This page contains various actions and operations involving the USS Coral Sea, her crew and airwings. The stories include combat, special missions and other operations. Every attempt has been made to give an accurate as possible accounting of these actions. Please let me know if something is in error or if you have something to add to a story.
In the Summer of 1948 Yugoslavia was expelled from the Comintern. Over the next several years, there were serious tensions between Yugoslavia and its Communist neighbors. In March 1951, Tito claimed that Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Soviet Union were massing forces along Yugoslavia's border. In mid-March, a reinforced Marine Corps battalion arrived in the area. Later in March, the relief force for the Mediterranean arrived six weeks early to cover `the politically critical spring period.' In the last week of May, the Fleet was augmented with another aircraft carrier. In September 1952, President Tito went to sea aboard the carrier Coral Sea, a demonstration to the Soviet Union that American aid was available and acceptable to Yugoslavia.
Following a period of growing intermal tension and foreign policy turmoil, King Hussein dismissed British General Glubb as Commander of the Jordanian Arab Legion. In reaction to this move, two carriers (Coral Sea and Randolph) and an amphibious force were moved into the Eastern Mediterranean. The formation of a new cabinet in May effectively ended this crisis.
Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal on 26 July 1956. Tensions immediately rose as both France and the United Kingdom began preparations for military operations. Two carriers (Coral Sea and Randolph) and an amphibious force (which was reinforced in early September) were moved into the Eastern Mediterranean. The fleet dispersed in mid-September as the level of tension in the area appeared to subside.
The Suez Crisis began on 26 July 1956, when, following the United States' decision to withdraw its offer of a grant to aid the construction of Egypt's Aswan High Dam, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. The governments of Britain and France secretly began planning for an invasion of Egypt. Not to be outdone, Israel soon was doing its own invasion planning, completing its final plan on 5 October. After several inter-national mediation efforts had failed, Britain and France agreed in mid-October 1956 to undertake a joint intervention in Egypt. Aware of the upcoming Israeli plan to invade the Sinai, French officials suggested that a Franco-British force could enter Egypt ostensibly to separate the com-batants, while actually seizing control of the entire Suez waterway. On 26 October, the United States learned of Israel's military mobilization, and President Dwight Eisenhower sent the first of two personal messages to Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion asking that Israel do nothing to endanger the peace. In the Mediterranean on the 28th, the U.S. Sixth Fleet was placed on alert. Undeterred by U.S. diplomatic maneuvering, Israeli forces began attacks in Egypt on 29 October.
The following day Britain and France began to make their move. The British government issued an Anglo-French ultimatum calling on the Israelis and Egyptians to withdraw their forces to a distance of 10 miles from the Suez Canal and demanding that Egypt allow British and French forces to temporarily occupy key posi-tions guarding the canal. That same day, Admiral Walter F. Boone, U.S. Commander Naval Forces, Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, ordered the Sixth Fleet to assist in the evacua-tion of U.S. nationals from Israel and Egypt. Coral Sea (CVA 43) and Randolph (CVA 15), the fleet's two attack carriers that were already oper-ating in the eastern Mediterranean, were directed to keep clear of British naval units operating there. In Norfolk, Va., the Navy ordered one attack carrier, a heavy cruiser and a destroyer squadron to get ready to sail to the Mediterranean to augment the Sixth Fleet and a second CVA and a division of destroyers to be on 72-hour notice. The Anglo-French attack on Egypt began at dusk on 31 October with a series of large-scale air strikes. The following day Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Arleigh Burke signaled Vice Admiral Charles R. "Cat" Brown, Commander Sixth Fleet: "Situation tense; prepare for imminent hostilities." Brown signaled back: "Am prepared for imminent hostilities, but whose side are we on?" In classic Burke style, the CNO's return response was, "Keep clear of foreign op areas but take no guff from anybody."
The Suez Crisis increased in intensity on the afternoon of 5 November when the Soviet Union sent diplomatic notes to Britain, France and Israel threatening to crush the aggressors and restore peace in the Middle East through the use of force. President Eisenhower's reaction to these threats was that "if those fellows start something, we may have to hit 'em and, if necessary, with everything in the bucket."
Coral Sea and Randolph and their escorts shifted to an operating area southwest of Crete in order to improve their readiness posture for a general emergency. Agreeing to a cease-fire on 6 November, Britain and France ended their military operations that night at midnight. Soviet military moves continued during the next few days, however, and on the 7th, Burke ordered attack carriers Forrestal (CVA 59) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA 42) to sail from Norfolk toward the Azores, together with a heavy cruiser and three divisions of destroyers, to act as a standby augmentation to the Sixth Fleet. U.S. Navy forces were directed to maintain readiness to execute emergency war plans. Tensions remained high until 15 November, when United Nations forces were brought into Egypt to provide a buffer between the Egyptians and the invasion forces. From that point on, the Soviet intervention threat gradually dissipated.First hand account during that period:
The Landing at the Suez Canal
Clinton M. Cox, USMC
Marine Detachment, USS Coral Sea CVA-43
1955 - 1957
We arrived on October 31, 1956 in the vicinity of Alexandria, Egypt. As I recall, our entire Marine Detachment, with no other personnel involved, except the boat crews that were to operate the landing craft, were to deliver our Marine Detachment ashore at Port Said for the purpose of assisting American citizens in the evacuation from the area and we were to have gone as far south as Cairo, Egypt to offer assistance.
We were relieved of all normal duties, which included guarding the Special Weapons, manning the ship's Brig and staff orderly duty, aboard the USS Coral Sea CVA-43. We worked through the night loading the landing crafts with weapons and ammunition. Being well equipped, our arsenal included our M-1 rifles, 45 caliber pistols, a 50 caliber machine gun, several Thompson sub machine guns, mortars, rocket launchers and hand grenades. We were prepared for any hostilities.
Our uniforms for the landing were khakis and helmets, but were to wear our barracks caps ashore to the port so we would not alarm the civilian and military populations. We were briefed as to our mission and then told to rest before boarding the landing crafts. We were scheduled to leave the ship early the following morning. For several days we lay in wait for the order to board the landing crafts. Then, an order came to stand down. There were approximately 80 to 90 Marines ready to go ashore if ordered to do so. We were to be led by Captain George C. Fox, USMC and M/Sgt George F. Frederiksen, USMC.
The "Floating Battalion of Marines, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment" came on scene to assist in the evacuation of American personnel. Civilians were delivered aboard the USS Coral Sea while we steamed in circles off the coast of Egypt.
During the month of November 1956, and well after the planned landing by the Marine Detachment, an attempt was made to form the Ship's Landing Party aboard the USS Coral Sea. The Marine Detachment was in charge of this operation. It was to include Naval personnel but it was never completed. Most of the Naval personnel had jobs to do that were important to the day to day operation of the ship, therefore the Landing Party was never completely formed. Their reasoning was understandable.
The USS Coral Sea stayed off the coast of the Suez Canal for almost 30 days. From late October through November 23, 1956 we remained on station at points Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses off the Suez Canal.
During that period of time, British and French aircraft flew over the USS Coral Sea on their way to bombing missions at Port Said and the Suez Canal. Explosions lighted the sky and could be seen in the distance. We flew large American Flags that were illuminated at night with spot-lights so the foreign planes flying over us would not mistake us to be hostile.
Following the Pathet Lao capture of strategic positions on the central plain of Laos, Seventh Fleet forces (including two CVAs (Lexington and Coral Sea), one CVS (Bennington), and an amphibious force, were ordered to the South China Sea.
During the last three months of 1960 USS Coral Sea operated in various parts of WestPac, but as the crisis in Laos grew she was directed to take up station in the South China Sea. In December 1960 a military coup overthrew the Laotian government and open civil war began. The North Vietnamese, who needed unrestricted access to the road and trail network along the Lao/NVN and Lao/SVN borders to support the Viet Cong in South Vietnam, assisted the Pathet Lao in setting up a Communist enclave in the Plaine des Jars area, and the Soviet Union began providing supplies via airlift to the Pathet Lao. CORAL SEA's airwing, which included Skyraider and Skyhawk ground attack aircraft, provided the basis for immediately available military support for the pro-Western elements in Laos.
Follow-up from Hap Litzell: After several hours of searching, I found a copy of 15 Pages of an article titled Hans Kristensen, Japan under the US nuclear Umprella". I thought this might be of interest to you. I am only going to type a couple paragraphs from page 5 because the Coral sea is specifically mentioned and verifies what you and I already knew about the ships deployment to the South China sea in 1960 & 61.
I quote: "Several crises with Communist China over Taiwan and the crisis in Laos resulted in U.S. Pacific forces being put on high alert several times during the early 1960's prompting CINCPAC to deploy nuclear forces. During 1961, for example, PACOM forces were alerted twice for imminent combat action and combat units were pre-positioned in the Philippines, on Okinawa, or in the South China Sea. Equipment was loaded, and planes and ships stood by ready to move forces into Southwest Asis immediately upon receiving an order to execute war plans. These crises put to the test a new nuclear war plan introduced by the US Navy in the early 1960's; the Single Integrated Operation Plan (SIOP).
On December 31, 1960, for example, forces earmarked to support CINCPAC operations in defense of mainland Southeast Asia against Communist aggression or insurgency in Southeast Asia, were placed on DEFCON 2 (the defense condition immediately below outbreak of war). Three naval task groups, including the two nuclear strike carries USS Lexington and USS Coral Sea were ordered to depart Okinawa immediately for operations in the South China Sea. Following a week of high alert, the forces were returned to DEFCON3 on January 1961, and ordered no more the FOUR hours steaming distance away. Eventually, on February 25, DEFCON 4 was re-established.
Already the following month, however, tension escalated once more. On march 19th, U.S. forces were placed back of DEFCON 3 in response to a deteriorating of the situation in Laos. This alert condition was raised to DEFCON 2 two days later, and four nuclear carriers were called in."
That pretty much tells it all about the 60-61 cruise.
In response to a Viet Cong attack on barracks area at Pleiku, South Vietnam, aircraft from carriers, USS Coral Sea, USS Hancock, and USS Ranger attack North Vietnamese area near Donghoi.
[Submitted by Mike Robertson] - We were headed to Sidney Aust. for port of call when we were diverted to Subic Bay PI to take on Bombs, ammo and supplies. The USS Coral Sea was the first carrier battle group to launch full air strikes at North Vietnam in Feb. 65 after the USS Turnner Joy and the USS Maddox (Destoryers ).
However, at 6.12 a.m. the following morning, word flashed to all units of Task Force 77 to rendezvous at an appointed area, and to begin preparation for a retaliatory strike into North Viet Nam. Coral Sea immediately reversed her course and steamed at full speed toward the rendezvous area.
Simultaneously, the pilots of Carrier Air Wing FIFTEEN were awakened and told to prepare for action. Below decks, ordnance-men were busily assembling bombs and loading them on aircraft which were positioned on the flight deck The majority of the crew were still unaware of the crisis until they found the mess decks full of bombs where messing tables used to stand. Captain Cassell announced the situation to his crew. During the previous evening, guerilla attacks against American bases in South Viet Nam had cost the lives of several Americans and injured many more.
At 12:40 p.m., February 7, the word was go Pilots had been thoroughly briefed and their aircraft were positioned in their launch sequence on the flight deck. For the first time in her 18 years of commissioned naval service, Coral Sea was about to fire her first shots in anger.
Precisely at 3:00 p.m., little more than eight hours after the first word of trouble, planes shot from Coral Sea's flight deck to join forces with aircraft from Ranger and Hancock. Comprising one-half of the airborne striking force, Coral Sea's aircraft led the reprisal strike in a bombing run over the Dong Hoi military barracks, one of the staging areas for Viet Cong infiltrators into South Viet Nam. It was the largest, single U.S. Navy air effort since the Korean War.
[Submitted by Randy Kelso] - This sequence of photos show Lt. Jack Terhune ejecting from his damaged F8 over the China Sea in 1965. He was picked up by a helicopter from the USS Coral Sea. Many thanks to Les Jackson for supplying these great, original photos of the ejection sequence. Les served as a ship's company journalist on the 64-65 cruise. The photos were taken by LTJG Roy A. Zink of VFP 63 from his RF-8 photo bird. LCDR Jim Ginn is seen flying his F-8 along side of the crippled F-8.
We spent most of 1965 (an 11 month cruise) off the coast of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. Flight quarters, long hours and constant danger were the rule, especially for our pilots. As I recall, Mr. Jack Terhune's aircraft was shot up on a raid into North Vietnam and he was trying to make it back to the boat but lost all his hydraulic fluid. When this happens in the F-8, everything hangs out in the breeze (gear, flaps, speedbrake, wing raised, hook, etc.)... then the stick freezes! Mr. Terhune told his two wingmen (Mr. Jim Ginn on the starboard side and Mr. Roy Zink in a photo Crusader on the port side) that he was about to punch. Mr. Zink started his starboard camera taking pictures at a high rate and the result was the series you see on our site. The pictures made the newspapers and several Navy publications; it was apparently the first time such a sequence had been captured on film. I remember seeing the originals posted on a bulletin board on the ship shortly after it happened. I looked for many years for a copy of those pictures. When I talked to Mr. Terhune at his home in Texas some thirty years later, I asked where they were. He said that they were hanging on his front room wall! I ended up getting our copies for the web page from Les Jackson who was a Journalist in Public Affairs aboard the Coral Sea during our watch.
[Submitted by Walt Darran] - Robert Door ("Skyraider---") is quoted as saying USN had A1's based in Udorn in 1965. Not true. However, VA-165, embarked (USS) Coral Sea (CVA-43), occasionally supported Air America choppers on RESCAPS before USAF Jolly Greens and Sandys got it sorted out and were allowed to play north of the Mekong.
On 15 July 65 two FIREWOOD (VA-165) divisions were sent to cover the pickup of the crew of the first A-6 shot down in the war. MUSTANG (Coral Sea) was on Yankee station, the crash site was in Laos, so we made a 0400 launch and flew direct, over Vinh; our friends on the ground celebrated our overflight with a delightful fireworks display to greet the new day.
We split at the Laotian border. Division #2, led by XO Harry Parode, went to Udorn to top off and stand by. Division #1, led by Skipper Ken Knoizen, plus myself, J.E.B. Stuart, and Bill Lyons, rendezvoused with the AAM choppers and started searching. We soon picked up a PRC-49 signal. The lead AAM chopper (Julian "Scratch" Kanach, later chopper pilot for Ross Perot's "Wings of Eagles" Iranian "evacuation") sighted a man on the ground, but after several low passes had to retire due to a fuel leak caused by Pathet Lao playing with automatic weapons. There was considerable confusion, partly caused by the fact that the downed pilot's transmitter was working, but not his receiver; vice-versa for the BN. We did not figure it out at the time, and they were a mile apart, so the communication sounded like me and my ex-wife. After we contributed some thunder and lightning to the festivities another H-34 picked up both crewmembers, then we destroyed the evidence and adjourned to the infamous Air America bar in Udorn for a debrief.
Assuming we were staying for the evening, we happily accepted celebratory drinks and pu-pu's offered by our new friends. A couple hours later we were brought up short by a message from MUSTANG telling us to get our young asses back home ASAP. It was a colorful recovery at 2040.
A couple notes:
1. Unarmed AAM choppers made an incredible number of pickups under hostile fire throughout the war, but they DID NOT receive any sort of bounty/bonus for them, just normal flight and hazard pay, which they got anyway for being, as I recall, beyond an 80-mile radius north of Vientiane. But every chopper jock that I knew would drop everything and head for the scene if he had a chance to pick up a downed airman. I personally saw Charlie Weitz (AAM) pick up 5 downed pilots in 5 days, 4 under fire, one (a Raven from LS 36) that had crashed on takeoff into an unmarked minefield (Charlie had to touch down in the minefield to effect the pickup). Just a brief respite from routine duties. Cojones grande!
2. This particular rescue got several write-ups, some after the war, possibly because both the pilot and BN, Don Boecker and Don Eaton, VA-75 embarked (USS) Independence (CVA 62), later made Admiral.
3. I later visited Sandys in Udorn to discuss SERE and SAR tactics, and flew a BR/RT on Route 6 with Dick Needham in #419 on 26 June 66. When I flew for AAM in Udorn (On-Mark B-26), then CASI in Vientiane (Pilatus Porter), Sandys were kind enough to issue me a card for the Sandy Box, and gleefully responded to my VHF calls referencing ground contacts up-country. Then someone mentioned "Firewood Buddha" as a FAC callsign in their debrief, some anal-retentive intelligence-type raised an eyebrow and a few questions, and we had to cool it. No sense of humor.
It was an interesting time, and we were indeed fortunate to fly Spads. Better to screw your way around the world than to blow your way around! Spads 4ever!
[Email's from Doug Clower, Ted Stier and an article form southeasttexaslive.com]
Pilot's cheated death in the air - but 5 1/2 years of hell waited below.
A single warning shouted over the radio saved Doug Clower's life on a Sunday afternoon in 1967 over North Vietnam.
"We were escorting 16 A-4 Charlies to bomb an airfield south of Haiphong, and we got into a dogfight with two (MiG)-17s and four (MiG)-21s," said Clower, a 1955 Lamar State College of Technology graduate. "Somebody yelled 'Break left!' and I broke left. Who hollered, I don't know."
The missile would have scored a direct hit if he didn't break. Instead, it exploded near his Phantom, forcing Clower and his radar intercept officer, Lt. j.g. Walt Estes, to eject. Clower's wingmen, Lt. j.g. Jack Teague and Lt. j.g. Ted Stier, were shot down moments later.
[Read the details of the MIG engagement. Click here]
Clower landed uninjured in a rice field in calf-deep water and was captured in seconds. "They had AK-47s and I had two .38s and I thought those weren't good odds," he said.
Estes and Teague, the pilot of the other F-4, did not survive to be taken prisoner. But he and Stier lived.
"They stripped me and took me to some place where they could hold us till they could get a jeep," Clower said. "Then they took us to Hanoi and started torturing us."
Lt. Ted Stier in the other Phantom ejected from his crippled aircraft: "When I landed I was about 50 yards from the a/c and under fire by the local militia. The a/c was pretty much intact but a fire was burning on its right side aft of the radome. I transmitted on my survival radio that I was on the ground and about to be captured. That was the beginning of my 5 + years in the Hanoi Hilton."
"As a sequel to all of this, I thought I was transported to Hanoi with Jack Teague. I had been injured on the ground and also given a version of the rope treatment prior to dispatch to Hanoi. On the trip there, I was in an out of consciousness but sensed another captive with me. On the last leg of the trip I was able to see under my blind fold and saw someone who I thought was Jack Teague. After repatriation and talking with Doug Clower I believe it was Doug who I saw. While imprisoned and in different camps throughout the years, I would inquire through our com net if anyone had run into Jack or Walt, the results were always negative."
"Jack and Walt's remains were repatriated in the late '70's, ' 78 if I remember correctly. Several years ago DoD asked me to ID some photos they had of 2 dead flyers. It wasn't disclosed who had taken the pix or how they obtained them, but they were of Jack and Walt. They were lying on the ground, obviously dead, and surrounded by locals.. I suspect they fell into the hands of the civilians who either shot them or beat them to death. In my own case, I consider myself lucky to have been captured by the militia who kept the incensed and highly agitated civilians at bay. At one point, in order to disperse a crowd of people who were impeding our travel out of the shoot down area, they leveled their rifles, fired off several rounds & yelled Hanoi, Hanoi. I knew then, whatever fate had in store for me, would be found in Hanoi, if we could stay clear of the civilians."Anchors Aweigh
Today, Clower, now 74, lives on his farm in Bleiblerville, a small town near Brenham, with his wife Maurine on 160 acres where he grows hay. A native of Clarksdale, Miss., and retired twice, first from the Navy in 1975 and again after 27 years as an oil and gas engineer, he is twice a grandfather and five times a great-grandfather.
But 50 years ago, as a 1955 graduate of Lamar State College of Technology with two engineering degrees, Clower was a man looking for a way to support his family. His wife, Maurine "Sweetheart" Brown, is a native of Beaumont.
"I shopped the streets of Beaumont and talked to all the recruiters. The Navy told me they could send me to OCS and the civil engineer program," Clower said. "I thought my wife and kid could eat better off that than my being enlisted."
But when a problem cropped up and the Navy was unable to get him into the engineering program, the recruiter asked him, "How'd you like to fly?"
Twelve years later, during October and November 1967 Clower's squadron, VF-151, lost five crews during missions in the skies over North Vietnam. The fourth and fifth crews the squadron lost were Clower and Estes, and Teague and Stier.
On Nov. 19, 1967, just before noon, Clower rode his Phantom off the USS Coral Sea and would not return home again for more than five years.
"We stopped a couple times along the way," Clower said of the trip to Hanoi. "They seemed to stop in little villages and we were blindfolded and tied and naked and they would throw open the drapes. It seemed like the women who would come up and pinch us and throw rocks at us."
When they reached Hanoi, Clower and Stier were taken to the Hoa Lo Prison, the infamous "Hanoi Hilton."
"The Heartbreak Hotel," Clower said.
The three days from the time he was shot down until he was put in a cell still run together in his memory.
"I knew as I laid there on that cold concrete floor, hurting, hungry and broken, I knew I had broken. I was convinced they could make me denounce God," Clower said. "I said, 'God, give me the strength to do those things that are right in your eyes and the eyes of my country.' "
The torture of American prisoners was not about getting information, Clower said. It was about control and keeping them under their captors' thumbs.
"They wanted me to point out the targets for the next day, but I didn't know," Clower said. "Every time they got me in a position I couldn't take it anymore, I'd lie to them. Hit me again, and I'll lie to you again."
In the later years of his captivity, the North Vietnamese allowed the prisoners to have a Bible for one hour on Christmas and Easter to celebrate the holidays. In doing this, though, they unwittingly gave the POWs access to parts of the Bible throughout the rest of the year.
During the hour they had it, the prisoners would all line up two-by-two and each pair would together memorize a verse by repeating it again and again. As soon as it was firmly set in their memories, they would return for another verse and keep this up until the book was taken away.
After their Bible was taken away, the prisoners used their memories and ink made of cigarette ash to copy the 50 or so memorized verses on toilet paper. To keep their improvised Bible safe, the paper was rolled up and stuffed into a hollowed out bar of soap.
To communicate, the prisoners would tap on the walls using a code system that set the alphabet -minus the letter "K" - into a five-by-five grid.
"There was never a night that I did not hear 'tap-tap, tap-tap,' G.G. Good night and God bless," Clower said. "And if you got caught tapping that, you'd be tortured."
USS Coral Sea veteran Doug Clower displays a patriotic washcloth which was sent to him by his wife during his detainment in a Vietnamese POW camp. Clower and other soldiers at the camp covertly used the cloth as they pledged allegience to the U.S. Flag.
Clower's last day as a prisoner of war came March 17, 1973, but it was not without a few stumbling blocks. After he was issued civilian clothes provided by the Red Cross, guards told him to change back into his prison uniform.
"It was frightening. They took me and two other prisoners and walked us to the big house."
Waiting for him when he arrived at the big house was the camp commander, known as "Bushy" to the prisoners. He was sitting at a table with three American officers and four neutral officers.
"I walked into the room and pulled the biggest bluff of my life," Clower said.
Clower said he figured he was the senior American officer in the room because the three Americans were all majors, equal to him as a lieutenant commander, but he was pretty sure his date of rank in 1964 made him senior. He told everyone he was in charge.
"Bushy said, 'There is no rank among these prisoners. They're killers of children and old people, and (Clower) is the blackest of the black,' " he said. "He told the guards to drag me out, and the major said, 'Sir, we'll never leave Vietnam without you.' "
Three days later, Clower arrived home in San Diego and saw his wife for the first time in more than six years.
"It was amazing, wonderful," said Maurine Clower, 72. "I had his mom and stepdad, his sister and her husband, my mom and dad, and of course our daughter. We all went to the airport to meet him."
Maurine Clower said before Doug deployed, they discussed the possibility of him being captured.
"Anything you go through, I don't care what it is, the hardest thing you know is the hardest thing you know. I was fortunate because I knew if he survived the first year he would come home."
More than 30 years after he was repatriated, Clower said he is not haunted by his experiences as a POW.
"I do not have post-trauma syndrome, if I do I'm not smart enough to notice," Clower said. "I'm a better man now because of it. I know what my limits are. I can survive and I did survive."
[Special thanks to Steve Dumovich of the AWA Group for letting us use this story.] - Golf of Tonkin: Scott and I were fired off the catapult about 1800 on a road interdiction mission-call sign Bengal 505- near Tchepone, Laos, on Route 9 west of Khe Sanh. We carried 12 Mk-82 500-pound bombs and 12 Mk 20 Rockeyes. Tchepone was a major transshipment location along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and had a reputation as a hot spot: an Air Force AC-130 was shot down near there just two weeks earlier. The North Vietnamese had mounted a major offensive into South Vietnam in early April, but we knew little about the ground war. Soon after arriving on station, we saw several trucks on the road trying to get a head start on the evening run down the trail. It was about 1900 and the day was turning to dusk; the weather was clear.
We made two attacks, saw hits on two trucks, and rolled in on our third pass from about 16,000 feet, planning a 45-degree, 500-knot, visual delivery. After we pulled off, I heard-more than felt- a thump like a door closing. I said something to Scott but then realized our intercom was not working and he couldn't hear me.
The aircraft was doing strange things and almost every warning light in the cockpit was flashing just before we lost all electrical power. The nose began to move up and down and independently-I couldn't control it with the stick. I attempted a turn toward the mountains, and as I turned my head to look that way, I saw a huge ball of flame where the tail was-or had been. Shortly after that, the aircraft went into an inverted spin. When I looked up at Scott, he was looking down and reaching for the lower ejection handle. I faced forward, reached up for the face curtain, and ejected.
I seemed to hang in the 'chute for quite a while, even to the point of taking out my radio to call someone, when I realized there wasn't anyone to talk to. I looked down and there was fire on the ground directly underneath me. I landed next to the aircraft. The flames were intense and the remaining bombs on the aircraft were cooking off; shrapnel was flying all over the place. My first survival task was to get away from the wreckage. About that time, I heard an aircraft. I assumed it was Captain Roger Milton and Captain Charlie Carr, who were nearby just before we were hit. I beeped and broadcast on the emergency frequency, but there was no reply and the aircraft left.
The sun had just set and it was very dark. There was a lot of noise close by. I assumed it was Scott and almost called out. Somebody or something was moving through the woods in a hurry. About an hour later, I heard shouting and several shots. At that moment, I felt certain that he had been captured.
First night. Roger and Charlie had pinpointed the crash site. When we didn't return to the ship at our planned landing time a check was made at all the military bases in the area to make sure we had not diverted, and the information passed to 7th Air Force Saigon.
About 2200, I heard another aircraft and turned on my beeper. A voice speaking perfect English came up on the rescue frequency. He came in clearly, sounded very close, and asked me where I was.
"I'm in the vicinity of the wreckage, " I answered.
"We'll be there in a few minutes, " the voice replied.
It was totally dark by then, and we had been briefed that no rescues were ever attempted at night. I asked him his call sign, but there was no answer. Nothing like that happened again.
About two hours after the bogus call, I heard an aircraft fly over and I immediately beeped on my survival radio. I transmitted my call sign as Bengal 505 Alpha (pilots used the Alpha suffix with the tactical call sign and B/Ns used Bravo) and received a response from a crusty fighter pilot who asked me how I was. He told me to stay hidden, and said they would be back in the morning. I was confident that he, at least, was a friendly.
Less than six hours after getting blown out of the sky and landing in the middle of Laos, my exact location had been confirmed and the search-and-rescue (SAR) group was organizing a rescue. As bad as things looked, at least someone knew that I was alive-and where I was. I wondered if my family knows anything. Thinking of them strengthened my determination to make it through. I thought about our latest arrival-our son Tony was born the day before we deployed. My wife Jackie is a strong person and I knew that she would hold the family together. She was being tested in a big way in 1972: her mother died in February, she had major surgery in March-and now this. [She learned within 24 hours that I was alive in Laos and that a rescue attempt was underway; she told me later that the support from the families at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, our home base, was overwhelming.]
The aircraft burned all night. I thought I was on a hill or the edge of a gully about 100 yards from the aircraft, but it was too dark to tell. I was close to the trail-all night, I heard truck traffic negotiating what sounded like a very rough road. I didn't sleep at all. I listened to the trucks and constant activity around me and thought about what I was going to face at dawn.
Daylight, 10 April. The trucks stopped running, and I heard people all around me. For the first time, I could see that I was in an open area on the side of a small ridge lying against some elephant grass four to five feet high. I was lying on my side with my survival radio in my right hand when I heard someone approaching my position, walking through the elephant grass behind me. He stopped directly behind me. I was convinced he saw me. My heart was beating so hard that I was sure he could hear it. We had been drilled constantly during survival training to stay still; I didn't have anywhere to go, so I froze. I assumed he was going to shoot me, yell for help, or hit me, but none of these things happened. Whoever it was stopped-and it was very quiet for what seemed a lifetime. Then I heard footsteps moving away. I believe he was within one or two steps of walking right over me.
I can only guess he saw me and decided not to challenge me, or that he might have been looking over me into the gully. Because of the tall grass, he would have had to look straight down to see me-perhaps that is what saved me. Immediately after he left, I went to the bottom of the gully into dense foliage and stayed there for the next four days.
Five or six uniformed men were walking around the wreckage. Had they looked into the gully I would have been eyeball-to-eyeball with them. I knew that most crewmembers were captured a short time after they hit the ground and here, during my first two hours of daylight, I was surrounded. After 340 missions in Vietnam, I was sure that my luck had run out.
About 0900, I heard an OV-10 aircraft. I beeped and came up voice. It was an airborne forward air controller (FAC), call sign Nail 17, and he was looking for me. He got a good fix on my position. Prior to calling in the SAR group and prepping the area for the pickup, he wanted to confirm that he was talking to the real Clyde Smith; he referred to the personal information card we had all filled out.
"I have to ask you some questions," he said, "What is your mother's middle name?"
"I think it's Marie," I answered.
"What is the favorite family pet?'
"Our dog Tootsie," I said-and immediately realized that I had written Tinker Bell, the name of our cat, on the card. I began to explain: "Nail, you may not believe this, but I put our cat Tinker Bell on my card because we didn't have the dog at the time. I like the dog better, so that was my initial response."
Hard to believe, looking back. A life-or-death situation and I'm talking about liking the dog better than the cat-a very confused survivor trying to explain things. The Nail FAC just gave up. "Okay, that's enough," he said, and the radio got quiet. I thought I had blown it. Any bad guys monitoring the radio were probably more confused than I was.
The on-scene SAR commander, call sign Sandy 01 (an unforgettable Air Force officer named Jim Harding) arrived on station about 1500 in his A-1 to pinpoint my location and coordinate the FACs and F-4 fighter-bombers (call sign Gunsmoke) that were going to support the Super Jolly Green Giant HH-53 rescue helicopter. Ground fire was intense, and the aircraft took a tremendous amount of fire from a number of antiaircraft artillery (AAA) sites. Listening to these professionals calmly going about their job under fire was something that will stay with me the rest of my life. At one point, Sandy 01 asked one of the fighters about the location of a particular AAA site-Gunsmoke 01's response was "I don't know, I haven't been able to get him to shoot at me yet."
The weather moved in and the ground fire was too heavy to risk bringing in the Jolly Green. King 21, the SAR mission commander flying in an HC-130 nearby, called off the rescue for the day about 1730, but Sandy 01 and Nail 46 continued to work the area long after they had been told to head home. My heart sank when I heard that everyone was leaving.
It got very quiet. Then the birds started to sing, people began moving around, and the trucks started warming up for the night's run. Minutes after the sun went down, I cold not see my hand before my face. One thing was working for me; the nights were all mine. I never was concerned that someone would be walking around the jungle at night looking for me. It was very cold at night, though, and I was uncomfortable. My neck hurt and I had banged my knee and cut my mouth when I landed. I slept on and off to some strange dreams.
11 April-second day. An unflappable series of Nail FACs were overhead almost continuously in what became the pattern for the next four days. They arrived about 0830, controlled air strikes for about three hours, and passed control to another FAC. I monitored the radio during the turnover and participated in the brief and debrief. If they didn't hear from me every 15 minutes or so, they would fly over and gun an engine until I came up; I had lain so still that my self-winding watch had stopped. I had little idea of the time.
The last FAC at the end of the day would settle me in for the night, promising to return. All of them were getting shot at the entire time they were over me. Once I heard Nail 46's back-seater say, "Six, seven, eight more rounds of 37 millimeter," to which the pilot replied. "Yeah, I know-just keep count and let me know if it gets too close."
I had moved into a hole at the base of an uprooted tree, and so had some cover. The weather was cloudy with occasional rain, which hampered the bombers and made it very dangerous for everyone.
They had been dropping powdered gas around the area to discourage searchers. I got a mouthful and let them know it. They were concerned that I was going to become incapacitated. It just made my dreams weirder.
I heard some people talking in a whisper on the other side of the ridge. From the sounds, they were chopping wood, but I assumed they were looking for me. At times like these, I could not respond to calls from the FACs: at other times, I took a chance and whispered. I had a dilemma: if I didn't talk to the SAR people frequently, they might assume that I had been killed or captured and terminate the SAR-but if I were careless, the bad guys might be close enough to hear me. I fell asleep at one point, and woke up to hear Nail 46 telling Nail 68 that I had not been talking lately. -46 expressed concern that it had been 30 minutes since he asked me to come up on the radio and he had not heard from me.
I started to rain about 1500, and they shut down the operation. It rained hard for about two hours and then on-and-off after dark. The hole filled up with water. My survival gear was pretty much useless. I had a package of fruit loops, about eight ounces of water, Band-Aids, and fishing gear.
As soon as the last aircraft left, I heard people talking, tailgates slamming, and engines revving up-the trucks were on the road again.
12 April-third day. The first Nail showed up at 0845 and went right to work. Air strikes continued most of the day, but the weather was lousy. About 1400, the weather closed everything down and my morale plummeted. I was going on my fourth night on the ground; my luck seemed to be running out. I spent my usual night listening to trucks going by, trying to stay warm, and dreaming.
13 April-fourth day. About the time the sun came up, I learned later; another downed airman was being recovered not far away. Lieutenant Colonel Iceal Hambleton, U.S. Air Force-call sign Bat 21-had been the subject of heroic rescue attempts by Air Force and Army crews. He finally worked clear of the worst AAA and was picked up by a U.S. Marine unit. Actor Gene Hackman later played him in the movie version.
After the run of bad weather, I was beginning to think that I wasn't going to make it. The SAR group was making hell of an effort along with a large number of carrier-based aircraft, but I knew they couldn't keep it up. Nail 46 came over about 0830, however, and said, "It looks good, I think we can do a good tune on you today." Little did I know that the SAR group had met the night before and determined that they would have to develop some sort of alternative-perhaps like bat 21-if they couldn't get me out that day.
I had no way of knowing that then-Captain Bill Harris, U.S. Navy, the skipper of the Coral Sea , had called the 7th Air Force and asked why it was taking so long to get "our boy out." When the Air Force said they didn't have the assets to suppress the heavy ground fire enough to get a Jolly in and out safely, Captain Harris launched 78 aircraft from the Coral Sea to help out. Jim Harding later told me that they would not have been able to get me out without that Coral Sea firepower.
I had gotten to know Captain Harris on board ship, and had developed a tremendous amount of respect for him as a leader and commander. He was always composed regardless of what was going on around him. I'm writing this story today because he spared no effort and his aircrews risked their lives to get me out.
The pickup. For the next four to five hours there was non-stop bombing and constant chatter on the radio. About 1700, Sandy 01 told me to get ready and stay up on the radio-the Jolly was five minutes out. I put new batteries in my radio so I wouldn't have radio failure at the last moment-without radio contact, they would not pick up anyone. I stood up for the first time in about 10 hours, took out my flare gun and signal flares, and-with the radio to my ear-listened to what seemed like controlled chaos.
Sandy 01 had at least four other Sandys to direct [actually seven], three or four Nail FACs controlling the 10-15 fighters that were suppressing the AAA sites, and two Jollys holding 10 miles out. Overall, 25 to 30 fast moving aircraft were operating in a confined airspace for over an hour dropping all kinds of bombs, rockets, smoke, and cluster munitions. One man-Sandy 01-was orchestrating the whole show. Not one life or aircraft was lost, and they didn't hit the survivor. What a great tribute to the skill of the aircrews-and the skill, guts, leadership, and determination of Major Jim Harding.
I heard him tell Sandy 02, "Go get Jolly 32, and bring him in." The rescue effort had never gotten this far before, and I had to keep telling myself: stay calm, don't lose it now, think about what you have to do to help the situation. I know the guys on the Jolly (piloted by Captain Ben Orrell and First Lieutenant Jim Casey) were sweating bullets just as I was.
Sandy 02 fired smoke rockets in front of Jolly 32 to mark the way to my position. The helicopter began taking ground fire immediately upon starting the run-in. The rear ramp was down and Sergeant Bill Brinson Manned the mini-gun there; Airman First Class Bill Liles and Airman First Class Kenneth Cakebread were the door gunners. Brinson was hit in the knee early on the run-in.
As recorded on tape:
"I'm hit but I'm okay," (Brinson)
"Can you still shoot?" (Orell)
"I'm alright, they just go me in the knee, but there's some holes in the helo," (Brinson)
Jolly 32 took 11 hits including one through the front windshield. Sandy 01 guided the final approach. As the helicopter reached my position, he called Orrell:
"Pull up Jolly, pull up, you're right over the survivor.
"I don't see him," Orrell said, whereupon Sandy called me.
"Pop your smoke, Bengal 505, pop your smoke."
I popped a flare, but the helicopter's downwash pushed the red smoke down into the gully and they couldn't pick it up. By this time, Jolly 32 had been in a hover for an extended period, which was becoming a concern to all.
"I don't see him, tell him to pop his night end."
Immediately, I turned my flare around and pulled the tab (just like a highway flare) and it ignited, showering me with sparks.
I had been told not to chase the helo-to let it come to me. But when Orrell said-for the third time-that he still couldn't see me, I decided it was time to move. I went up the hill and out into an open area pocked with craters and litter with fallen trees. Smoke hung in the air. I saw what appeared to be some sort of cloth tied around a tree. It looked like a trail marker; maybe that NVA did see me that first evening and they had decided to use me as bait for a deadly trap.
At the top of the ridge, I saw Jolly 32 so low the rotor blades were cutting off tops of trees and slinging them in every direction. The helo was 50 to 60 yards distant and moving farther away. The door gunner/winch operator (Liles) was looking away from me. I ran toward the helo hollering on the radio, "Right here, right here, behind you, behind you!" There was so much noise on the radio I don't know how he heard me, even though I was screaming at the top of my lungs-but he turned and looked right at me and said "I got him, I got him." Orrell told him to lower the hoist.
We had been told time and again to let the hoist's bullet-shaped jungle penetrator-which folds out to provide a three-pronged seat-hit the ground first to dissipate any static electricity. Concern about getting shocked by the penetrator, however, was really down on my list of priorities at this point. I grabbed the cable with one hand when the penetrator was still five feet off the ground, and snapped the climber's snaplink on my torso harness to the cable with my other hand; I may have set a hook-up record. Except for my helmet, I had all my flight gear on. Immediately, I felt a tug on my harness as Liles took up the slack.
When I go up to the door, he rolled me in, said, "Get the hell out of the way," swung his mini-gun back around into the door opening, and fired in the direction I had come from. The interior was filled with smoke, empty shell casings flying all over, and three gunners firing in every direction. Light streamed in through bullet holes in the deck and overhead. Almost simultaneously, Liles told Orrell, "He's in the door, let's get the hell out of here."
Everything is relative. My situation had gone from bad to wonderful in those last few seconds and I was exhilarated-as far as I was concerned, it was over. The Jolly crew, on the other hand, knew that it was far from over-things could still get very bad very quickly.
Sandy 01 immediately advised, "Stay low, stay low, and go out the same way you came in." We got shot at all the way to Thailand. The bad guys must have been upset to have absorbed all that punishment, and then watched me snatched from the trap.
We landed in Nakhon Phanom about 90 minutes after the pickup to a huge reception on the flight line-a very proud group of men and women who had worked day and night and risked their lives to rescue me, and succeeded. Their pride was exceeded only by the gratitude of one very humble Marine aviator.
Someone who looked like Charlton Heston walked up to me. "Hi, " he said, "I'm Sandy 01,"-it was Jim Harding. We threw our arms around each other. To this day I have no idea what we said. When he arrived overhead that first day, I had pictured him as some old guy who got stuck in Spads instead of fighters-a perception quickly dispelled when I heard his engine quit followed by his explanation to his wingman that he didn't know how much gas he had in his centerline tank [but wanted to use very drop of it] so he just let it run dry and then selected the other tank when the engine quit. When I heard that, I knew I was in good hands.
The doctors examined me at the base hospital and I called my family as soon as I could find a phone. When I took off my flight suit I was surprised that I was black and blue from my hips to my knees. I felt good, even after four days with no food and only eight ounces of water. Of course, drinking half a bottle of Champagne on the way to the hospital had helped ease the pain.
I spent two days with the SAR group in Thailand and left for the Coral Sea where I had another emotional home-coming with my squadron mates and the 3,000 sailors who worked so hard to get me out. All the way back to the ship, I thought about Scott and what might have happened to him. Was he dead, captured, or on his way to the Hanoi Hilton? Did he watch my rescue from nearby? Will I ever see him again? Did whoever talked to me that first night have Scott's radio? If I had yelled when I heard voices right after the shootdown, might we have gotten together and both been rescued?
They sent me to NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines for a five-day rest, and during my stay I was able to visit Bat 21-Lieutenant Colonel Hambleton-in the hospital at Clark Air Force Base.
On the way back to the ship, I learned that my good friend Major Tom Duffy had been killed in a mid-air collision just after taking off in his F-4 from Danang, and that Jim Harding had been shot down while attempting to rescue yet another downed pilot. Fortunately, an Army helicopter picked him up quickly. The war went on.
It was not known at the time this article was written that there was another part of the story. On the forth day the Air Force assets were becoming limited because of other mission that needed to be flown. It was quickly approaching a decision point as to whether Captain Smith's rescue was even possible. Providing cover for the operation would have to be shifted to the Navy.
Captain Harris on the Coral Sea could not do it alone. A call went across to the skipper of the USS Constellation for help. At first the "Connie's" skipper indicated that he didn't have the assets. Captain Harris replied that if it were one of the "Connie's" pilots on the ground he'd give everything he had. After a pause "Connie's" skipper pledged the entire CAW in support of Captain Smith's rescue.
"Setting Up the Rescue" by Colonel James C Harding, U.S. Air Force, Proceedings/April 1996
The A6 went down in one of the hottest segments of the Ho Chi Minh Trail- in Laos between the Tchepone area and the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Several aircraft had recently been shot down by AAA near there, and the AAA was our first concern, because Bengal 505A was in a box surrounded by heavily defended roads with over lapping AAA coverage. He was within range of two surface-to-air (SAM) sites, less than five minutes from a North Vietnamese MiG base- and there was a low, solid cloud deck over the area.
The experienced Jolly Green pilots concluded that it would be impossible to get him out unless we neutralized the AAA. I decided to fly the rescue force above the clouds to the site, let down, make the pick-up, then climb back on top and depart. The 7th Air Force vetoed this plan and stipulated that the HH-53s would hold in a relatively safe area until the Sandys could locate the survivor and suppress the AAA.
We went in high on the afternoon of 10 April- two Jolly Greens, two Nail FACs in OV-10's, HC-130 King personnel, four Sandys, plus F-105 "Iron Hand" aircraft with Shrike antiradiation missiles for the SAM sites and an F-4 MiG combat air patrol to hold off any air-to-air threat.
Upon arrival in the rescue area, I asked an F-4 "Fast FAC" to locate Smith. After trying to talk me onto him, the F-4 flew low over the position and popped up out of the clouds in front of me. I left my wingman on top and descended through the overcast. I broke out at about 1100 feet in the valley-with clouds obscuring the tops of several hills in the area; I'd been lucky. Smith was on a long, flat ridge covered with dense jungle. I flew toward him, and my wingman told me that heavy AAA airbursts were trailing me. The Sandys spent 30 minutes trying to silence the AAA before we called off the rescue for the day.
Back home, I decided to try to get Major Smith to move away from the heavily defended area. The enemy was too close for him to move, however, and he had dug in near a tree.
On 11 April, the cloud layer began breaking up, the FACs and fighters worked over the AAA, and we shifted to a low-level approach. Then the clouds moved in and we postponed again. Two Sandys dropped "crowd-control" powder that apparently spooked the NVA who were looking for Smith. An intelligence source intercepted radio instructions to the NVA in the area to withhold fire until the rescue was attempted- after which they would attempt to shoot down the slow-moving SAR forces.
We tried again on 12 April. After confirming Smith's position, I made several low-altitude, low-speed passes along the planned helicopter route- trolling for AAA. On the third pass, gun positions on both sides of the intended route opened fire. I saw tracers criss-crossing over the canopy and felt hits in both wings. All four Sandys immediately attacked the gun positions. More trolling revealed other gun positions, so we postponed the rescue once again to let the FACs and fighters attack the AAA.
On 13 April, the FACs and fighters went at it once more, and the SAR forces headed in at low altitude. Two F-105s fired Shrike missiles when the SAM sites turned on their radar. Four additional Sandys were along to beef up the rescue force; they preceded the main rescue force, dropping a string of white phosphorous bombs to the north, south and west of Smith and creating a curtain of smoke about 300 feet high between him and the roads.
The four Sandys escorting the Jolly Green helicopter dropped white phosphorous cluster bomb units (CBU) across the east end of the rescue area completing the curtain of smoke around the survivor, and also dropped high-explosive CBU on gun emplacements along the ingress/egress route. Then they escorted the Jolly Green helicopter from the holding point to the survivor.
I knew where Smith was but could not actually see him. In an effort to help his crewmembers spot the survivor, and to the consternation of the hoist operator, the Jolly Green pilot hovered so low that the rotor blades were chopping off the treetops. Then the hoist operator spotted Smith, began winching him in, and the four Sandy's rolled in to deliver non-stop fire against the NVA on the ground. We took a lot of ground fire on the way out and the Sandys were called on several times to attack AAA positions.
Listen to the interview Maj. Clyde Smith did with Captain Harris aboard Coral Sea here
[Article from - The Patriot, Cuba, NY - by Caroline Mae Higby] Hinsdale, NY. - On November 11th, 2002, Veterans Day, a Navy F-4B Phantom [USS Coral Sea - VF-51] was dedicated along with a Veteran's Memorial at the Hinsdale American Legion Post. There to dedicate the F-4B phantom jet was the pilot who took it on its last flight in North Vietnam on June 11th, 1972. Rear Admiral Winston Copeland Jr. (retired), United States Navy, currently lives in Lompac, California with his wife, Elizabeth Janine Douglas, and his four children. He and his wife flew across the continent especially for this dedication.
"This plane is a significant part of my life and I am delighted that they (the Legionaires) have preserved it," said Rear Admiral Copeland. The story of the jet's last mission is a glorious and dangerous one. On a Sunday morning over 30 years ago Naval Aviator Copeland and another F4B were assigned to be a MIG cap "blocker" between Fan Hua and the aircraft carrier over 100 miles out to sea.
First, they lost all radio contact; a common occurance during the perils of the Vietnam conflict. Four MIG-17s loomed above them in no time at all. Two were close to the other plane. Copeland and his co-pilot, Captain Don Bouchoux, went behind the lead MIG, fired and took the wings off the enemy aircraft. There was a huge fireball to avoid. The two MIGs on the left took off in seeming retreat.
According to Copeland one never deserts their wingman, so they went back to check on him. Together, the jets headed out to sea, towards the carrier and out of North Vietnam. On the way home their fire light came on, but they hadn't noticed being hit. Regardless, one always has to respect a fire light. "Planes on fire tend to blow up," says Rear Adm. Copeland, " and that can ruin your day." The radio came back on. The other plane came over, saw that they were on fire and quickly retreated to a safe distance.
They shut down the burning engine, yet it was still ablaze. They thought of ejecting, but decided against it, since the dangers in the water included sharks and sea snakes as well as being easy targets for enemy fire.
Captain Bouchoux and Copeland made it back to the carrier, but the carrier refused to let them land. Tradition states that for each kill a pilot does one roll before they land. The plane they were with did two, one for his own and one for them, since they were in a dangerously damaged aircraft. The carrier suggested that both pilots eject to which Copeland responded, "Jeez, we could have ejected yesterday. We want to land this thing!" They went fifteen or twenty miles out to sea and waited until the flames subsided. After the landing they looked under the plane. The aircraft had been hit by groundfire before the dogfight had even begun. The fuel line had been severed and it had welded the F-port sparrow to the fusilage of the plane. Aircraft 149457 never took flight again. It was set aside to be used for spare parts. According to Copeland, "Tales get retold and stories get embellished. But, I assure you, I put my pants on just like you do; one leg at a time."
According to Judge Advocate Tod Smith the plane didn't cost the Hinsdale Legion that much, but dismantling and shipping the aircraft did. They had to cut the plane into two pieces, hollow out the inside and take each of the bolts out. Seven guys jumped up and down on the wings and still they wouldn't come off the "tough old girl," he explained.
After delivery there was an entire weekend filled with rain. The craft became mired in the front yard of the Legion. Tod Smith was driving past a crane crew working on a bridge nearby. He stopped to ask their assistance. In less than an hour the crane drove in to the parking lot of the Legion to rescue the sunken jet. It took six days to piece the plane back together a period during which it continued to rain. Through the Legionaires' dedication it finally stands in memoriam today.
[Submitted by - Robert D. Gill jr.] - I was a minemen 2nd class on board CVA-43 from Nov. of 71 to July 72. I was the petty officer in charge of a 3 man mine assembly team assigned to G division. We were TAD out of MOMAG (Mobile mine assembly Group) Charleston S.C. for that Westpac tour. I was the MN2, Roland Pusher was the MN3, & Tim Mercier was the MNSN. With a lot of help from the AO's of G division, we put together the first 36 MK-52 mines that were dropped into Haiphong harbor on May 9th 1972 on Pres. Nixon's orders.
Operation Pocket Money, the mining campaign against principal North Vietnamese ports, was launched on 09 May 1972. Early that morning, an EC-121 aircraft took off from Danang airfield to provide support for the mining operation. A short time later, Kitty Hawk launched 17 ordnance-delivering sorties against the Nam Dinh railroad siding as a diversionary air tactic. Poor weather, however, forced the planes to divert to secondary targets at Thanh and Phu Qui which were struck at 090840H and 090845H, Vietnam time, respectively. Coral Sea launched three A-6A and six A-7E aircraft loaded with mines and one EKA-3B in support of the mining operation directed against the outer approaches to Haiphong Harbor. The mining aircraft departed the vicinity of Coral Sea at 090840H in order to execute the mining at precisely 090900H to coincide with the President's public announcement in Washington that mines had been seeded. The A-6 flight led by the CAG, Commander Roger Sheets, was composed of USMC aircraft from VMA-224 and headed for the inner channel. The A-7Es, led by Commander Len Giuliani and made up of aircraft from VA-94 and VA-22, were designated to mine the outer segment of the channel. Each aircraft carried four MK 52-2 mines. Captain William Carr, USMC, the bombardier/navigator in the lead plane established the critical attack azimuth and timed the mine releases. The first mine was dropped at 090859H and the last of the field of 36 mines at 090901H. Twelve mines were placed in the inner segment and the remaining 24 in the outer segment.
All MK 52-2 mines were set with 72-hour arming delays, thus permitting merchant ships time for departure or a change in destination consistent with the President's public warning. It was the beginning of a mining campaign that planted over 11,000 MK 36 type destructor and 108 special MK 52-2 mines over the next eight months. It is considered to have played a significant role in bringing about an eventual peace arrangement, particularly since it so hampered the enemy's ability to continue receiving war supplies.
On 11 May Naval aircraft flying from Coral Sea, Midway, Kitty Hawk and Constellation laid additional mine fields in the remaining ports of significance in NVN-- Thanh Hoa, Dong Hoi Vinh, Hon Gai, Quang Khe and Cam Pha as well as the Haiphong approaches. This early mining was not confined solely to the seven principal ports. Other locations, such as the Cua Sot, Cap Mui Ron, and the river mouths, Cua Day and Cua Lac Giang, south of Don Son and the Haiphong port complex, were also seeded early in the campaign.
USS Coral Sea assits in the evacuation of the U. S. Embassy in Phnom Penh as Cambodia collapses to the Khmer Rouge.
The USS Coral Sea provided close air support for the evacuation of Saigon. Here are some pictures of the flight deck with planes loaded with ordanance ready to fly over Saigon in support of Operation Frequent Wind. The last American helicopter to lift off the roof of the United States Embassy in Saigon was escorted by a Fighting Redcock A-7E of VA-22 flying from the USS Coral Sea. Tool's of the trade used at that time can be seen in these pictures, MK-82 500lb bombs, Rockeye CBU's, 5" Zuni Rockets, AIM-9 Sidewinders and AIM-7 missels.
In April, the fireworks started when we were involved in the rescue operation with Cambodia, an Operation (Talon Vice I think) which took a few days, and which took place far away, with our watching the flight crews on deck or inside reports. It was a week or more later, by April 28th that we headed for Vietnam for Operation Frequent Wind, the rescue of Americans out of Saigon. If right, the carrier Hancock went with us with their helicopters to actually do the operation. We stayed out twelve miles or so from shore, being able to hear especially at night the continued bombing going on around Saigon, but had to watch it over TV on board or radio. We got our free mail, for at least four to five days, and mapped out the ships around the major areas. I couldn't call anyone to tell them where I was, (only at Subic from the Staff phones) and before I knew it, it was over. There it was, my Vietnam involvement!! The war had ended before I enlisted, but this event spelled the real end of fighting there, we left around May 3rd from the area and ten days later headed south to cross the equator (my second time) enroute to Freemantle, Australia for a visit.
On 12 May 1975, the SS Mayaguez was seized by Cambodian gunboats and escorted to Koh Tang Island. The USS Coral Sea was enroute to a liberty call at Fremantle (Perth), Australia. She was diverted to the Gulf of Thailand. On May 13, 1975 embarked aircraft from Carrier Air Wing Fifteen, tail code NL, attacked Cambodian gunboats guarding the captured container ship SS Mayaguez off their coast. The hostile naval units were sunk. On May 15th attacks were also made to ease the way for Marines to successfully assault the captured ship dousing it with tear gas. 'Coral Maru' also hit targets on Koh Tang Island and the Cambodian mainland. Wounded Marines from the Koh Tang Island battle were brought back to the ship for advanced medical attention and transfer to Subic Bay, PI. The ship's and air wing's personnel were awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation.
Coral Sea relieved Midway in the northern part of the Arabian Sea on 5 February 1980 in connection with the continuing hostage crisis in Iran. Militant followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had come to power following the overthrow of the Shah, seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 and held 63 U.S. citizens hostage. The USS Coral Sea along with the USS Nimitz and others forces attempted to rescue the hostages on April 25, 1980. All during the rescue, Navy fighters from the carriers Nimitz and Coral Sea would fly a combat patrol along the Iranian border, ready to dart in and render assistance if Iran tried to pursue. Would the plan have worked? We'll never know. The mission met with disaster on the first phase of the attack.
It should be noted that the USS Coral Sea spent 102 days at sea during this operation. The hostage crisis ended on 20 January 1981 when Ronald Reagan succeeded Jimmy Carter as President of the United States and Iran released the U.S. citizens.
Notice in the following pictures the orange and black stripes on the wings. These were painted on just before we made the attempt to rescue the hostages from Iran. The USA had sold so many of our planes to Iran, that our pilots needed a visual marker to tell the good guys from the bad guys in close.
In 1983, the U.S. Government expressed great concern over the safety of Honduras, citing the threat of invasion from neighboring Nicaragua. On 14 June, 100 Green Beret military advisors arrived in Honduras. On 18 July, the Ranger CVBG was diverted from a planned Indian Ocean deployment to the vicinity of Central America through 12 August. On 16 August, the Coral Sea CVBG arrived off the east coast of Nicaragua and, on 26 August, New Jersey arrived on station west of Nicaragua. These vessels departed the region in mid-September.
Following Libyan aggression against Chad, aircraft from CVN-69 Eisenhower operated in the Gulf of Sidra. CV-43 Coral Sea's departure from the Mediterranean was delayed for a day because of uncertainty over the situation.
On 23 November 1985, an Egyptian airlines was hijacked to Malta. USN ships, including CV-43 Coral Sea responded to the hijacking and moved toward Malta for contingency purposes.
In Operation Prairie Fire on March 15, 1986, President Ronald Reagan ordered the Sixth Fleet to begin Freedom of Navigation maneuvers in the Gulf of Sidra to demonstrate American resolve to operate freely in what it believed to be international waters. Colonel Khaddafi claimed the Gulf of Sidra as Libyan territorial waters, declaring a "Line of Death" across the entrance to the gulf beyond which ships of other nations would not be allowed to enter. F/A-18's from the USS Coral Sea and USS America flew combat air patrols, protecting the carrier groups from Libyan aircraft. The Hornets were frequently called upon to intercept and challenge numerous MiG-23s, MiG-25s, Su-22s, and Mirages sent out by Libya to harass the fleet. The Hornets often flew only a few feet from their adversaries, ready to shoot if need be.
On 5 April, in response to the US show of force, the La Belle Discotheque in the Federal Republic of Germany was bombed, resulting in the death of one U.S. serviceman and many injured.
On 14 April, aircraft from the carriers Coral Sea and America, as well as USAF FB-111s from Lakenheath AFB in the U.K., struck targets in Libya as part of "Operation Eldorado Canyon." The Hornets went into action for the first time, flying several ship-to-shore air strikes against Libyan shore installations that were harassing the fleet. During this action, the Hornets from the Coral Sea attacked and destroyed the SA-5 missile site at Sirte which had been "painting" US aircraft on its radars. This was the combat debut for the Hornet, and incidentally marked the first combat use of the AGM-88A HARM anti-radiation missile. The Hornets attacked the SAM sites in bad weather and at wave top heights. All Hornets returned to the Coral Sea without mishap.
All the planes from the USS Coral Sea got in on the action. The A-6 Intruders, the E-2 Hawkeye and even the venerable A-3 Skywarrior.
Probably nothing more to add to the story as VQ Ops have always been present in the Med and other hotspots around the world. Generally, in the Whale, we would launch out and start collecting intelligence whether communications or radar systems we had the ability to suck in, extrapolate and report back the electronic order of battle. We would report back to CIC the location and type of hostile platform along with any communications of hostile intent. This is how it probably occurred with the Libyan ship as it was when we shot down the SU-22 Fitters...and I say "we" though our A-3's didn't do the shootin' or get any credit but we were there with the intelligence.
Following the Israel capture of Sheik Obeid and claims that Lt. Col. William R. Higgins, USMC, had been killed, USN forces were ordered to steam toward Lebanon and Iran. The America CVBG was ordered from Singapore to the Arabian Sea; the Coral Sea CVBG left a port call in Alexandria, Egypt, ahead of time; and BB-61 Iowa broke off a port call in Marseilles, France, to steam east toward Lebanon. The cruiser Belknap, with the Sixth Fleet commander aboard, headed to the waters off Lebanon, canceling its participation in a port call in the Soviet Union.
CORAL SEA, CV 43, April 19, 1989, Aids Stricken USS Iowa, BB-61
Operation off Puerto Rico, CORAL SEA rushed to the aid of the battleship Iowa. The Iowa suffered an explosion in No. 2
turret. The seriously injured from Iowa were brought to CORAL SEA by helicopter with its major medical
Here is a letter of condolence written by the skipper of the USS Coral Sea to the skipper of the USS Iowa.
"I too remember the way she shook when on a high speed run. I was reading the stories, noticing how some things changed, some things stayed the same.
I was in VA-55 attached to Coral Sea through CAG-13. We were out on work-ups down around Puerto Rico playing war games against the Orange forces. The day started as most other at-sea days started. Ragging or being ragged about last night's spades or euchre game. If spades or euchre ever become Olympic events, I believe that all the team members will be ex-Coral Sea sailors.
Low pass through the mess decks grabbing something that can be eaten on the way to the roof, hit the deck 2 hours before the first launch of the day.
Coffee. FOD walk down, Bird prep (I was an AME3) LOX, seat inspection, walk around, Coffee.
Up comes the crews, walk around, man up, start the tanker, launch the tanker, start up everyone else... Hummer to CAT 1
Finally, event one is over. There was always a break between events one and 2 that you didn't find on the roof again until waiting for the last event to recover, because there was to event to recover prior to preparing for event 2's launch. Myself and the rest of the final checker/troubleshooters as well as most of the roof crew were taking maximum advantage of the only slack to be found till way after dark.
Before the crews for event 2 hit the roof the Air Boss on the 5MC tells everyone to get back into proper flight deck attire and make preparations to recover event 1. HUH?! Recover event 1? They aren't scheduled to return until after event 2 is launched and event 2 hasn't even manned up yet. Ok I know, a final checker asks no questions of the Boss, Mini Boss or Handler. We just do after issuing the requisite Aye Aye, Sir. Soon as the Boss told us to prepare to catch event 1, we see the planes from that event passing nearby, dumping gas to get down to weight.
Then rumors begin to circulate. It must be a rumor, it's too tragic to be real. An explosion. A bad one. The U.S.S.. Iowa, that had been out with us, had suffered an extreme mishap in one of her turrets. Most of us didn't believe the rumor... after all, those sharing the news were yellow shirts who love nothing more than jerking a white shirt's chain.
The planes come aboard without a hitch The turd shirt belonging to each particular bird showed up loaded down with over a dozen chains. We were to tie the birds down and prepare to make a run. Flank speed. We were heading to Iowa. Not the place, the ship.
The rumor turned out to be tragically true. The fantail of our lady shook and clanged like I had never seen or heard before.
Have you ever seen a MARDET Marine on the flight deck? Talk about a fish out of water. They came up to be stretcher bearers for the wounded we took aboard from Iowa... but when we got within sight of her (I was on Vultures Row looking through the big eyes) they sent the marines below. Everyone aboard the Iowa was either perfectly fine, had minor injuries or was dead. There were no wounded to be evacuated.
That's when it hit us. 47 sailors forever now, with the sea. To my knowledge, no one on the flight deck knew any of the men of the Iowa. We didn't need to know them. It didn't matter, we all felt the loss as if we had known them all.
A few days later we held a memorial service for our shipmates from the Iowa. They read the names of those lost and rang the ship's bell once for each of them. That day 47 seemed like a terribly large number. I guess it is a large number when you are talkin' about men killed in a mishap. If he was your son, brother or father... 1 would be a large number.
She sure did hop around when she was movin' fast."