Lest We Forget: John Kilby; Attack Squadron (VA) 36

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, USN (Ret.), and Lieutenant Commander Rick Burgess, USN (Ret.)

With that inspiration, Bonhomme Richard's crew fought on despite the raging fires, exploding ordnance, rising water, flowing blood, flying shrapnel, and screams of agony. Kilby and his mates loaded and fired time and again, shored up damaged bulkheads, slipped in the blood that ran across the decks, manned the pumps in a losing battle with the sea, fought back fires, choked on great clouds of smoke, ignored the crushing fatigue that strained their laboring muscles, and suppressed the terrible fear that clutched at their hearts. By 2230, the battle was over and, incredibly, the Bonhomme Richard was the victor.

By continuing to fight even when defeat seemed inevitable, Kilby and his shipmates established a tradition—a standard —that would guide those who followed through times of violent war and arduous peace, taking the new Navy to heights unimaginable to those iron men fighting in wooden ships. It probably did not occur to any of them—not even Jones—that their Navy had just begun to fight!

—Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)


Attack Squadron (VA) 36 was established on 6 March 1987 at NAS Oceana, Virginia Beach, Virginia. The new squadron—equipped with A-6E Intruder attack aircraft—carried on the "Roadrunner's" traditions of a previous VA-36, an A-4 Skyhawk squadron that had been disestablished in 1970.

VA-36 was formed to be the second A-6 squadron for Carrier Air Wing Eight on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) as part of the "Roosevelt Air Wing" concept. The Roadrunners were not equipped with KA-6D tankers, but performed the aerial refueling role with buddy stores carried by their A-6Es.

The Roadrunners' first deployment to the Mediterranean in December 1988 was routine, but their second deployment took them into combat over Kuwait and Iraq. VA-36 deployed on board the Theodore Roosevelt in late December 1990 as the carrier rushed to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Desert Shield.

When Operation Desert Storm commenced in January 1991, VA-36 began flying intensive strikes against enemy forces. During the 44 days of the campaign, the Roadrunners flew 578 combat sorties and dropped more than 1.2 million pounds of ordnance on Iraqi targets. VA-36 lost one A-6E and its crew to enemy ground fire. After the war, the squadron flew missions in support of U.N. relief efforts for Kurdish refugees in Iraq in Operation Provide Comfort.

In 1992, VA-36 upgraded to the SWIP (System Weapons Improvement Program) version of the A-6E. The Roadrunners deployed in March 1993 for their third and last time to the Mediterranean and Red Sea. VA-36 flew in support of U.N. peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, and, when the Theodore Roosevelt made a one-month excursion into the Red Sea, flew the first Operation Southern Watch missions over Iraq from the Red Sea.

VA-36 was disestablished on 31 March 1994 as a part of the post-Cold War drawdown.

—Lieutenant Commander Rick Burgess, U.S. Navy (Retired)

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