Last run for an A-4 jockey
1965 – 1966
In late summer of 1966, we were monitoring a raid over Vinh, a POL(petroleum storage) depot. This depot had been pounded pretty hard, but was still considered a good target, apparently. Vinh is about 30 miles inland, about 70 or 80 miles South of Hanoi. We were 10 miles to sea, so about 40 miles from Vinh. I noticed one morning in particular that we had a one-eighth inch layer of fine dust on the exposed decks, even though we had pulled back during the night to a position 20 miles further out, then come back in the morning. As we were steaming in our 10 mile circle watching whatever raid was in progress, we got a call that an A-4 had been hit, and was headed to our position to ditch, as the pilot was wounded. Our helo was 60 miles south running his daily tests, so we readied the whaleboat.
Very shortly, the A-4 came in sight at about 2,000 feet, then the pilot punched out. His parachute deployed, and he landed about 200 yards from the ship. The whaleboat headed over to him. He was not in condition to help, in fact he was passive in the water. While they were pulling him into the boat, he had his left hand clamped on the artery of what remained of his upper right arm. The arm was hanging by the ragged remnant of the muscle, after having had a 37 mm shell pass through the bottom of the A-4, up through his arm, and out the canopy – without exploding. He had made the call that he was hit, clamped the artery with his left hand, and had flown the A-4 the distance from Vinh out to the ship and punched out within 200 yards of the ship, using his knees to guide the aircraft. The sailors pulled him aboard, bundled the arm to his side, and brought him back to the ship.
We brought him on board, patched him up the best our medic could do, and sent him on to the carrier via helicopter. What made this such a poignant story was the fact that his relief as the squadron leader had already taken over the squadron. He had flown one extra, last mission before going home.
A few months later we received word that he was back on a different carrier as the air boss.