Marines Find One More Good Man, 15 : Corps Adopts Victim of Muscular Dystrophy

Time Staff Writer

Know ye, by reposing special trust and confidence in the fidelity and abilities of John Zimmerman, I do hereby appoint him an honorary Marine to rank as such from the 15th day of January, 1985. Maj. Robert Robichaud, USMC

With those words, John Zimmerman, a 15-year-old muscular dystrophy victim from Fountain Valley, became an honorary U.S. Marine. His father described the hospital-room ceremony as "the highlight of his life."

The young Marine, a freshman at Fountain Valley High School, has been confined to a bed in the intensive care unit at Fountain Valley Community Hospital since he suffered respiratory arrest on Jan. 1.

John's parents, Richard and Sandra Zimmerman, said Thursday that the relationship with the Marine Corps began several years ago when John began attending a camp for muscular dystrophy victims at Cuyamaca State Park. Several Marines serve as counselors in the north San Diego County camp.

"The Marines have been just wonderful with John," Richard Zimmerman said. "They gave him the will to fight, and our pulmonary specialist said he's never seen anything like it."

Although John has had muscular dystrophy since birth, the disease was first diagnosed when he was 14 months old, and, "at that time, the doctors told us he wouldn't live past his second birthday," his father said.

"But we've been very fortunate," Richard Zimmerman, a commercial real estate broker, said. "We've had a lot of good years together."

Master Gunnery Sgt. John Gorsuch, a Marine recruiter who was present at Wednesday's ceremony, described John as "a kid with a heart of gold." His newest recruit, Gorsuch said, is a "unique boy and a real Marine at heart." Beside the Marine Corps stickers John has "plastered all over his wheelchair," he is an avid collector of Leatherneck, a monthly magazine for Marine aficionados, Gorsuch said. The boy also loves to go to see the Blue Angels and has presented his Marine buddies with model airplanes and tanks, Gorsuch said.

"Anything that has to do with the Marines, little Johnny is there," Gorsuch said.

So John became a Marine. With him, his parents and Gorsuch at the ceremony were Staff Sgt. Robert Menke, another recruiter at the Huntington Beach substation on Beach Boulevard, and Maj. Robichaud, commander of the San Diego recruiting district, in which Huntington Beach falls. Robichaud made a special trip to Orange County from San Diego for the event.

Like any other Marine, John must "render strict obedience to orders of superior officers and . . . diligently discharge his duties," according to a plaque Robichaud presented to the honorary Marine.

John has never been able to walk, but those who know him best say that hasn't held him back. Gorsuch said the honorary title is "a special award for someone who has shown extraordinary support and interest but is unable to participate actively." John, his father said, is "a determined, independent kid with a good attitude about everything. He's the most unselfish person I've ever known."

Sheila Lohstroh, a hospital spokeswoman, said the intensive care unit nurses think John is "a joy to have around."

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