Lest We Forget: Dan Daly, VA-55 Warhorses

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired), and Lieutenant Commander Rick Burgess, U.S. Navy (Retired)

The only other U.S. Marine to have earned two Medals of Honor—General Smedley Butler—described Dan Daly as the “fightin’est Marine I ever knew.”

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


Attack Squadron 55 (VA-55) was established on 7 October 1983 at Naval Air Station, Oceana, Virginia, as a unit of the newly established Carrier Air Wing 13 (CVW-13), part of the general defense buildup of the Reagan administration. The “Warhorses” carried on the traditions of an earlier VA-55 that was disestablished in 1975.

VA-55 was equipped with A-6E Intruder attack aircraft and KA-6D aerial tanker versions. After workups, the Warhorses deployed to the Mediterranean on board the USS Coral Sea (CV-43) in October 1985. The squadron would see combat on its first cruise, called into action on 25 March 1986 in the Gulf of Sidra in response to hostile fire from Libyan forces against Navy units. A VA-55 A-6E attacked and damaged a Libyan Navy Nanuchka II-class missile corvette with Rockeye cluster munitions. The ship was later finished off by a Harpoon missile launched by a VA-85 A-6E.

Less than a month later, on 14-15 April, after a Libyan-sponsored terrorist bombing in Berlin that killed a U.S. soldier, the Coral Sea launched six VA-55 A-6Es against Benina Airfield in Benghazi, Libya. The Warhorses destroyed parked aircraft and damaged many buildings and other facilities at Benina.

VA-55 deployed twice more—without KA-6Ds—to the Mediterranean in 1987-88 and finally in 1989. The Warhorses operated off Lebanon in August and September 1989 during extensive terrorist activity, and flew missions to cover the evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Beirut.

Although VA-55 was slated for shutdown in the post-Cold War drawdown, the Warhorses provided A-6Es and crews to augment VA-75 as the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) steamed in August 1990 for the Middle East to support Desert Shield.

VA-55 was disestablished at Naval Air Station Oceana on 1 January 1991, as many former Warhorses readied for war in Desert Storm.

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

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