VAQ-129, the first time

VAQ-129 the first time.

After finishing my tour at the test center, I was ordered to VAQ-129 the EA-6B RAG (Replacement Air Group). RAG sounds funny but it was the training squadron for the new EA-6B. After VAQ-129 I was to report to VAQ-131, the former Hollygreens KA-3B squadron, as Executive Officer. The KA-3B squadron was decommissioned. We were going to stand up as an EA-6B squadron and deploy to WestPac (Western Pacific) where the Vietnam war was still raging. Life in the RAG while getting VAQ-131 ready to deploy was challenging. I also decided to build a home. I had a plan of a home I saw in Santa Barbara. Using that with a willing builder, I built a dream house with a fantastic view of Puget Sound and the sunsets. The house was in Patton’s Hideaway, a building project off West Beach Highway. Patton’s Hideaway had been conceived by Mr. Patton an Oak Harbor, Washington real estate salesperson and developer. He acquired some land just off West Beach highway at about the same time the I-5 highway was being built in Seattle. To make room for the highway many homes had to be moved or destroyed. Patton moved many of these homes to his land in Patton’s Hideaway and sold them. The homes were moved to a barge in Puget Sound, barged to West Beach where a ramp had been built and then bulldozed to their site. Patton bragged that many homes were moved without breaking a window. My home was built on a vacant lot in Patton’s Hideaway.

While in the RAG I met some of my old VQ-1 squadron mates. I remember particularly Rip Purdy, now deceased. I could never get along with Rip. That was to continue. Rip had awarded himself many medals and ribbons that he was not entitled to. Bill Dickson warned me that Rip’s medals defied logic. I examined Rip’s service record and personal record before confronting him. It was not pretty. I had been the administrative officer in VQ-1 and was aware of the medals and ribbons our officers earned. Rip had awarded himself four unearned ribbons or medals. Jim Wheeler later stated that I was too hard on Rip. How can one be too hard on a naval officer who cheats?

After completing the RAG, we stood up VAQ-131 and prepared to deploy on the USS Enterprise, CVA-65. Enterprise was the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier. Her power system consisted of eight nuclear reactors. Clean and fast. Deployment was in September of 1972. The airwing consisted of two F-4H (Phantom) squadrons, two A-7 (Corsair) squadrons, one A-6 (Intruder) squadron, one RA-5C (Vigilante) squadron, one E-2C (Hawkeye or Hummer) squadron, us the EA-6B squadron and a detachment of helicopters. We stopped in Cubi Point enroute to the Gulf of Tonkin. The temperature was extremely hot and it took a day or two to get acclimated to the heat. Soon we were in the Gulf of Tonkin flying missions over North Vietnam. There were usually two aircraft carriers in the Gulf at any one time. One ship flew noon to midnight and one ship flew midnight to noon. The midnight to noon schedule was brutal. The ship maintained a normal work schedule. This schedule meant that the ship’s crew operated from 0600 to 2200 while the airwing was starting work at 2200 and working until noon or beyond the next day. What this meant to me was that while trying to sleep for a midnight launch, the ship was conducting business as normal around me. My most grievous pet peeve was the evening prayer. Try to imagine being in bed, trying to sleep for a black night flight while a chaplain with an endless monotone recites the evening prayer.

In October of 1972 I assumed command of VAQ-131 in a change of command ceremony on the hangar deck of the USS Enterprise.

During the cruise, we lost three airplanes. An F-4, a RA-5C and an A-6. The A-6 was flown by Gordy Nakagawa, the XO of VA-85. He and his B/N (bombardier/navigator) were returned after the war ended. Gordy rode home with us on the Enterprise and gave us a blow by blow of his shoot down. He had lost some weight but otherwise he was in decent shape. I do not know what happened to the RA-5C crew. There was some talk that the RA-5C was shot down by a trigger-happy F-4 driver. The F-4 that was shot down was the most tragic. That shoot down happened on the last day of the air war and on the second from last sortie of the air war. The Phantom was piloted by Commander Harley Hall. He was the executive officer of the Phantom squadron. Harley had been a student of mine when he went through flight training. He was the best. After his flight training we stayed in contact. Just before his Enterprise cruise, he had been the leader of the Blue Angels. Some had predicted that Harley was destined to become Chief of Naval Operations at some time in the future. We know for certain that he and his RIO (radar intercept officer) ejected. The RIO was returned after the war. He has steadfastly refused to discuss the fate of Commander Hall. The fact remains that Commander Hall was never returned to us. Some feel that he was executed on the ground by those who shot him down. His spouse feels that the Vietnamese kept him rather than return him with the other POW’s (prisoners of war) released at the end of the war. She assumed that he ultimately died in captivity. In my opinion, I feel that there was no reason to have kept Commander Hall after the war ended. There have been no sightings of him. There was another theory that Commander Hall was executed as he descended in his parachute or when he reached the ground.

In December of 1972 the Enterprise visited Hong Kong on a routine port call. My spouse flew down from Japan and we enjoyed the sights and food of Hong Kong. The political situation concerning Vietnam was such that our government decided to resume massive bombings of North Vietnam, especially Hanoi once more. This exercise was called Linebacker II. It involved waves of B-52’s, 150 at a time, in cells of three, to drop tons of bombs on the city. There were no strategic targets that were bombed in these raids. This was just terror bombing. The Air Force lost about seven or eight B-52’s every night. The navy also participated by launching everything we could over North Vietnam. It was on one of these flights that Gordon Nakagawa was shot down. After the third or fourth night, the Vietnamese had run out of the most destructive of the ground to air missiles and the B-52’s were not being challenged quite as badly as before.

Common sense prevailed someplace. The bombings stopped. The North Vietnamese returned to the bargaining table and the war was ended soon after.

Commander Bob Marcus relieved me as commanding officer shortly after we returned from our cruise in September 1973. I received orders to Commander Carrier Division Seven home ported in Alameda, California. The same home port as the Enterprise had.