Cordova Chronicles: The power of the press

On October 10, 2021, the following e-mail popped up on my computer:

Hello Mr. Shellhorn,

My name is John McRae, and I live in East Brookfield, Massachusetts.

Fifty-six years ago I went through boot camp at MCRD, San Diego. In our platoon there was a kid from Alaska named Jerry Behymer. He was excellent at all we did, and was well-liked by the rest of the boys in Platoon 311.

I’ve thought often of all those guys as well as the Drill Instructors over the years, and I have very vivid memories of those three months. Some of them tragically didn’t survive their time in Vietnam, and although I never saw the place I respect and admire all of them who did.

I read your article on Mary Behymer who sounds like a remarkable woman. There was a picture of someone named Jerry, and although I can’t say for sure it is him, I think it just may be. Similar grin.

If you know he is the Marine I’m thinking of, I would like very much to have an address to which I could send a note to him to let him know I’ve never forgotten him or the rest of them.

If I am barking up the wrong tree, thanks anyway for reading this far.

Isn’t the reach of the press in this day and age of online news amazing?

I immediately called Jerry, for he and I go back a long way.

He graduated from CHS in 1964, two years after I did the same.

We were close friends, and still are. I am sure we were one of the reasons for several of Mary Behymer’s grey hairs. We hiked, camped, hunted, fished, and played basketball for CHS together. And also behaved like typically teenagers.

I remember visiting Behymer’s tiny house overlooking the boat harbor, and Mary shaking her head at some of our antics.

Jerry was one of five children reared in their small place, and he confessed in our phone conversation that he “didn’t know how she put up with all of us.”

Behymer tried a variety of occupations after graduating, and then enlisted in the Marine Corp. He ended up being a Forward Air Controller in Vietnam, calling in airstrikes via radio from the ground.

When the military discovered that his brothers Roger and Gene were also serving in combat roles in Vietnam at that same time, he was immediately pulled out, for such service by multiple family members was banned, dating back to WWII.

“They sent out a helicopter to pick me up, and said I was out of there”, said Behymer.

Known as the Sullivan Rule, this policy was adopted after five Sullivan brothers all died aboard the USS Juneau when it was torpedoed and sunk off Guadalcanal on November 13, 1942. The blockbuster movie “Saving Private Ryan” was based on this rule.

Jerry went on to become a very successful Doctor of Chiropractic in California. The profession runs in the family. His wife and son also advanced to become Chiropractic Doctors and his daughter married one. 

Behymer is now retired, but continues a very active life-style that includes considerable amounts of hiking and golf.

The bonds from his services in the Marine Corp still remain strong.

In fact, the first thing Behymer said he was going to do after hanging up was dig out his 56-year-old graduation book for training Platoon 311 and then contact fellow boot-camper John McRae.

Moments like this make one appreciate the broad reach of news these days.

And from somewhere up high, make Mary Behymer, bless her heart, very proud of all of her family. 

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at