Lest We Forget: Leadership by Example; Fighter Squadron 124 (VF-124)

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

As commanding officer of a Marine reconnaissance battalion, Colonel Leftwich was again leading by example on 18 November 1970 when he served as "extract officer" for an emergency extraction of one of his reconnaissance teams from enemy infested territory. This time Leftwich "only" earned a Silver Star, but it would prove to be posthumous: the helicopter he was flying in crashed into a mountainside in enemy territory, killing all on board.

After his death, a Spruance -class destroyer, DD-984, was named for him, and thousands of visitors to the Naval Academy each year begin their tours at the Armel-Leftwich Visitors Center. But the most fitting tribute of all is that each year an exemplary Marine captain serving with ground forces of the Fleet Marine Force is awarded the Leftwich Trophy for outstanding leadership. Bill Leftwich's example lives on.

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

Fighter Squadron 124 (VF-124)

Fighter Squadron 124 (VF-124) was established at NAS Moffett Field, California, on 16 September 1948 as VF-53. The squadron's F4U-4B Corsair fighters-deployed with Carrier Air Group Five (CVG-5) on USS Valley Forge (CV-45)-flew in the first carrier-launched strikes against North Korean forces at the outbreak of the Korean War.

VF-53 made two more deployments to the Korean War zone, flying strikes with its Corsairs from USS Essex (CV-9) and later with its F9F-5 Panther jet fighters from Valley Forge . After the war the squadron made three more deployments to the western Pacific: with CVG-5 on board USS Philippine Sea (CV-47); with Air Task Group Three (ATG-3) on board USS Shangri-la (CVA-38) flying F9F-8 Cougar fighters; and again with ATG-3 on board USS Kearsarge (CVA-33), this time flying FJ-3M Fury fighters.

VF-53's role changed on 11 April 1958 when it incorporated part of VF-194 and was redesignated VF-124, with the mission of training pilots and maintenance personnel to operate the new F8U (F-8) Crusader supersonic fighter. The squadron moved to NAS Miramar, California, in June 1961 and trained pilots to fly all versions of the F-8 through 1972, including many of the pilots that scored MiG kills over North Vietnam.

In 1970 VF-124 began assuming the role of replacement and readiness training for crews in the new F-14A Tomcat fighter. It supported the outfitting of the first two fleet F-14 squadrons, VF-1 and VF-2, and began training students in December 1974. From 1976 through 1979, the Gunfighters also trained Imperial Iranian Air Force pilots to fly the F-14A. In 1980, the squadron began training Tomcat crews to use the new Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System.

VF-124 added F-14Bs to its training fleet in the late 1980s and in 1990 began training crews in the F-14D. The Gunfighters added air-to-ground ordnance delivery training to its syllabi in 1993 when the Tomcat was assigned the strike role.

VF-124 was disestablished on 30 September 1994 as the number of Navy F-14 squadrons declined and its role consolidated in its East Coast counterpart, VF-101.

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

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