All posts in “In Remembrance”

Petition to Name a Ship After LT John W. Finn, USN

Many of us do not know how we will react when suddenly called upon to perform the extraordinary in desperate and lethal conditions.  We train and plan, but until the bullet flies or the fire burns close at hand, all we can do is speculate.

On the morning of December 7th, 1941 there was no question in VP-14’s Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Finn’s mind:

For extraordinary heroism distinguished service, and devotion above and beyond the call of duty. During the first attack by Japanese airplanes on the Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, on 7 December 1941, Lt. Finn promptly secured and manned a .50-caliber machinegun mounted on an instruction stand in a completely exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy enemy machinegun strafing fire. Although painfully wounded many times, he continued to man this gun and to return the enemy’s fire vigorously and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks and with complete disregard for his own personal safety. It was only by specific orders that he was persuaded to leave his post to seek medical attention. Following first aid treatment, although obviously suffering much pain and moving with great difficulty, he returned to the squadron area and actively supervised the rearming of returning planes. His extraordinary heroism and conduct in this action were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

(Note: In June 1942, Finn was temporarily commissioned as an Ensign, rising in rank to Lieutenant two years later. During his service as an officer, he served with Bombing Squadron 102, at several stateside training facilities and on board the aircraft carrier Hancock (CV-19). Following transfer to the Fleet Reserve in March 1947, he reverted to the enlisted rate of Chief Aviation Ordnanceman. In September 1956, he was placed on the Retired List in the rank of Lieutenant. John W. Finn died on 27 May 2010. Navy History & Heritage Command).

Recently passed, LT Finn never played up the hero aspect when asked — he just said “I do know this. I didn’t run away. I stayed there and we fought the Japs until the last one left.”

We as a service — as a nation;  have lost our way in naming our ships — deferring instead to the politically expedient to the enduring values and traditions of the Naval services. Perhaps now it is time to turn this ship around and set her on a proper course.  One way to that end, I think, would be to name the next Arleigh Burke-class DDG after LT Finn.  These modern greyhounds of the sea are among the finest warships in their class and would be a fitting honor.  Regardless, however of the eventual ship-type, if you agree that one should be so-named, go sign the petition, and write your Congressman and Senators to underscore the effort.

15 April 1969: Deep Sea 129 Shootdown

15 April 1969 (Korean time) marked the final flight of a Navy VQ-1 EC-121/WV-2 callsign Deep Sea 129. Roughly 100 nm off the North Korean peninsular site where the Hermit Kingdom today defies the world with its ballistic missile tests, lies the watery grave of 31 Americans (2 bodies were later recovered):

The crew of Deep Sea 129:

LCDR James H. Overstreet, LT John N. Dzema, LT Dennis B. Gleason, LT Peter P. Perrottey, LT John H. Singer, LT Robert F. Taylor, * LTJG Joseph R. Ribar, LTJG Robert J. Sykora, LTJG Norman E. Wilkerson, ADRC Marshall H. McNamara, CTC Frederick A. Randall, CTC Richard E. Smith, * AT1 Richard E. Sweeney, AT1 James Leroy Roach, CT1 John H. Potts, ADR1 Ballard F. Conners, AT1 Stephen C. Chartier, AT1 Bernie J. Colgin, ADR2 Louis F. Balderman, ATR2 Dennis J. Horrigan, ATN2 Richard H. Kincaid, ATR2 Timothy H. McNeil, CT2 Stephen J. Tesmer, ATN3 David M. Willis, CT3 Philip D. Sundby, AMS3 Richard T. Prindle, CT3 John A. Miller, AEC LaVerne A. Greiner, ATN3 Gene K. Graham, CT3 Gary R. DuCharme, SSGT Hugh M. Lynch,(US Marine Corps) [* Recovered]

North Korea not only acknowledged the shoot down, they loudly and boastfully celebrated their action. President Nixon suspended PARPRO flights in the Sea of Japan for three days and then allowed them to resume, only with escorts. No reparations were ever paid to the US or the families of the lost airmen.
And Kim Il-Sung celebrated another birthday (April 15th).

Read more here, here and here

Remembering LT Zilberman (VAW-121)

As previously reported, the Navy called off the search for the missing fourth crewmember of Bluetail 601, LT Steve Zilberman, USN of Columbus, Ohio declaring him lost at sea and presumed dead.   A memorial service in honor of LT Steve Zilberman, will be held this Thursday, 8 April 2010  at 10:00am at the Naval Station Norfolk base chapel (757-444-7361 for more info). The uniform will be Service Dress Blue or military equivalent and childcare will be available.  Please plan to be seated by 0945 to accommodate the family and senior attendees. Please re-post as desired to ensure widest dissemination.

Additionally, if you would like to make a donation in LT Zilberman’s memory and in support of his family, please consider a donation to the VAW-VRC Memorial Fund.  The mission of the VAW/VRC Memorial Scholarship Fund is to provide for the Navy family in the education of its children, and in particular, those of active duty or reserve service members, in the VAW and VRC communities who are lost as a result of a combat aircraft loss or as a result of a military aviation-related mishap, or U.S. Navy enlisted personnel who are lost as a result of a combat aircraft loss or as a result of a military aviation-related mishap while assigned to a VAW or VRC squadron. 

CAPT John E. “Jack” Taylor, USN-Ret.

42440_115937_301573With the neck down in platforms, officer accession and student naval aviator (SNA) training pipelines, there is a certain homogenization characterizing Naval Aviation today.  Not that that is all bad mind you, especially when one considers the reduction in mishap rates and capabilities today’s anchor-winged warriors bring to the fight.  Still, for those of us who had the opportunity to train, fly and fight with those who entered in the 40’s – 60’s we had the fortune of knowing some real characters and, occasionally, some real pioneers and pillars of the community.  For that was a period of interesting, challenging and oft times, awkward growth as Naval Aviation moved past the breakout period of WWII and through the early days of the jet age to arrive at the version more recognizable today, repleat with super carriers and supersonic fighters. Getting to that point, however, required a distinct breed of aviator, formed in a time before NATOPS, honed on the small decks of 27C’s and the early “supercarriers” of the Forrestal class CVA, with new missions and (then) leading edge technology to master and fight with.

One of the signature aircraft of that period was the A3D/A-3 Skywarrior, aka “Whale.”  Originally designed to be the Navy’s contribution to long-range nuclear strikes, the Whale eventually morphed through a number of other platform variations and missions — tanking, photo-recce, ELINT, electronic warfare, DV hauling, and the like.  It was at once a typical life that the Whale led, compared to some of its contemporaries (viz., AD/A-1 Skyraider and F3D Skynight) – yet it outlived all those and many of the more modern and specialized aircraft that followed.

Like their aircraft, the men who worked on and flew the Whale were (are) of a particular bent and were central in establishing the tenor and tone of that era.  Today, courtesy Andy Niemyer (A-3 Skywarrior Association) we learn of the passing of a true pioneer and pillar of the VQ community from that era – and Naval Aviation Pilot, CAPT John E. Taylor, USN-Ret:


CptJackCapt. John E. Taylor was born 5/23/23 in Cohoes, New York. He attended Cohoes HS and went to College at California Polly, Gila Jr. and St Mary’s under the V-5 Naval Cadet program. Growing up 9 miles north of Albany, NY, he spent summers on Saratoga Lake, Lake George, and Lake Champlain, plus other places all over the New England states, fishing with his father. 54 years ago he married former Elizabeth E. Dunwoody.  They met in Oklahoma City while he was in pre-flight training at Norman, OK. The name Elizabeth Taylor has gotten a lot of attention over all these years. Captain Taylor thinks that is probably why he made Captain to start with. Those that know the Taylor family will admit that Elizabeth was a driving force behind a lot of his successes. Additionally, it was his true desire to get the job done right and having fun along the way that allowed him to go from E-1 to O-6 and earn those “Wings of Gold”.

Seaman Recruit Taylor entered the U.S. Navy on March 25, 1941. After recruit training at Great Lakes, Illinois, he attended the Ford Motor Company Aviation Machinist School in Dearborn, Michigan. His first duty assignment was in the Operations Department at Naval Air Station Ford Island, Hawaii. Speaking of Ford, his first Division Officer was none other than Henry Ford II. In September 1943 he was selected as one of a special group of fleet personnel to attend preparatory schools and subsequently Naval flight training. Upon
completion of flight school at Pensacola he was commissioned as a Naval Aviator and given the rank of Ensign, USNR. After a tour of duty on USS Portsmouth as a Scout Observation Pilot he was released to inactive in the Reserves. In 1947 he resigned his commission and reenlisted as an Aviation Pilot 1st Class (AP), in 1953 he was promoted to Chief Petty Officer.

In 1955 he was selected and attended Naval Officers Candidate School. Graduating with honors, he was once again commissioned an Ensign and reported to the USS Hornet. In 1957 Lt. Taylor joined VQ-1 and thus started his association with the A-3 Skywarrior. At one point in 1959 Taylor was the sole A-3 Pilot with his own personal A3D-1Q 130363. He caught back up with this bird again when assigned to NMC in Pt. Mugu. Three more back to back VQ tours followed NMC, VQ-2, VQ-1, and a return to VQ-2 as Skipper. By this time Captain Taylor had over 10,000 hours in 48 models of aircraft with 4,000+ in the A-3. He took an assignment to the CNO’s office working with C3 and EW, where he made Captain. He then went to NTC in
Orlando as Chief of Staff. Finally Captain Taylor headed back to VQ-2 as Skipper for one more tour “with that beautiful A-3 aircraft” as he refers to the Whale.

Captain Taylor retired after 39+ years on June 20, 1980 piped ashore in a ceremony at VQ-2. Ironically the A3 also had 39 years of Naval service but that’s another story. Capt. Taylor was the last commissioned AP in the Navy. His decorations include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with Combat V, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with Numeral 6, numerous Campaign and Service medals from WWII to Vietnam and on into the Cold War.

A-3 Association Interview with Captain Jack Taylor (“CJ”)

42440_101893_238377A-3 Association: You flew just about every type A-3 produced. What versions did you fly and tell us a little about Douglas and how they supported the mission back then.

CJ: The types of A3’s that I flew are as follows. A3D-1 & 2, A3D-1Q, EA-3B, RA-3B, NA-3A, NA-3B, TA-3B, and YRA-3B. I have all the bureau numbers of the A3’s (42 of them). There are still four of those A3’s in the custody of a commercial company (Raytheon) that are used for research projects that I have flown. The only relationship I had with Douglas was with the Tech Reps in each of the Commands that I was assigned to. VQ-1 (2 times, 5 years total), VQ-2 (3 times / 8 years total) and one tour at Pt. Mugu EW section (4 years) doing equipment testing in the odd ball type of A3’s, pylons on the wings and fuselage, an oversized nose radome(144825) and lots of different antennae. During my first tour in VQ-1, I picked up the second new EA3B
from the Douglas factory. The first one was picked up by Cdr. Frenchy Surry and was lost somewhere near Wake Island. During the pick-up of these new birds, Douglas had class room instruction on all aspects of the systems for pilots and crew. The Tech Reps were excellent instructors at the squadrons as well. Mr. Dan King, at VQ-2, was considered to be the best that Douglas had.

A-3 Association: Rumor has it that you were even an E-8 and E-9 but that rank wasn’t around in 1955?

CJ: You are right about the E-8 & E-9 not being available during my early years. I made E-7 in 1954 when all the AP’s that had passed their exam were promoted regardless of the quotas that existed then. When I was Skipper of VQ2 the last time, the CPO’s decided that since I had gone from E-1 to E-7, I should be made an Honorary E-8 & E-9.

A-3 Association: The “Golden Age of Jets”. What was it like transitioning into them?

CJ: “The Golden Age of Jets”! I flew prop aircraft from 1944 to 1954 both single and multi engine land & sea. My first Jet checkout was in an F3D twin engine night fighter. I was really excited about coming over the field at 300Kts and pulling almost straight up to high altitude. This caused my instructor in the right seat to get an ear block. The next day he came in with one half of his face paralyzed. He had a cold and the fast climb caused the problem. To this day he has a loss of hearing in one ear. The one thing that the early jet pilots had to
be careful of was the use of power. It takes a jet engine time to spool up and that caused some problems on landing (field and ship). Once the transition was made to the jets power was controlled much better. As time went on there were much better engines and of course the power increased also. The first A3 engine was under-powered and was changed to the J57-10. In all my 4350 hours in the A3, I never lost an engine. I did ingest a seagull once but didn’t know it until we landed after a 4+ hour flight. When the engines stopped, several blades were bent out of shape.

A-3 Association: What were your first and last A-3 flights like and what is your favorite version?

CJ: My first A-3 flight was in A3D-1Q 130363 at VQ-1 in Iwakuni, Japan on 8 Jan 1959. My last flight was in an EA-3B 146453 at VQ-2 in Rota, Spain on 4 Jun 1980. My favorite version is the EA-3B. Not just because of the bird, but also because of the mission it flew. That final flight of mine in that wonderful machine, the EA-3B, is still imprinted on my mind. I sat in that seat for 4300 hours over the years and loved every darn minute of it. It never failed me, mainly because the people that maintained it kept it in perfect shape.

A-3 Association: You flew 144851 around the world. Right after you left VQ-2, 146453 and 146455 did the same. What did you have to do with that mission to the I.O. ?

CJ: Those VQ-2 around the world flights in 453 and 455 were not of my making. I didn’t have anything to do with it and to this day no one told me why or where they went.

A-3 Association: Your favorite A/C is the A-3. What is your second most favored bird and why Fly Navy?

CJ: My second most favorite aircraft is the N2S/N3N or Yellow Pearl. It was the most fun airplane to fly and I think most pilots will agree. The answer to your question of why fly Navy is simple – It’s exciting, fun, and when on a carrier, as my right seater, Jim Vambell, used to say “The Navy gives you three Hots and a Flop plus they let you fly at night!”. In all honesty though, I really loved the VQ mission more than anything and of course the aircraft that performed that mission. Besides the A3, I flew Multi Engine (some were various models of each i.e.: A3A, EA3B, RA3B etc)- P2V – P4M – R4D – R4Y – PBY – PBM – EC121 -EP3E – S2F -SNB JRB. (When I was a mech., I flew as a crew member on the following: ( JRF- J2F – J4F – R4D3 – R5O).
Single Engine: Interstate (first solo in training) N2S-N3N-SNV-SNJ-OS2U (L & S)-SC1&2 (L & S) GBTBM-TBF-SB2C-T28-AF-AD-F6F-TV2-F3D-F9F2-4-5-8T-& (SBU Crew member). Lots of sea stories on almost all of them.

A-3 Association: What is it about the A-3 Community’s loyalty, camaraderie, and respect for each other that is so hard to explain? Some have never had that same feeling since.

CJ: I am not sure that I can explain it either but will give an opinion. Looking back over my 5 tours in the VQ community and comparing it with all my other tours, I think that the most important thing that stands out in my mind is the Mission. This was completely different from anything that all the other types of aircraft flew. It didn’t matter if there was a War going on or if the world was in a peaceful time, we still had a very important mission. There was always some new factor to be looked at and when found by the operators, there was a feeling of great accomplishment. The next feeling that I have is the way we had FUN! All our parties, picnic’s, sports etc. were well attended and fun. Then there was the Maintenance of our aircraft. The A3’s in particular took a beating going aboard the carriers but they held up quite well. Any accidents were usually caused by some human error and I think all our people were always aware that they were trying to keep from causing any of those accidents. Finally I believe that the Commanding Officer had the responsibility to maintain a very high degree of morale. Of course that is up to the individual CO on how this is accomplished. My theory is to “Work Hard and Play Hard”!! It seems to work most of the time.

A-3 Association: A-3s flew over 39 years in Naval service and are still flying for contractors today. Are you surprised?

CJ: When I retired in 1980, I thought that the A3 was invincible! They were in perfect condition and had a lot of life remaining in them. When ’91 came around and I was invited to the retirement of the A-3 over in Rota, It was still a beautiful aircraft and it was hard to realize that it would go to Davis-Monthan. After the ceremony, a PAO gent asked me to let him film me talking to the A3. I did and just walked around the aircraft and really did say “Good Bye”. It was even worse when they had the retirement ceremony at Key West. There were about 200 to 300 people there and I was asked to talk about the A-3. I got started and talked about the first model and then my mind went blank. I tried to get out of it by calling Jim Vambell up to talk about the Russian Bear (another story). He gave a short description of the event and sat down. I started to go back but the host CDR. got on with the program. I still regret not saying something about the Crew that flew the last VQ-2 A-3 from Rota to DM. They were the ones that flew the last Combat missions in the A-3 during Operation Desert Storm

A-3 Association: You and hundreds of other Whalers flew on 144825, 146454, 142667, 146449 (FS 446 back) . These birds are still operational, what can replace them?

CJ: A replacement for the A-3? Some of us that worked to build the ES-3B thought that it would be around for quite a while also. Now they (Navy) are going to put those out to pasture. From what I got from those in VQ-6 at Cecil, some of the carriers wouldn’t go to sea without them. I just hope that the people in charge know what they are doing. If I were to design one, I think I would ask for a twin engine (newest version); 6 operators, 3 for EW and 3 for Intel plus two pilots – no Navigator since technology takes care of that by pushing buttons on a computer. The aircraft would have to have a fairly long endurance and range. It would have to be a Carrier capable bird and of course not too large to take up space on the flight deck. Avionics would not take up too much space since micro chips & etc. can keep the system small but do an excellent job. Finally, a well trained ground crew to keep everything ship shape and beat the record set by the A-3. AMEN!!

Editors note: Remember the days when we had to hard wire relays for Omni or DF ? I was there in ’79 and saw a huge change in our operational capabilities of the EA-3B. Capt. Jack had a tremendous influence on us and on our support organizations. We worked long hard hours, flew everywhere, night qualed on the CVs. I think generally he blew new life into our role as the eyes of the fleet. When we returned from our detachments, Capt. Jack and the squadron greeted us with beer, fun times and a hearty “Bravo Zulu”. Captain Taylor, we had a blast, thanks for the good times!


Article Series - Centenary of Naval Aviation (1911-2011)

  1. Flightdeck Friday: Smoke and the Battle of Midway
  2. Flightdeck Friday: RF-8 Crusaders and BLUE MOON
  3. Flightdeck Friday: Midway POV – Wade McClusky
  4. Flightdeck Friday: 23 October 1972 and The End of Linebacker I
  5. Former VFP-62 CO and DFC Recipient, CAPT William Ecker, USN-Ret Passes Away
  6. CAPT John E. “Jack” Taylor, USN-Ret.
  7. Flightdeck Friday: USS MACON Added to National Register of Historical Places
  8. Tailhook Association and Association of Naval Aviation
  9. Flightdeck Friday: Speed and Seaplanes – The Curtiss CR-3 and R3C-2
  10. Flightdeck Friday: A Family Remembers a Father, Naval Officer and Former Vigilante B/N
  11. Out of the Box Thinking and Execution 68 Years Ago: The Doolittle Raid
  12. The ENTERPRISE Petition – A Gentle Reminder
  13. USS Enterprise (CVAN/CVN-65) At Fifty
  14. A Golden Anniversary: The Hawkeye At 50
  15. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy
  16. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part II)
  17. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part III)
  18. Reflections on the E-2 Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary
  19. An Open Letter to “The 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation”
  20. U.S. Naval Aviation – 100 Years
  21. Doolittle’s Raiders: Last Surviving Bomber Pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, Dies at 93
  22. More Naval Aviation Heritage Aircraft (But Still No Hawkeye)
  23. Naval Aviation Centennial: Neptune’s Atomic Trident (1950)
  24. Naval Aviation Centennial: One Astronaut, A Future Astronaut and Reaching for New Heights
  25. Flightdeck Friday Special Edition: The Space Shuttle – Thirty Years of Dreams, Sweat and Tears
  26. Flightdeck Friday – Postings from the Naval Aviation Museum
  27. Saturday Matinee: US Naval Aviation – the First 100 Years
  28. National Museum of Naval Aviation – Some Thoughts and A Call to Action
  29. Flightdeck Friday – 100 Years of Naval Aviation and the USCG
  30. Guest Post: THE U.S. NAVY’S FLEET PROBLEMS OF THE THIRTIES — A Dive Bomber Pilot’s Perspective
  31. This Date in Naval Aviaiton History: Sept 18, 1962 – Changing Designators
  32. Centennial Of Naval Aviation – The Shadow Warriors

Remembering D-Day: The Bedford Boys

bedfordThe small town of Bedford, VA lies in the mountain country of southwestern Virginia.  Tracing its roots back to the earliest days of the country when it was established in 1782 as the town of Liberty, Bedford’s chief clam to fame lay in having served at one time as a Thomas Jefferson’s personal retreat (Poplar Grove), the Beale Treasure, and as a portal enroute to the small cities of Lynchburg and Roanoke.  Outside of the local beauty of the mountains in that part of the Commonwealth, there was little else in the way of natural wealth and resources.  Coal was extracted from the nearby mountains, farmers worked the poor soil to scratch out a living on the rolling, hilly terrain, desultory industries rose, flourished briefly and passed along -  and in the town itself, the usual businesses could be found.  The Depression had been especially hard on the populace of some 3200, though some elements of the many restoration and recovery programs from far away Washington DC would trickle in locally, like the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway, it barely scratched the surface.  With war clouds on the horizon, the Virginia National Guard was activated and like many other small towns, Bedford contributed a company of soldiers who would go to war in places heretofore unimagined and unheard of.

In other words, it was like many other towns scattered through out the nation.  And like many across the land, those that could afford a radio, or knew someone or someplace that had one,  on June 6th, 1944 they listened intently as news began to arrive of a massive invasion at a distant location called “Normandy.” From Bedford, Company A of the Virginia National Guard’s 116th Infantry assaulted Omaha Beach as part of the First Division’s Task Force Oscar.

As the morning of June 7th dawned, the telegrams began arriving.

In Bedford, nineteen would arrive (later an additional four from elsewhere in the Normandy Campaign would be added), staggering the small town’s residents.  Everyone was touched in one way or another. Proportionally, Bedford’s losses were the highest in the nation.

One small town tucked away in the mountains – they gave so much for us all.

Captain Fellers lay with his boat team two hundred fifty yards from the D-1 Vierville draw. Jimmy Green had not been able to provide covering fire because his landing craft had bucked up and down too much in the heavy seas. There was only one thing to do – they would have to run for the nearest cover, making sure they did not bunch together to minimize casualties.

All along the bluffs above Omaha, veterans of the German 352nd Division lay in wait. They had moved into the area in recent weeks, relieving the inferior 716th Division. They totaled two regiments, almost two thousand men.

As Fellers and his men started to advance, German officers finally ordered their men to fire. Above the Vierville draw, the 352nd opened up with at least three MG-42 machine guns, firing over a thousand rounds per minute, and several mortars. Two dozen snipers lurked in nearby trenches. The slaughter was fast and merciless. Fellers and the twenty-nine men in his boat died in a matter of minutes, riddled by machine-gun bullets from several directions.

No accurate record exists of the boat roster for Company A on D-Day. It was probably lost with many others in the chaos and carnage after H-Hour. But it is thought that the following Bedford boys may have been among those who died within yards of their captain: twenty-two-year-old Sergeant Dickie Abbott; twenty-six-year-old Clifton Lee, the shy but fiercely patriotic private whose eyebrows arched dramatically above his pale face; twenty-three-year-old Gordon Henry White Jr. who dreamed of his mother’s cooking; the well-mannered Southern “gentleman” NickGillaspie; and the ace dice player, Wallace “Snake Eyes” Carter.

Less than fifty yards away, another LCA had also approached the beach. On board were George Roach, Thomas Valance, Gil Murdock, and the Bedford boys Dickie Overstreet and Master Sergeant John Wilkes. “We’re going to drop this ramp and as soon as we do, we’re going to back out,” shouted a British bowman, “so you guys better be ready.”

Chapter 11, “Dog Beach”, from the book “The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice” by Alex Kershaw (Da Capo Press, 2004).

Memorial Day 2009

…The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government : of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

A Whale Returns to Sea

a-3-lift-30-apr-09-033(NAVSTA Rota)  30 April 2009 – an EA-3B Skywarrior is loaded aboard USS Wasp (LHD 1) for transport back to the U.S.  This marks the first time in over twenty-years a Whale is chocked and chained to the flightdeck of a USN warship.  How it got to that point is an extraordinary story of one community’s dedication, passion and memory of those who once flew an ancient aircraft in difficult conditions on missions the importance of which few at the time, and even today, did not understand.

The latest journey of Ranger 07 (ex-BuNo 146457) began in July 2007 with notification from the then-CO of NAVSTA Rota to the A-3 Skywarrior Association’s president that becuase of long-term plans for the installation, that the EA-3 presently located on display outside the Rota BOQ would need to be relocated to the US or end up being scrapped.  The Association mounted a “Save the Whale” campaign and through the efforts and contributions of indivuals and corportations, Ranger 07 began it’s halting redeployment to the US and (hopefully) final home as part of the USS Alabama Memorial Park.


Say what you will about Americans in general and those associated with naval aviation in particular, but we do tend toward sentimentality.  How else would one explain the outpouring of money and volunteer time from people half a world away to bring an aircraft that hasn’t flown in almost twenty years from its foreign perch to the US?  Indivduals, some on limited incomes, who gave from a few dollars to several thousand – over $18,000 in individual contributions by the start of this month.  People who both flew the aircraft or worked on it and others whose sole link was a brother, son or husband who went away for months at a time on dets they could neither write or talk about.  Others actually made the trip overseas to work on the aircraft to prepare it for shipping, working mechanisms that hadn’t been exercised in nearly a couple of decades – all on their dime, their time.  And some corporate help has also been forthcoming, notably from Raytheon, the current and last operator of the Whale (it is a terrific avionics test bed) which has contributed needed parts.

And what of Ranger 07 itself?  It has had a long and illustrious carrier, beginning with VQ-1 in Guam in the early 1960s:

preflightI will also confess an affinity for the Whale and those who flew and worked on it – both from a personal and professional basis.  The Whale was one of the first naval aircraft I recall seeing in my (no long past) youth, but moreover, as a VAW NFO I spent many an hour in planning and flying with VQ folks ( including time in the Whale itself), especially when we hosted a det while I was in VAW-126.  I have friends from VQ and have lost some over the years – including some I knew in Ranger 12, lost on the Nimitz in January 1987.  While there is a Whale on display at the National Security Agency’s memorial park (in Ranger 12’s markings), this one has the potential to be seen by many more people, giving wider understanding of the sacrifices, that went necessarily publically unrecognized, to keep us free.

Now after all those years, all those flights, one more Whale is finding its way back home.  The Wasp is due in Norfolk later in May where it will be off-loaded by volunteers and brought over to the air side pending further transfer South.  Whether by barge or truck, it will not be inexpensive.  If you are so inclined, you can aid in this effort by contacting the A-3 Skywarrior Association  directly or via this form.

Major-league h/t to CAPT Andy Niemyer, USN (Retired) for the pics and tip.

Remembering Columbine – 10 Years Later

It began as an ordinary, early spring day – teachers going about their business of teaching  students; students doing what normal high school students are wont to do.  At 1140, it dramatically, tragically changed with 12 students and a teacher dead and 23 others physically wounded – many more emotionally scarred.

Two years, four months and 22 days later, another “ordinary” day would close with thousands dead and many more physically and emotionally scarred.  At the Pentagon, among the hundreds and thousands of cards and remembrance banners received, there was one that is still etched in my memory, for I saw it on my way into the building each and every day the following weeks and months.  It was a profoundly simple banner from the students, faculty and parents of Columbine HS that stated their support, love and remembrance.

Today, I return my own as we remember the events of that day ten years ago and the innocence lost.  God bless you all. – SJS

Remembering – Bear Ace 603

vaw124 Paul Gallagher, fellow VAW alum,  dropped by a short bit ago to pass along a remembrance of one of the crews we lost in the early ’90s.  See, one of the hallmarks of the E-2/C-2 is the (still) relatively low mishap rate.  Mishaps, and in particular, mishaps that result in the loss of some or all of the crew were relatively rare events.  In the early 1990’s though we had a spate of losses that spiked the rate.  In one relatively short period two aircraft were lost – Closeout 602 (VAW-126) and Bear Ace 603 (VAW-124) – the latter 16 years ago tonight/tomorrow AM…and, well, let Paul tell the story:

I was the Maintenance Officer of the VAW 124 Bear Aces in 1993. Turbo Tom Parker was the Skipper, Billy Wo Wolters was the XO. He was off the ship the night of the mishap at some operational meetings ashore.
The circumstances of this mishap formed in my mind at the time, the intractable opinion that nobody except aviators should ever command aviators. The following facts (to the best of my recollection) are germane:

The Bear Aces were embarked in USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT.   As we departed the U.S. we were right in the path of what would become known as the storm of the century.   As a result, the airwing was not able to accomplish our refresher CQ. The decision was made to push to the Med because we needed to relieve the JFK on time to insure they did not exceed the 6 month deployment rule.

The translant was slow due to extremely rough seas, so we were never able to accomplish any flying enroute, and we were late getting to the Med. There was a great deal of pressure to get us into the Adriatic because of the Bosnia Herzegovina tensions, and the JFK had to get out to make the 6 month timeframe. Once inchopped to the Med we were ordered to steam directly into the Adriatic to replace them without having yet CQ’d. Our CAG Willie Moore and the CARGRU Jay Johnson were known to have strenuously objected, but higher authority only relented to the extent that they allowed us ½ day of flight ops to allow the pilots who would fly our missions the next night one day trap.

That was the circumstance leading up to the mishap. That first night we were scheduled to fly in support of some airdrops of food to starving Bosnians for our first real mission of the deployment, but the night we were to commence the weather was terrible. Once again, we were aware our leadership had requested that we not fly due to our lack of NATOPs qualifications, and the fact that the weather was forecast to be below minimums. Despite the persistent objections of our aviation leadership; at the EUCOM level it was directed we fly the missions – a decision probably made by an Army infantry officer. Bear Ace 603 took off and was in the goo immediately off the deck. As I understood it from others who flew that night they probably never broke out. A couple of airwing pilots who were airborne that night estimated it went above 25,000 ft.

During the recovery Bear Ace 603 made a good approach, but was waved off fairly late for reasons I don’t recall however, it was NOT for technique. They did a shallow climb, reached about 700 feet, nosed over and flew into the sea. The last broadcast from the aircraft while in their fatal descent was a calm acknowledgement of the climb and turn downwind directions from CATCC.

The XO of the Tomcat squadron was head of the mishap board. Their conclusion was that the mishap pilots must have been suffering from debilitating vertigo. There simply was no other explanation.

The crew of Bear Ace 603 was John “Frenchy” Messier, Pilot, Billy Ray Dyer, copilot, Jon “Rooster” Rystrom was the CICO, Pat “Aardvark” Ardaiz was the ACO, and Bob “McFly” Forwalder was the RO. For many years, a day would not go by in which I wouldn’t think of them, now after even more years I’d have to say a couple of days doesn’t go by… you never shake that sadness when something like that happens to the guys in your outfit, I know for the Bear Aces that were there, we never will.

“you never shake that sadness when something like that happens to the guys in your outfit, I know for the Bear Aces that were there, we never will.” Amen Paul – know that there are others who feel the same way too…

And a reminder that those still here can do something good for the families of those we’ve lost…


Flightdeck Friday: USMC WWII MIA Return Edition


The Official press release:

Marine Pilot Missing In Action From WWII Is Identified

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from World War II, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors
He is Maj. Marion R. McCown Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, of Charleston, S.C. He will be buried on Jan. 18 in Charleston.
Representatives from the Marine Corps Mortuary Office met with McCown’s next-of-kin to explain the recovery and identification process and to coordinate interment with military honors on behalf of the secretary of the Navy.
On Jan. 20, 1944 McCown was the pilot of an F-4U Corsair aircraft that failed to return from a combat mission over Rabaul, New Britain, Papua New Guinea.
In 1991, a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) team excavated an F-4U crash site in Rabaul and recovered human remains and McCown’s identification tag. However, forensic science at that time precluded an identification.
In 2006, a JPAC team surveyed the crash site in preparation for a recovery. While at the site, a villager living in the area turned over to the team human remains that he claimed to have recovered from the site. In 2008, another JPAC team excavated the site and recovered additional human remains.
Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC used dental comparisons in the identification of McCown’s remains.


And now the rest of the story:


Rabaul.  Few geographic locations or names carried the cache of raw challenge and threat during the war.  Situated on the north-eastern peninsula of New Britain, Rabaul was founded by the Germans in 1910 as they recognized the utility availaed of its large, deep water harbor that was afforded natural protection from both the elements and man by its surrounding high, volcanic pumice hills.  Captured by British Commonwealth forces, it became part of Australia’s mandated territory of New Guinea after the war.  Western militaries were not the only ones aware of the strategic utility of the port and surrounding territory – the Japanese military was very much aware of its potential.  In February 1942, Japanese forces swept away Australian forces as the juggernaut launched with the invasion of China and most recently, the bombing of Pearl harbor and occupation of the Philippines continued its inexorable march through the Solomons in a bid to isolate and eventually nvade Australia.


Rabaul – the “unsinkable aircraft carrier.”  Rapidly, after the Japanese occupation forces settled in, additional troops, aircraft and ships arrived.  Five airfields were built to serve the several hundred land-based fighters and bombers that would offer airborne protection and far-ranging strikes throughout the area, controlling the seas and skies above.  From the harbor, warships and troop carriers sailed to further the reach of the Empire.  And from afar, the Allies pondered and planned.  By January of 1944, those plans – part of Operation “Cartwheel” were well underway.  It started with the Battle of Coral Sea when the Japanese thrust towards Australia was blunted in the first beyond visual range engagement of two fleets.  Continuing with the vicious land- and sea-battles on and around Guadalcanal and up the New Georgia chain of islands towards Bougainville, Allied forces established air and seabases along the way.  A noose was being built around Rabaul and the time was coming to tighten it.

One of the bases established was on a south-eastern point of land on the volcanic island of Vella Lavella.  Here, VMF-321 “Hell’s Angels,” stood up in February 1943, would establish their base of operations. The weapon of choice – the F4u-1 Corsair, known by the Japanese as “the Whistling Death”  From this base, VF-321 and others, like the infamous “Black Sheep” of VMF-214, would fan out and start to sweep the skies of Japanese opposition.  Partners to this effort were the carriers of the Fifth Fleet and land air forces of the Fifth Air Force.  The latter, notorious for the development of skip-bombing bombers taking a toll of shipping and which would prove signatory in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea while carrier aircraft swept into the lair itself in November 1943, twice striking the assembled fleet in the Rabaul harbor and effectively ending its usefulness as a staging point to threaten operations int he Solomons.

Still, to ensure the by-passed stronghold would not resurrect itself, regular bombing strikes were carried out by land-based Liberators and Mitchells, escorted by P-38s and Marine F4us.  And it is today, January 20th, 1944 that Major Marion R. McCown, USMC found himself at the controls of F4U-1 BuNo 17448 inbound to Rabaul.  The Charleston, South Carolina native had joined shortly after Pearl Harbor.  Having previously received his private pilot’s license while attending Georgia Tech, it wa clear form the beginning his intention was to become a “flying leatherneck.”  Having been stationed for almost a year now at Vella Lavella, he had come to appreciate the beauty of the area as well as the lethality of the action., having a hand in the 39 Japanese aircraft downed by VF-321 up that point since their commissioning.  However, as demonstrated just two days earlier, his luck was not only good, it was holding.  Then, returning from another mission to Rabaul, he had experienced engine failure.  Ditching over 50 nm from his base, he was found in short order by a passing PT boat and returned.  Now, the 27-yr old was back in the skies over Rabaul and, with eleven of his other squadronmates, found themselves in a swirling dogfight against forty Japanese Zeros.  As the dogfight progressed, and the air filled with lead, smoke fire and parachutes, he was last seen on the tail of a Zero with another closing on him.  A fellow squadronmate claimed to have shot the Zero off his tail, but McCown was not seen again.  Three others were also lost in the skies over Rabaul that day.


In 1991, a forensic team received a set of dogtags and some bone fragments, but they were insufficient to verify the identity.  Later, in 2006, a team returning to the site to prepare it for recovery discovered a partial parachute, and, along with remains passed by a local who had recovered them rom the site, they excavated more remains and the aircraft remnants, garnering enough to positively identify it as the crash site of Major McCown’s F4u.  This was fortuitous as a 1997 eruption of the volcano on the west end of the peninsula had caused substantial destruction to a widespread area.  He is scheduled to be interred next to his mother and grandparents on January 18, 2009 in the Unitarian Church of Charleston’s cemetery.