Lest We Forget: Wilson "Bud" Flagg; VP-31

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

While pursuing a career with American Airlines in his "other life," Bud Flagg remained in naval service, commanding two F-8 reserve squadrons, heading Readiness Command Region Two, achieving the rank of two-star admiral, and serving as an Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for air warfare as well as special assistant to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

This composite picture of a life of service was at the same time unique and yet much like many other Naval Academy graduates who had gone before. So why did I feel this funeral was so different from the others I had attended?

Because at this military funeral, we were not just burying the mortal remains of Wilson Flagg. Next to him were the remains of his wife, Dee. She and Bud were returning from the 40th reunion of his Academy class when they boarded Flight 77 on 11 September 2001. Admiral Flagg, and his high school sweetheart, ended their lives at that same Pentagon where he had served for many years.

As the bugle fell silent, I knew that a new era had begun; a new kind of war had descended on us, a war in which we would be burying husbands and wives together.

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


Patrol Squadron 31 (VP-31) was established on 30 June 1960 at NAS North Island, Califonia, as the replacement training squadron for the Navy's maritime patrol aviation community on the West Coast. VP-31 trained pilots, navigators, crewmen, and maintenance personnel for 15 squadrons of land-based P2V-5/6/7 (SP-2E/G/H) Neptunes and P5M-1S/2S (SP-5A/B) Marlin seaplanes.

VP-31 established Detachment Alpha at NAS Moffett Field, California, on 4 January 1963 to train crews for the new P-3A and later P-3B Orion patrol aircraft that were being based there. During 1965-1966, the detachment also trained Royal New Zealand and Royal Australian Air Force personnel to fly the P-3B. The home unit at North Island also trained Army crews to fly the AP-2E "Crazy Cat" signals intelligence aircraft and Navy crews to operate the OP-2E Neptunes flown by Observation Squadron 67; both units flew in combat in the Vietnam War.

By January 1967, fleet transition to the P-3 had progressed so that Detachment Alpha became the parent squadron.
SP-5B seaplane training ended that year, and SP-2 training was phased out by 1969, resulting in the closure of the North Island detachment in 1970.     

The VP-31 Black Lightnings began training crews to operate the digital-computerized P-3C version in 1970, alongside continued P-3A/B training. The squadron also trained crews for the Navy's EP-3B/E electronic reconnaissance aircraft. Over the next 15 years, VP-31 took on training in progressive versions of the Orion, including Tactical Navigation Modernization versions of the P-3A/B, and Mod, Update I, II, II.5, III, and III Retrofit versions of the P-3C. The unit also operated UP-3A and TP-3A aircraft.

During its lifetime, VP-31 trained personnel from Australia, Canada, France, Greece, Iran, Japan, South Korea, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.

Over its 33 years, VP-31 had trained more than 7,000 pilots and flight officers, 10,300 aircrewmen, and 14,300 maintenance personnel. During the post-Cold War drawdown, VP-31 was disestablished on 1 November 1993 and its roles consolidated with VP-30, the East Coast P-3 fleet readiness squadron.   

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

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