MARK CONOVER HEATH, JR.
Died 20 January 1972, Matagorda Island,
Gulf of Mexico, aged 37 years
Interment: Gettysburg National Cemetery,
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

MARK CONOVER HEATH, Jr. was born on 1 March 1934 in Youngstown, Ohio to Mark Conover Heath and Nellie DeLuchie Heath. He was one of two sons; the other, Gary, now resides in Florida. Mark attended Sharon, Pennsylvania schools, graduating in 1952. He attended Youngstown College night school for one year before entering West Point with the Class of 1957.

During his school days in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Mark, known as "Bud" to family and friends, was a very active and gregarious person. He loved "hot rods," mostly Fords, played tuba in the band, sang in the glee club, ran track, and found time for photography and fishing when not working as a mechanic in a local service station. He was also a standout in his high school’s production of "Our Town."

Mark entered West Point with one single objective - to become a jet fighter pilot. His beast barracks roommate, Phil Ratchet, swears that this was decided even before we marched to Trophy Point to take the Oath. He became a very good one!

West Point was a breeze for Mark. His unique mixture of enthusiasm, wit, and charm allowed him to provide comic relief for some of the traps of cadet life. Indeed, his yearbook list of extracurricular activities leads one to wonder how he found time to stay ahead of the Academic Departments, but he did. He was selected for and was commissioned in the US Air Force. During graduation leave, he married Joan Rosensteel of Ashtabula, Ohio, an 18-year-old "child bride" friend of the family.

They had three children: son Mark C. III, now completing a 20-year career in the US Navy; a second son Jay, named for our classmate Jay Tieber; and a daughter Molly. Following the usual Air Force flying training school progression, Mark remained in the Training Command until 1961, when he attended the University of New Hampshire for his master’s degree in Electrical Engineering. Following graduation, he was stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, but only for eight months. He next flew A1s with the Vietnamese Air Force, earning the Air Medal with 5 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Vietnamese DFC with Gold Wings, their second highest award, in ceremonies at Bien Hoa Air Base.

He returned to his last military assignment, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii where he flew T33 and T38 jets. He resigned has commission in late 1966 and accepted a civilian position as a test pilot with NASA - Houston. His six years at NASA were during the height of the Apollo Moon activities, and Mark was directly involved in check rides for all the astronauts in the Apollo Program - Aldrin, Armstrong, Conrad, Sheppard, Scott, and Lovell of Apollo XIII fame.

Mark was killed on 20 January 1972 while flying a test flight of an inertial landing system for the evolving Space Shuttle Program. Mark was under the hood in the rear seat of one of his T -38s when the pilot encountered thick ground fog during a steep descent to Matagorda Island. Mark is one of the few classmates to have a memorial in his name; the Flight Operations Division of NASA-Johnson Space Center has a perpetual plaque with yearly awards for Electrical Engineering Excellence.

Mark and Joan built a home in Friendswood, Texas, and their three children were raised there. They loved family camping and fishing trips, and this has continued. Mark’s middle son Jay was killed in a mountain climbing accident and is buried with Mark at the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Their son Mark C., III is in the US Navy Their daughter Molly resides an Houston and is employed at the Medical Center. His wife Joan has retired from a position with the local Friendswood Library and is at home in the house they designed and built.

"Man is a success: When he has lived well, laughed often and loved much; Who has gained the respect of intelligent men and women and the love of children; Who never lacks the appreciation of the earth's beauty or fails to express it; Who follows his dreams and pursues excellence in each task; Who brings out the best in others, and gives only the best of himself." (anon)

This summation by Mark's brother goes well with that of his of Beast Barracks roommates: "At one time he told me that his favorite song was "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," and I still think of him whenever I hear that song or see a single, sharp contrail in the sky."

His wife, Joan, in reviewing this obituary closed her letter: "I always admired the fact that even though Bud was very intelligent and had a wonderful education, he never used them to make one feel that he was anything superior to you - a real colleague, friend, [and classmate to us in the Long Gray Line]. I always thought Mark’ favorite song was "True Love" and I still miss him terribly" So do all of us!

An H-2 Classmate, Sam Morthland

 

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