Dean Martin, "The King of Cool," is one of America's most iconic entertainers. Teaming up with Jerry Lewis, another icon, Martin got his start in musical comedy in 1946. His career included music and movies that made him a star. As a member of the famous Rat Pack, along with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., Martin's name is solidified in American celebrity. Prior to his stardom, Martin was drafted into the Army during WWII. Unfortunately, he was discharged after 14 months due to a hernia. His son, however, became an Air Force fighter pilot.
Martin's real name was Dino Paul Crocetti. His son, Dino Paul Crocetti Jr., was born in California on November 17, 1951. Adopting the name Dean Paul Martin Jr., the younger Martin was the fifth of his famous father's children. Martin Jr. attended the Urban Military Academy in Brentwood, California, and was pushed toward a singing career. At 13, he joined a pop group that landed a few U.S. minor hits in 1965. Martin Jr. was also a successful tennis player and actor. He competed in the Wimbledon qualifying competition and starred in the TV series Misfits of Science alongside Courteney Cox. However, the entertainer also had a passion for flying.
At the age of 16, Martin Jr. earned his private pilot's license. In 1980, he commissioned as an officer in the California Air National Guard. The next year, Lt. Martin completed Undergraduate Pilot Training at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. At Homestead Air Force Base, Florida, he trained to fly the F-4 Phantom II jet fighter with the 308th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Upon completing his training, Martin Jr. was assigned to the 196th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 163rd Tactical Fighter Group, at March Air Force Base, California. Alongside his entertainment career, Martin Jr. served part-time in the California Air National Guard and rose to the rank of captain.
On March 21, 1987, Martin Jr. flew a routine training mission with his Weapons Systems Officer, Capt. Ramon Ortiz. Departing March AFB, the duo's F-4C got caught in a snowstorm above the San Bernardino Mountains. With reduced visibility, the aircraft turned at low altitude to avoid a mountain and flew into a granite wall, killing both men. Four days later, an Air Force search and rescue helicopter located the crash site and retrieved the bodies of the two airmen. An Air Force investigation found no malfunctions with the Phantom and concluded that the crash was an accident. "Capt. Martin was one of the better pilots and an exceptional athlete," said Air National Guard spokesman Maj. Steve Mensik in a press conference. Capt. Martin was 35 and Capt. Ortiz was 39.