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My naval career started 3 November 1965 when I reported to RTC Great Lakes, IL for boot camp and ended 1 October 1969 when I was honorably discharged at NAS Cecil Field, FL.

My Navy career entailed attending the Navy Aviation Machinist Mate “A” School at NATTC Memphis/Millington. I graduated June 1966 and was given orders to report to Attack Squadron VA-172 Blue Bolts stationed at NAS Cecil Field Jacksonville, FL. The squadron flew Douglas A-4C Skyhawk aircraft.

While a member of VA-172 I made three major deployments. The first was a WestPac (Vietnam) cruise deployed on the USS Franklin D Roosevelt (CVA-42) lasting from 21 June 1966 to 21 February 1967. The second was a Mediterranean cruise deployed on the USS Franklin D Roosevelt (CVA-42) lasting from 24 August 1967 to 19 May 1968. The third was a Mediterranean cruise deployed on the USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) lasting from 7 January 1969 to 29 July 1969. I was also deployed TAD to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for two ORI operations in 1967 and 1968 for approximately one week each. I also participated in the VA-172 detachment to Ramstein AFB in 1968 from the USS Roosevelt for the base change of command ceremony flyover.

From August 1966 to January 1967, the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt made her only Western Pacific cruise, during which she conducted combat operations against enemy targets in Southeast Asia. Her air wing, CVW-1, consisted mainly of F-4 Phantom IIs and A-4 Skyhawks. During this time I was a VA-172 plane captain assigned to aircraft 310 BuNo 148608. This aircraft had an interesting fate. On 18 December 1966 Lt Cmdr. Ed W. Oehlbeck of VA-172 was wounded over North Vietnam while flying this aircraft. He bingoed to Da Nang and safely landed his aircraft. The aircraft was returned to the USS Roosevelt on 19 December 1966 by Lt Dale Content, Oehlbeck's wingman. On 29 May 1968 aircraft 310 was transferred to Attack Squadron VA-216 Black Diamonds. On 21 November 1968 while deployed on the USS Coral Sea during a WestPac cruise this aircraft and pilot Cmdr Marvin J. Naschek were lost. The loss was non-combat related due to a cold catapult shot and the aircraft flew into the sea killing the pilot. Cmdr Naschek’s body was recovered and is buried in Arlinton Cemetary. Cmdr Naschek was a former VA-172 pilot during the 1966-67 WestPac cruise.

During the 1966-67 WestPac cruise we had 11 officer and 10 enlisted combat and non-combat related deaths. We also had 2 pilots shot down and taken prisoner. Both were POW’s and released in 1973. Two of the deaths were from VA-172. On 2 December 1966 Cmdr Bruce A. Nystrom, VA-172's Commanding Officer and Ensign Paul Laurance Worrell his wingman, were lost in a night reconnaissance mission over the Red River Delta in North Vietnam. On 14 August 1985, the Vietnamese returned the remains of Paul Worrell without explanation. These remains were positively identified by the US Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii (CIL-HI) on 7 October 1985. To date the Vietnamese claim no knowledge as to the fate of Cmdr Nystrom and is still assumed MIA.
During the Westpac cruise we visited St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Subic Bay, Philippines; Yokosuka, Japan; Hong Kong and Cape Town, South Africa. During this cruise we crossed the equator 4 July 1966 and again 26 Jul 1966 and again 22 January 1967. Bob Hope brought his USO show aboard and performed for the crew during the Christmas holidays. Christmas Day 1966 was spent on line on Yankee Station conducting combat operations against Laos and Cambodia.

Returning to station in the Tonkin Gulf on 3 October 1966 after liberty in Yokosuka, Japan the ship lost a blade on the number one propeller due to a typhoon and very high seas during flight operations. On 3 October 1966 she was enroute to Yokosuka for drydocking to repair the propeller. Returning back on Yankee Station on 19 October 1966 her aircraft resumed combat strikes on enemy targets in North Vietnam.

In 1967 I made ADJ3 and was asked to take over the Line PO position when the present Line PO was discharged. I acted as Line PO for VA-172 from 1967 until I was discharged in 1969 covering the two Med cruises on the Rosie and the Shang.

During the 1967-68 Med cruise on the USS Franklin D Roosevelt we visited Naples, Italy; Barcelona, Spain; Taranto, Italy; Valletta, Malta; Marseille, France; Palma, Majorca; Cannes, France; Athens, Greece; Valencia, Spain and Genoa, Italy. We spent Easter in Palma. Palma was known as the Daytona Beach of Europe for spring break activities. We met many European students during our stay over Easter. During this cruise myself and three friends from the squadron took a tour to Rome, Italy for three days. We were transported to and from Naples by bus. This tour cost $32 each and covered transportation, tours in Rome and 2 meals a day. Many such tours were available to us during this cruise. We spent Christmas 1967 in Cannes, France.

Also during this cruise I had a little adventure -- We were flying one day when the weather was bad and the waves were high. An F-4 Phantom was coming in to land and he was coming down as the ship was coming up and he hit hard and his starboard strut collapsed causing it to settle on the deck. The aircraft that were still in the air were diverted to Sardinia so the deck could be cleared of the F-4 before they could come back and land. Our squadron had 5 aircraft diverted. A sister A-4 squadron 1 and an A-3 Skywarrior that was the inflight refueler tanker. They wanted a line crewman to go over to Sardinia to preflight and get the aircraft read to fly back to the ship. Since we had 5 aircraft out they wanted this person to be from VA-172. I was the Line PO and decided I was going. I borrowed my a VA-172 officer’s flight suit and helmet because I was to get the aircraft ready and then fly back aboard on the A-3. I was flown off the carrier on a COD to Sardinia. I arrived, got the planes ready, climbed into the A-3 and we headed back to the ship. We watched as all the A-4’s landed and then it was our turn. We were last in case the other planes required more fuel. The weather was still bad and the sea rough. We made seven passes at the ship trying to catch a wire to land, but missed all seven times. By that time we were running out of fuel so they diverted us back to Sardinia. We got to Sardinia and refueled and were then sent to Rota Spain to the naval base there that same day. The ship was going into port in Valencia Spain the next day for liberty so they weren’t going to bring the A-3 back aboard until after getting back to sea. The A-3 crew stayed in Rota until after the liberty was over, but I stayed two days and then was flown to Valencia on a Navy C-118 to catch the ship. My division officer told me he was watching when we made the seven passes trying to land and that we almost hit the fantail of the ship on two of the landing attempts. Ignorance is bliss I guess because I had a blast that day.

During the 1969 Med cruise on the USS Shangri-La we visited Naples, Italy; Barcelona, Spain; Valletta, Malta; Cannes, France and Athens, Greece.

During this cruise we had a barricade arrested landing of an F-8 Crusader aircraft. On 1 April 1969 Lt J. R. Miller of VFP-63 had to take the “trap” due to faulty landing gear.

During my time in VA-172 I had four different commanding officers; Cdr Bruce A. Nystrom, Cdr Robert D. Harris Jr, Cdr Thomas A. Francis and Cdr John D. Yamnicky. As listed earlier, Cdr Nystrom was lost during the 1966-67 WestPac cruise. John D. Yamnicky Sr., 71, a decorated Navy test pilot who survived combat missions in Korea and Vietnam, died as a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77 on 11 September 2001 when it was crashed into the Pentagon.

In my opinion there are no greater aviators in the world than that of the United States Navy. I was proud to be a member of carrier airwings CVW-1 and CVW-8 and to have played my part in Naval Aviation.

I met many during my career and had more than a few friends that shared my experiences both military and personal. I will forever remember and treasure my time in the US Navy. military site contest entry:

RT Johnson
Fair Winds and Following Seas

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Comment by Wayne Krueger on February 4, 2011 at 11:00am
I was a member of the VA712 line crew from 1965-67.  I was a PO 3rd class in charge of part of the line division and training PO.  I was probably part of your training as a plane captain.  I left the line division and transferred to the airframes shop on the way home from the Viet Nam cruise.  Before the '67 Med cruise, I was transferred to VA86 as my enlistment was up in Oct '67.   WL Krueger
Comment by Douglas Karr on November 11, 2009 at 8:48pm

That's an amazing summary to a great career. I couldn't imagine how exciting it must have been on those 7 attempts. Wow!


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