Lest We Forget: Willis "Doc" Lee; VA-65

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

At a little after midnight, the battle began, when Lee's flagship Washington began hammering the Japanese battleship Kirishima with her 16-inch main batteries. It was as though the American battlewagon was venting the frustrations of the new kind of war and avenging the ignominy of Pearl Harbor. Within minutes, the Japanese battleship was a burning, sinking wreck. One Japanese and three U.S. destroyers also went down that night, but the outcome was decisive-the Japanese were driven back, never to return.

As fate would have it, Willis Lee's role would never again be so dramatic, but at that critical moment, "Doc" and his battleships played a key role in a turning point of the war. From that moment onward, the Japanese Navy began the retreat that would take them all the way back across the Pacific and to ultimate defeat.

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


Attack Squadron 65 (VA-65) was originally established on 1 May 1945 at NAAF Otis Field, Massachusetts, as Torpedo Squadron 74 (VT-74), equipped with SB2C-4E and SBW-4E Helldiver bombers. After moving to NAS Norfolk, Virginia, in October 1945, VT-74 accompanied USS Midway (CVB-41) on her shakedown cruise. After equipping with SB2C-5, SBW-5, and TBM-3E aircraft, VT-74 moved to NAAS Charlestown, Rhode Island, and later to NAAS Oceana, Virginia.

In June 1946 VT-74 was redesignated VA-2B and in July 1947 upgraded to the AD-1 Skyraider attack aircraft. In October 1947, VA-2B departed on its first deployment to the Mediterranean, on board Midway . The squadron was redesignated VA-25 on 1 September 1948, and deployed to the Mediterranean on USS Coral Sea (CVB-43) in 1949. After transition in 1949 to the AD-4 version and a temporary move to CGAS Elizabeth City, North Carolina, VA-25 made four deployments to the Mediterranean before switching to the AD-6 (A-1H) version in October 1953. Over the next 11 years, the squadron made 10 deployments on board four carriers.

VA-25 was redesignated VA-65 on 1 July 1959. In 1962, the Tigers participated in the quarantine of Cuba and in 1964 joined USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) for its world cruise, Operation Sea Orbit.

In March 1965, VA-65 switched to the A-6A Inruder all-weather attack jet and completed three deployments to the Tonkin Gulf on board USS Constellation (CVA-64), USS Forrestal (CVA-59), and USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63), operating a few A-6B versions during the third cruise. The Tigers lost three A-6As to enemy action.

VA-65 joined Carrier Air Wing Seven (CVW-7) in 1970 and deployed 14 times over the next 15 years to the Mediterranean, North Atlantic, and Indian Ocean on board USS Independence (CV-62) and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). The squadron added KA-6D tankers in 1971 and in 1973 traded its A-6As for A-6Es.

After two Mediterranean deployments with CVW-13 on board Coral Sea as the first A-6 squadron equipped with night-vision goggles, VA-65 joined CVW-8 on board USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). The Tigers flew strikes against Iraqi forces in Iraq and Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm in early 1991, and were credited with sinking 22 Iraqi naval craft.

VA-65 was disestablished at NAS Oceana on 31 March 1993.

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

More by this Author

None found for this author.

Events and Conferences

None found for this author.


Conferences and Events

2016 Naval History Conference

Thu, 2016-09-08 - Fri, 2016-09-09

Join us for the 2016 Naval History Conference on 8 and 9 September at Alumni Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy. The Athena...

WEST 2017

San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA

View All

From the Press

Guest Speaker

Tue, 2016-07-26

CDR Youssef H. Aboul-Enein, USN

Guest Speaker & Book Signing

Wed, 2016-07-27

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 135 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership