Lest We Forget: Points of View; VA-42

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

I had, I felt, lived through a lot, miraculously without a scratch, but my good luck could not continue on into still another year of war. I was now twenty-two and my youth had been spent in a great war, mostly at sea in combat conditions. I was not, I now suddenly knew, ever going to get a chance to live out my late teens and early twenties in the normal way. I wasn't sentimental about it. After all, my whole generation had spent those years in service, and it was the great adventure of our time, but I did want what was left of life. The bomb gave it to me in my way of reckoning, and while others may feel otherwise, I was grateful and unashamed.

Alvin Kernan did survive the war and went on to earn his Ph.D. and teach at Yale, Princeton, and other universities, where he often encountered hostility toward the decision to drop the bombs on Japan. He frequently bit his tongue, concerned that "to have said how grateful I was to the bomb would have marked me as a fascist, the kind of fascist I had spent nearly five years fighting." Yet he never changed his mind, always believing that "no one who was not there will ever understand how fatalistically we viewed the [impending] invasion of Japan" and that "each of us felt that those bombs had saved our lives, not lives in general, but our own felt, breathing lives."

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


Attack Squadron 42 (VA-42) was originally established on 1 September 1950—soon after the North Korean invasion of South Korea—at NAAS (note: not an NAS yet-RRB ) Oceana, Virginia, as Fighter Squadron 42 (VF-42), equipped with F4U-4 Corsair fighters. The squadron, which carried on the Green Pawn traditions of an earlier VF-42, moved to NAS Jacksonville, Florida, later that month, and in March 1951 deployed to the Mediterranean on board USS Saipan (CVL-48). Upon return in June 1951 the squadron moved briefly to NAAS Cecil Field, Florida, before settling in at Oceana in August 1951.

VF-42 returned to the Mediterranean in December 1952 as a unit of Carrier Air Group Six on board USS Midway (CVA-41). The Green Pawns were redesignated VA-42 on 1 November 1953 and equipped with AD-4/4L/4N Skyraiders, soon superseded by the AD-6 (A-1H) version. VA-42 again returned to the Mediterranean in November 1954 with Air Task Group 181 on board USS Randolph (CVA-15). In 1956, the squadron operated from the Navy's first supercarrier, USS Forrestal (CVA-59), for the ship's shakedown cruise, and later that year deployed to the Western Pacific on board USS Bennington (CVA-20). In 1958 it was back to the Mediterranean for VA-42 on board USS Intrepid (CVA-11).

On 24 October 1958, VA-42 was assigned to Replacement Carrier Air Group Four with the East Coast role of training pilots and maintenance crews to operate the Skyraider, and in 1959 also took on the instrument training role using T-28B trainers.

The squadron's Skyraider training was phased out by September 1963 when its last A-1H was transferred, the unit having assumed the role of introducing to the Navy the A-6A Intruder all-weather attack aircraft, becoming the Navy's first fleet replacement squadron for the Intruder, while shedding its instrument training role. In January 1968, VA-42 added TC-4C Academe aircraft to its line to train A-6 bombardier/navigators in the skill of radar bombing. The Green Pawns operated all versions of the A-6 (A,B,C,E, and KA-6D) as they trained the crews that flew the Intruder in combat over Vietnam, Grenada, Lebanon, Libya, the Persian Gulf, and Iraq.

In 1992 VA-42 adopted the traditions of the VA-176 Thunderbolts in 1992 after VA-176 was disbanded. As retirement of the A-6 began, VA-42 transferred its A-6 training role to its West Coast counterpart, VA-128, at NAS Whidbey Island, WA. VA-42 was disestablished on 30 September 1994.

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


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