFB, AL, for his third tour, Col Salminen became a member of the faculty of the Air War College eventually to become Department Chairman and Vice Commandant. During his last tour at Maxwell, he graduated from Troy University with a Master’s Degree in Adult Education. After six years at Maxwell AFB, Col Salminen retired from military service in January 1990.

Col Salminen and his wife, Ann, were married over 50 years before she passed away, and he served as her caretaker during her last 10 years. They had two children and six grandchildren. He and his second wife, Erika, married in September 2020, and both are active members of Frazer United Methodist Church in Montgomery. He has served in Christian ministry since his military retirement. He graduated from the Emory University, Candler School of Theology Course of Study and served 20 years as associate minister for evangelism and as Coordinating Pastor for Ministries on Frazer’s staff. He also served as a Sunday school teacher of the Sowers Class for 20 years. He taught courses across the nation in evangelism. He enjoys singing and playing the guitar.

Col Salminen’s conclusions about his military service are, “It was an honor to give most of my working years in service to my country both in peace, in war and in service to my Lord.”


Col Mark Dierlam: Age 81

Colonel Mark Dierlam served in the United States Air Force for 26 years, and during that time, he served as a pilot, instructor pilot and a leader in maintenance, operational flying and an extensive variety of senior command positions. His numerous military medals and awards are: Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with two devices, Air Medal with one device, Air Force Commendation Medal, Distinguished Presidential Unit Citation, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Valor Device with four devices, Combat Readiness Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with four devices, Air Force Overseas Short Tour Ribbon, Air Force Overseas Long Tour Ribbon, Air Force Longevity Service Ribbon with five devices, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, Air Force Training Ribbon, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Device and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Col Dierlam was born October 26, 1939, in Galveston, TX, to his parents, Mark and Gladys Dierlam. He was reared there and graduated from Ball High School followed by graduation from Texas A& M University with a BS Degree in Electrical Engineering 1962. In 1975, he received a Master of Science Degree in Operations Research from the Air Force Institute of Technology, which was Harvard University’s MBA curriculum.

Following the tradition of military service by his father who had served in the U.S. Navy during WWI and WWII, Col Dierlam became an Air Force pilot accumulating over 3,300 hours in all seven models of the B-52 and in eight additional aircraft as well, KC-135, KC-10, T-37, T-38, B-377, C-47 and DC-7. He spent forty months flying combat sorties from Kadena AB, Japan, U-Tapao RTNB, Thailand and Guam over Vietnam and other areas in Southeast Asia.

His excellence in military leadership is evidenced by his positions as Commander, 42nd Air Base, Maxwell Air Force Base (AFB), AL, Vice Wing Commander, 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB, LA flying the B-52, KC-10, and KC-135, Commander, 2nd Combat Support Group, Barksdale AFB, LA, Chairman Ad Hock Planning Group for procurement of B-1B and Peacekeeper missile systems, HQ SAC Offutt AFB, NE, Deputy Wing Commander for Resources, 321 Strategic Missile Wing, Grand Forks AFB, ND, B-52 Instructor Pilot, Grand Forks, AFB, ND, Chief Programs, Base Civil Engineer, Keesler AFB, MS, Maintenance Control Officer for 150 B-52s, Anderson AFB, Guam, Officer in Charge of a 565 man Jet Engine Repair Shop, Anderson AFB, Guam, B-52 Instructor Pilot, Operations Staff, Maintenance Chief Quality Control, Dyess AFB, TX, Pilot Training, Reese AFB, TX, and Computer/Communications Maintenance Officer, Charleston AFS, Maine.

Col Dierlam retired in 1988, and since then, he has been a licensed investment advisor with First Command Financial Planning in Montgomery. His excellence has continued as he has received numerous company-wide awards including the Humanitarian Elsie Talley Family Life Award, New Agent of the Year, Salesman of the Year and Top Gun. Within this company, he is a member of the prestigious Platinum and Pinnacle Clubs for client service. He coaches families on how to identify and achieve their goal of being financially independent in the future.

Col Dierlam has continued to serve others in the Montgomery, AL, community on the Board of Directors of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Montgomery Original Steering Committee, Business Council for the Arts, YMCA Board, Montgomery Rotary Club President, South Alabama Rotary District Governor, Air University Foundation, the Wright Flyers and two appointed boards of the Montgomery City Council. He is an active member of the Frazer United Methodist Church where he set up a trust for charitable giving and was a Trustee for the AL-West FL Methodist Conference. In addition, he has served the Air Force Association as the AL State AFA President, the AFA National Finance Committee member for eight years and as the Montgomery Chapter President, Vice President and Secretary.

Col Dierlam and his wife, Kay, have been married over 60 years, and they have three children, nine grandchildren and three great-grand-children. Their three children graduated from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and each reached the rank of Colonel before retirement. Kay has worked more than 30 years as an executive assistant in the Alabama State Senate.

His conclusions about his military service are, “During the Cold War of the 1960s, I was simply defending my country against the Soviet Union’s communism and socialism that do not work. My most unique assignment was when President Reagan felt that if we fielded the B-1 Bomber and Peacekeeper Missile system that the Soviet Union could not economically counter and would result in bringing down the Berlin Wall and dissolving the Soviet Union. It happened and ended the Cold War!”


Cpl Ronald Webster Balkcom: Age 74

Corporal (Cpl) Ronald Webster Balkcom served two years of active duty and four years in the Reserve in the United States Marine Corps with two tours in Vietnam. He received two Purple Hearts, the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnamese Service Medal, Vietnamese Campaign Medal, Presidential Unit Citation and Rifle Marksmanship Badge. Cpl Balkcom volunteered to deploy to Vietnam, and although he received extensive wounds during his first tour, he volunteered to return for a second time because he wanted to finish his tour.

Cpl Balkcom was born May 20, 1946, in Columbus, GA, to his parents, Daniel Webster Balkcom and Minnie Clyde Balkcom, was reared there and graduated from Jordan High School in 1965. From age 16, he worked in a textile mill, after graduation and until he was drafted into military service January 13, 1966.

Cpl Balkcom survived and completed the U. S. Marine’s Basic Training at Parris Island, SC, followed by advanced infantry training at Camp Geiger, part of the Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune, NC. He was assigned to Delta Company 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, a Rifle Company. He was deployed to Phu Bai, a combat base south of Hue in central Vietnam followed by duty at Dong Ha, Camp Carroll, an artillery base, the Rockpile known in Vietnamese as Thon Khe Thi, a solitary karst rock, characterized by underground drainage systems and underground caves, an outcropping south of the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). He was there with Delta 1/4 from July 17 to Sept. 16, 1966, when he was wounded badly on September 16th in front of the Rockpile and air-vacked out that night because it was thought that he had internal injuries. He was treated in three hospitals, namely, the U.S. Navy Hospital Da Nang, Vietnam, for three weeks, Clark Air Force Hospital, Philippines, for one week and the U.S. Navy Hospital, Guam, for six weeks.

Although he was sent to Okinawa for physical therapy, this valiant Marine soon volunteered for a second deployment to Vietnam returning there March 1st through August 9, 1967, serving with India Company 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division at five bases south of the DMZ. There he was serving at Dong Ha, Camp Carroll, Con Thien, Gio Lin, Cam Lo, Ba Long Valley and the Rock Pile. The India 3/9 Marines were in three really rough spots, namely, Prairie II Getlin’s Corner in March 30-31. Cpl Balkcom shot the M72 Law portable rocket launcher 66 inches long which presented a desirable target for the North Vietnamese enemy. On June 30th, the Marines were sent on an Operation south of Da Nang. They were there until the late morning of July 2nd when they were pulled out to go to Operation Buffalo to help 1/9, their sister Battalion. On the afternoon of July 2nd, they moved to Operation Buffalo July 2-11. On August 1st, India 3/9 pulled out of Cam Lo and returned out front of Con Then.

Cpl. Balkcom suffered another injury while on his second deployment. G.D. Navadel and Troops compiled personal remembrances of the Marines in the publication, A Rifle Company’s Tale: India Company 3rd Battalion 9th Marines Republic of Vietnam. The dedication of this publication reads, “This combat account is respectfully dedicated to the men of India Company who gave their lives for their brother Marines and Corpsmen and to acknowledge the acts of valor for those who lived as well as those who died.”

During Cpl Balkcom’s second deployment to Vietnam, a ferocious battle occurred on March 30, 1967, at Hill 70 west of Con Thien and the DMZ between the North Vietnamese and the U.S. Marines. CPl Balkcom’s platoon suffered tremendous casualties and wounded. Cpl Balkcom’s statements within Navadel’s publication are: “After all of the Killed in Action (KIA) had been recovered, we received orders to depart Hill 70 and return to Camp Carroll. As we were crossing down the hill and the dried rice paddy that we had come to on the afternoon of March 30th, I saw some dogtags on the ground that were partially covered up. I reached down to pick up the dogtags thinking that they may have belonged to one of the wounded or the KIA’s. They were my dogtags! How I lost them or how they got there, I do not know to this day. For me, it was like a sign that March 30th or Hill 70 was not my day or place to die. The odds of my finding my own dogtags when I wasn’t even aware were missing were phenomenal to me. It was as if the dogtags were saying to me ‘Never forget this day. Never forget March 30th.’ I was given the opportunity to walk away when the rest of my Rocket Team was not.”

Cpl Balkcom was wounded, and he recalls his helicopter rescue saying, “One of the prettiest sights that I have ever seen was that chopper because I knew that I wasn’t going to last much longer. When that first medivac chopper came in that night, it suddenly lurched to the left of the landing site. The wheel came down within what I think was a foot from my head. I lay on the ground. I was thinking that I could have lived through that day and then nearly get killed by the chopper. I was first triaged at Delta Med at Dong Ha and from there evacuated to the USS Repose. I got back to the States in mid April.” He was discharged January 12, 1968 at Camp Lejeune, NC.

After Cpl Balkcom’s military service, he returned to work at the textile mill, Bibb Manufacturing Company in Columbus, GA, as chief technician for quality control for 1.5 years. He then worked for Thorne Dental Lab for six years followed by working as part-owner of R. B. Burnham Van Service for 32 years.

Cpl Balkcom and his wife, Evaughn, have been married 52 years, and they have two children and three grandchildren. For many years, they have devoted their time to assisting elderly members of their family. He has been an active membership of community organizations. At Columbus, GA, he served as an elder at the Edgewood Presbyterian Church. At Montgomery, AL, he has served as a fund raiser for the American Heart Association and the Marine Corps League especially with the Devil Dogs, a Marine organization that helps people. He was a member of the Lions Club and the Sotoma Club for a number of years. He has served as a deacon at Memorial Presbyterian Church and as a member of the Administrative Board of Frazer United Methodist Church.

Cpl Balkcom personifies everything for which the U. S. Marine Corps stands. Reflecting on his service as a U. S. Marine, he says, “One of the proudest things in my life is being a United States Marine. It was an honor to be among the few and the proud. I would do it again. I had rather go back to Vietnam for three months than to Parris Island! Serving in the Marine Corps was the highlight of my life.” Cpl Balkcom exemplifies the truth in the U.S. Marine Corps motto, “Semper Fi,” always faithful and always loyal.


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