Captain Paul David Derby

By Jerry Dean Swanson


Paul David Derby
United States Marine Corps
Menomonie, Wisconsin
January 04, 1943 to November 17, 1968


I present a family war hero.

Capt Paul David Derby was born on 04 Jan 1943 in Marshfield, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, as the first child of Charles H Derby and Ramona E Creed. 

When he was 22, He married Dorothy Marie Wormet, daughter of Dennis A. Wormet and Ellen Louisa Avery, on 23 Jan 1965.  They had two children; Scott Paul Derby, born in Pensacola, FL, and Pamela Faye Derby, born in Cherry Point, North Carolina.

Paul realized his dream of becoming a jet fighter pilot in February of 1967, when he received his wings in Mississippi.  His first assignment was to Cherry Point, North Carolina.  He was sent to Vietnam in 1968.  Only months later, both Paul and his co-pilot died on 17 Nov 1968 in Quang Nga Provence, Vietnam, when the jet he was piloting was struck by enemy fire and crashed.  Paul's body was never recovered.

A memorial was dedicated to Paul at the Rock Island National Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois.  He also has a place on the Virtual Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Wall in Washington DC, which honors those who died in the Vietnam War.  Paul D. Derby is on the wall at Panel 39W Line 077.

Thank you Paul!  I would have liked to shake your hand!

Paul was the husband of my 2nd cousin, Dorothy Marie (Wormet) (Derby) Franczyk.


Officer’s Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia
Summer, 1964

Paul entered the Marine Corps in September 1965.  He attended Officer’s Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia.  He received his commission upon graduation from Stout State University, July 1965.

Captain Dave Jersey presenting Paul's
Commission at Stout, 1965


Paul’s mother, Ramona E. (Creed) Derby, and Dorothy pinning on his bars at the commissioning ceremony.

By Dorothy Marie (Wormet) (Derby) Franczyk:

“It was the third week in November, 1963, at Stout State University.  Paul and I were to have our first date Saturday night.

President Kennedy was shot on Friday, November 22, 1963.  When I heard the news, I wanted to go home, as did most of the students.

Although it was not considered proper for girls to phone boys back then, but I called Paul to inform him I was going home.  He always teased me about breaking our first date.  Neither of us ever dated anyone else after that day.

 Well into our relationship, Paul shared the fact he would be spending the summer at Quantico, Virginia, in Officer Candidate School.  His dream was to be a jet fighter pilot.  His dream was fulfilled.”


Paul’s Pre-Flight Training Certificate received from the United States Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida on November 5, 1965.

After his flight training, Paul received further jet training in Meridian, Mississippi, and Kingsville, Texas.  He received his wings as a fighter pilot at Corpus Christi, Texas in February 1967.


Paul’s certificate of completion for the Land Survival, Evasion, Resistance to Interrogation, and Escape Course on July 13, 1967.

From the local newspaper...

Pilot 3/c Charles A. Derby (left) graduated from the procurement specialists’ school at Lowry AFB, Colorado, and is home on leave until March 18, 1967, when he will report for duty with the 6417th Combat Support Group in Taiwan.  He is a graduate of Columbus High School and entered service last September 21.


First Lt. Paul D. Derby, Marine Corps jet fighter pilot, got his wings Feb. 17, 1967, at Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is a graduate of Columbus High and Stout State University-Menomonie and entered service in September 1965.  He and his wife are visiting in Baraboo en route to his new assignment at Cherry Point, North Carolina.  The pilot and his wife are also visiting her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Erman Willfahrt.

Brothers in Service
Charles A and Paul D Derby, the two sons of Mr. and Mrs. Charles D. Derby in their uniforms.
Captain Paul Derby's F4 Phantom
This is Captain Paul Derby's F4 Phantom #9456
The photo was taken by David Eckert,
an electrician on the jets in Vietnam.
The photo was shared by Amber Gregg, David's daughter.

Paul’s assignment was to Cherry Point, North Carolina, where he was stationed until he was sent to Vietnam in July 1968.

Captain Paul Derby served with Marine Fighter-Attack Squadron 115, a unit of the First Marine Aircraft Wing.  He arrived in Vietnam in July 1968.

The following history paints a picture of what was happening just before, and when he served in Vietnam.  He was stationed at Chu Lai, Vietnam.  There, the squadron found itself engaged in support missions.  During the last four months of 1967, the Silver Eagles flew a total of thirty-three missions.


Sorties ranged from the area through the DMZ into the southern panhandle of North Vietnam.

By 1968, some of the officers had passed the 200-mission mark.  Combat hours per month for the squadron reached a high of 721 and sometimes averaged in excess of 500 hours per month.


VMFA-115 F-4 Phantom over Vietnam

An aerial photograph shows the airstrip at Chu lai, Vietnam

Chu Lai, Vietnam


The squadron's  typical sortie during this period:

“Fingerprint 25 (a Marine forward air controller in a 01 Bird Dog) directed the flight against a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) command post and antiaircraft site. The flight encountered intense .50-cal machine gun and 12.l5mmf 37 mm enemy fire.  The flight delivered their MK-117s on target and destroyed two antiaircraft positions, a probable three .50-cal machine gun positions, and had three KBA confirmed.”

Soon, several pilots in the Silver Eagles were passing the 300-mission mark.  Several Air Medals were being awarded, as well as recommendations for Bronze Stars. The squadron’s awards include the Navy Commendation Medals, Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry, Distinguished Flying Crosses, Single Mission Air Medals, Navy Achievement Medals, and Purple Hearts.

Mail drop and pickup pad across from
the USO Club, Chu Lai

CH-47 Helicopter going to the supply
pickup pad, Chu Lai

When Captain Paul Derby arrived that Summer, squadron efforts continued at a high level, with the monthly operations averaging 600-700 combat flight hours. 

The squadron continued to pile up very impressive mission totals, but at a price.  On 13 July, Captain John C. Hurst and First Lieutenant Leonard A. Bird were killed.  They were flying a close-air support  mission when their aircraft was observed bursting into fire and crashing near Khe Sanh.

The squadron also received additional ground training, even during combat.  Squadron personnel were sent to such locations as the Jungle Escape and Survival Training Course in the Philippines; Sea Survival School in Japan.  Forward Air Controller School at Okinawa; Non-commissioned Officer Leadership School; Corrosion Control Course; Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Warfare School; KY 28 (secure voice radio equipment) School; and the H-7 Rocket Ejection Seat School.

Paul’s view from his front door.


Paul’s Hooch at Chu Lai


The diversions for the squadron included rest and recreation (R&R).  Leave permitted personnel to visit Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Formosa, Hong Kong, and Hawaii.

In addition, the Post Exchange featured good buys on sought after stereo equipment.  The Red Cross workers came for visits, and an Enlisted Men’s' Club was available for use.

On 21 September 1968, Captain Robert F. Conley Jr. and First Lieutenant Steven R. Major were killed when their aircraft crashed, apparently hit by enemy fire while flying on a close-air-support mission near Phu Bai. 

The Command Chronology for the squadron for the month of October shows the effect one Marine air unit can have on the overall ground effort.  For example, the units supported by VMFA-115 during October included: 1st Reconnaissance Battalion; 7th Marines; 11th Marines; 24th Marines; 26th Marines: Task Force Hotel; American Division; ROK Marines; and the 51st ARVN Regiment.

On 8 October 1968, Captain Joseph W. Jones III and Captain Daniel J. Coonon were killed in a crash as a result of enemy action while on a close-air-support mission near Da Nang.

In October, the squadron's on-hand aircraft strength rose to 16 after the some improved planes were returned after some modifications in Japan.  These improvements included the new H-7 rocket seat with ground ejection capability, and the incorporation of utility hydraulics for the flight control system. New survival radios for aircrew members were also distributed.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Norton assumed command of the squadron on 28 November 1968.  Combat flight hours rose dramatically from 411 in November to 739 in December.


Paul is standing to the left, below the star on the wing.

The difficulty of some of the missions was seen in a quote from the December command chronology: “The flight, working under a 2,200-foot ceiling in mountainous terrain with friendly troops 150 meters from the target and ground fire in the area, destroyed eight structures in a fortified village.”  Hazardous duty such as this brought casualties.

On November 17, 1968, Captain Paul D. Derby and First Lieutenant Thomas A. Reich were killed while on a close-air-support mission southwest of Chu Lai.

Captain Paul David Derby had been in Vietnam for only four months!


The circle is the area where Paul’s jet went down.

Memorial Stones at Neillsville, Wisconsin Veteran’s Memorial


Medals named below, left to right.

1st Marine Aircraft Wing

Marine Aircraft Group 13

Scott Derby, Cheryl Franczyk and Pamela Derby

Dorothy, Scott, and Pamela Derby, 1973
The Rock Island National Cemetery
 Rock Island, Illinois.


Republic of Vietnam
 National Order Medal
5th Class

Purple Heart

Vietnam Service Medal

Medal with V
for Valor

Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross

Air Medal

Campaign Medal

National Defense
Service Medal

Captain Paul David Derby


  Home of Record:  Menomonie, WI
  Date of birth:   01/04/1943

  Service:         United States Marine Corps
  Grade at loss:   O3
  Rank:            Captain
  ID No:           092335
  MOS:             7521: PILOT VMFA (I)
  Length Service:  06
  Unit:            VMFA-115, MAG-13, 1ST MAW, III MAF

  Start Tour:      07/25/1968
  Incident Date:   11/17/1968
  Casualty Date:   11/17/1968
  Age at Loss:     25
  Location:        Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam
  Remains:         Body not recovered
  Casualty Type:   Hostile, died outright
  Casualty Reason: Fixed Wing - Pilot

Marine Aviator Badge


The Virtual Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Wall in Washington DC honors those who died in the Vietnam War.


PAUL D. DERBY is on the Wall
Panel 39W Line 077

We Thank You For Your Service Paul...


The William Avery Family had a picnic at the Veteran’s Memorial in Reedsburg, WI in September 2011.

A memorial stone was purchased for both William Avery and Paul Derby.


Memorial Headstone at
Rock Island National Cemetery


The William Avery Family at the Reedsburg, WI Memorial, September 2011.

Left to Right:  Carol Wormet, Soren Clutter, Nicole (Avery) Clutter, Tina Majinski (Nathaniel Avery's friend), Jasper Clutter, Shellie (Avery) Boldt, Nathaniel Avery, William Avery, Ronald Wormet, Donna (Wormet) Spaeth, Tom Boldt, Debbie (Avery) Schiesl, Zachary Boldt, Thomas McManamy, Dorothy (Wormet) Franczyk, and David Franczyk.




Back in 2015,  I had been contacted by the author of this soon-to-be-released book, “Wisconsin’s 37: The Lives of Those Missing in Action in the Vietnam War." (It's available for pre-order on Amazon and through the publisher's website (McFarland and Company), but I imagine Amazon is probably the easiest method.) 

Erin Miller had seen my online memorial for Paul and had contacted me to find out who she could talk to concerning Paul. 

I had contacted Dorothy (Wormet) (Derby) Franczyk and with time…Paul’s story for the book was written. 


Paul is one of those 37. 


A recent honor for Paul...

"Wisconsin's 37: The Lives of Those Missing in Action in the Vietnam War"

This the soon-to-be-released book by Erin Miller.

Available on Amazon at:

Wisconsin's 37 Cover





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