Major General Paul John Fontana was born in Lucca, Italy, to American parents and grew up in Sparks, Nevada. He received a B.A. in engineering from the University of Nevada in 1934 and graduated with a commission as a reserve 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry. He transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers and received a regular commission in the Marine Corps in 1936. Fontana was assigned sea duty aboard the USS Salt Lake City and went to Pensacola for flight training.
In 1940 he joined a Marine aviation squadron and then returned to Pensacola as an instructor. In 1941 he joined a fighter squadron in Quantico, Virginia, and after the outbreak of World War II, flew dawn-to-dusk patrols off the West Coast. Captain of Squadron 112 in 1942, he was promoted to major and deployed in the South Pacific, flying for reinforcement units on Guadalcanal. Promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1943, he was assigned to the Tactical Air Force 10th Army, involved in planning the seizure and occupation of Okinawa. He won a Distinguished Flying Cross (D.F.C.) in 1945 for his participation in the Ryuku Islands campaign.
After World War II, Fontana attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, and was involved in inter-service thinking and planning. He was then assigned to the 1st Marine Jet Squadron, training fighter pilots to become jet pilots. In Korea, he flew air support for ground troops and was promoted to colonel and commander of MAG 33. In 1960 he was promoted to brigadier general and assigned to the Joint Staff in the Pentagon as deputy director for Operations for J-3, specializing in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. In 1964 he went to Japan as commander of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and then became involved in Vietnam, training South Vietnamese helicopter pilots. After the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, he worked on the deployment of a tactical aircraft squadron of F-4 Phantoms from Da Nang. Fontana retired in 1973 after thirty-seven years of active duty.
The interview includes lengthy descriptions of World War II, from dawn-to-dusk patrols on the West Coast to fighter combat on Guadalcanal and Okinawa. The Grumman "Wildcat," Japanese "Zeros," "Bettys," "Washing Machine Charlies," and Japanese pilots are discussed. Living conditions, fatigue, and improved technology are also mentioned. Note is made of the evolution of air support for ground troops, radar-controlled interception, and a comparison of U.S. and Japanese aircraft.
There is also some discussion of the Korean War, including battles at the Yalu River, the F-86 fighters used in raids near Seoul, and the "Panthers" used as air support for ground troops. Prisoners of war in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam are discussed in light of their situation when they were released and the Marine Corps' aid to them.
There is quite a lengthy discussion of Fontana's activities with the Joint Staff at the Pentagon; and the 1961 John F. Kennedy/Harold MacMillan meeting in Key West, Florida, on Southeast Asia and Vietnam is discussed in detail.
There is some discussion of Vietnam and Laos in terms of early communist buildup, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, training South Vietnamese helicopter pilots, the "no-win war," draft dodgers, and the Tet Offensive. The interview ends with a discussion of changes in the Marine Corps, improvements in battlefield mobility, and technological improvements in weapon-systems and planes. Scattered throughout the interview are comments on interesting individuals with whom he was associated. Included in these vignettes are Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, James Swett, J. J. DeBlanc, John F. Kennedy, and McGeorge Bundy.
Gift of Paul J. Fontana
Processed by J. Morris III; M. Boccaccio, February, 1986
Encoded by Apex Data Services
Repository does not own copyright to the oral history collection. Permission to cite, reproduce, or broadcast must be obtained from both the repository and the participants in the oral history, or their heirs.