Loving husband, father, and grandfather, USAF Lt. Col. (retired) Jacob Anton Birnkammer (Jack), veteran of World War II and Vietnam, passed away on Thursday, April 29, 2021 in Smyrna Georgia. He was 95 years old.
Born in Brooklyn, New York on April 20, 1926 to German immigrant parents, Maximillian and Elsa (Grahamer) Birnkammer, Jack spent his first eight years with his maternal grandparents Georg and Anna Grahamer in Munich, Germany before returning to his parents in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in 1934.
Although he did not speak English when he returned to New York, Jack was a quick learner and soon became a star student at PS 104. He applied to and was accepted into the prestigious Brooklyn Technical High School where he excelled in academics and ice hockey.
Jack played semi-professional ice hockey with the New York Rovers and the Brooklyn Arma Torpedo, even playing at Madison Square Garden. WWII was heating up, so at 17 years old he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a Motor Machinist Mate and served aboard amphibious and minesweeping crafts. Sailing the South Pacific, his Navy experience culminated with the US forces landing assault on the Japanese Island of Okinawa.
After the war, he attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York where he earned a B.S. Degree in Psychology and got back on the ice as a member of the university hockey team. He was recognized as an All-Scholastic athlete.
Jack returned to Brooklyn and worked for the American Can Company before deciding to re-enlist in the military, this time with the U.S. Air Force. He received basic training in Texas, where a mentor recognized his abilities and guided him into the Officer Candidate Program. Upon earning his commission in Idaho, he was initially trained in photo/radar interpretation. From there his military career evolved into professional military intelligence. Jack’s first duty station was French Morocco, where he met Louise Souza of Cambridge, Massachusetts who was serving as a civil servant for the Department of the Air Force. They were married in 1956 and together they went on to raise their six children while moving their household every few years.
His duty stations added up as did the children! They were stationed in Savannah, Georgia; Wichita Falls, Texas; Ramstein, Germany; Hartford, Connecticut (ROTC Instructor/Assistant Hockey Coach at Trinity College where he also earned a Master of Arts Degree in Education & Government); Arlington, Virginia (Intelligence-Pentagon); Oslo, Norway (NATO); and finally, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida (Center Intelligence Director). Jack retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1977. He was proud to have served a total of 32 years with the U.S. military. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Meritorious Service Medals.
Post-military found Jack continuing his academic pursuits. He earned his Paralegal Degree and real estate license and various other employment related certifications. Always a patron of the arts, Jack and Louise held season tickets to the Atlanta Symphony and looked forward to attending performances. After relocating to Georgia, they decided to enhance their interest in applied art by earning art degrees. They both graduated from Kennesaw State University with degrees in Studio Art. Jack immersed himself in his long-time love of wood and sculpture, leaving behind many works of art that convey his love of artmaking and the appreciation of creative pursuits.
When Louise battled Alzheimer’s disease, Jack was at her side, a devoted and loving husband who fiercely advocated for her care. When the “Colonel” arrived at the home, all the residents were better for it. He helped other families navigate the complicated process of the disease and for that we know they were grateful.
Jack was an active member of his church group at Transfiguration Catholic Church and enjoyed the fellowship at their monthly gatherings.
Jack’s three passions in life were his wife, his family, and his art. His get-the-job-done attitude and tireless fortitude were his mainstays through his long life. His frankness and upbeat manner were always evident, even through the last several years of continued health setbacks and then the COVID pandemic. He was a fighter to the end. He will be missed.
Jack is predeceased by his parents and his wife of 56 years, Louise Souza (2012). He is survived by his children: Paul G. Birnkammer, Maria I. Birnkammer and her partner Mike Smawley, Max A. Birnkammer and his wife Jun Birnkammer, Sarah L. Halberg and her husband David J. Halberg, Jack Andrew Birnkammer and his partner Cindy, and Georg S. Birnkammer and his wife Anne Birnkammer. He is also survived by his grandchildren who called him Opa - Andrew Graham, Nathaniel Graham, Robert Graham, Christopher Graham, Madeline Graham, Adam Halberg, Daniel Halberg, Zachary Halberg and Jacob Halberg; and great-grandchildren, Penelope Halberg and Sabine Halberg. He is also survived by his cousin, Eve Birnkammer (Retired Lt. Col US Army), his sister-in-law Caroline Albano and her husband Joe Albano, and many nieces and nephews.
A funeral mass (including live streaming) will be held on Thursday, 3:00 PM May 20, 2021, at Transfiguration Catholic Church, 1815 Blackwell Road, Marietta, GA 30066.
Internment of the ashes will take place at the Georgia National Cemetery with full military honors on a future date to be determined.
In lieu of flowers, you may send memory contributions to Transfiguration Catholic Church in Marietta, Georgia, which Jack attended for many years. For more information go to: Transfiguration Catholic Church, Marietta, GA 30066. Thank you.
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