Lest We Forget: Raymond Spruance, Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron

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

This is obviously not David Farragut, George Dewey, or "Bull" Halsey, but it is an appropriate description of Raymond Spruance.

In the pantheon of important naval leaders, Admiral Spruance is widely regarded as one of the greatest tacticians ever to go to sea. It was his decision making, coupled with the incredible courage and skill of airborne sailors that won the Battle of Midway and turned the tide in the Pacific. It was his Fifth Fleet that pushed the Japanese back across the central Pacific in one of the toughest campaigns of World War II, facing an enemy that routinely fought to the death and used suicide as one of its major weapons.

Spruance directed the campaigns that captured the Gilbert, Marshall, and Marianas Islands, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. At the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944, Spruance, a surface warfare officer, overrode Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, the aviation expert, by letting the enemy planes come at him instead of going in search of them and, in so doing, won the battle.

Yet, this man whose primary biography is entitled The Quiet Warrior , by the late Tom Buell, never sought glory or attention. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he avoided reporters, was quiet and never ostentatious, and had no peculiarities that gave him the "color" that often accompanies better-known warriors.

Spruance's shunning attention may have cost him a deserved honor. At a time in history when American admirals were awarded the rank of Fleet Admiral with five stars, Spruance was overlooked, a decision that often is decried as a serious oversight.

Spruance has not been completely forgotten, however. One of the major buildings at the Naval War College (where he was once president) is named Spruance Hall and a class of destroyers bears his name.

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


Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 137 (VAQ-137) was established at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, on 14 December 1973. As a new unit of the expanding electronic warfare community, the "Rooks" were equipped with the expanded capability version of the EA-6B Prowler.

Assigned to Carrier Air Wing 14 (CVW-14), VAQ-137's first deployment, on board the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), took it to the South China Sea where it supported Operation Frequent Wind, the April 1975 evacuation of South Vietnam. The squadron's second deployment, with CVW-6 on board the USS America (CV-66) in 1976, also supported an evacuation, the removal of American citizens from war-torn Beirut, Lebanon. After one more Mediterranean deployment on board the America, VAQ-137 joined CVW-2 on board the USS Ranger (CV-61) and deployed three times to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.

Back in the Mediterranean in late 1983 with CVW-3 on board the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67), VAQ-137 flew missions in support of the joint U.S.-French November strike against the Iranian training camp in Baalbek, Lebanon, and the 3 December strike against anti-aircraft strikes east of Beirut.

After transition to the EA-6B increased capability II version, the Rooks deployed twice to the Mediterranean with CVW-17 on board the USS Saratoga (CV-60). On 24 March 1986, VAQ-137 provided jamming support for retaliatory air strikes against Libya and its navy. VAQ-137 joined CVW-1 on board the America in 1989 and operated in the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean, supporting the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

Operation Desert Storm found the Rooks flying combat missions from the America in the Persian Gulf over Kuwait and Iraq in January and February 1991. The squadron flew 212 combat sorties and launched 30 AGM-88 HARM missiles against Iraqi air-defense sites. The Rooks deployed twice more to the Mediterranean, venturing into the Red Sea on the first and the Indian Ocean during the second. After supporting operations in Somalia, Iraq, and Bosnia, the squadron returned home for the last time in February 1994.

VAQ-137 was disestablished on 30 September 1994. Its traditions are carried on today by a second VAQ-137 that also flies EA-6Bs.

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

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