Lest We Forget: John Henry Balch; VF-74

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

The miracle of his survival was compounded when several months later, Balch established an advanced dressing station under heavy shellfire at the Battle of Somme-Pay, saving many more Marines who would have died without this young pharmacist's mate's care.

A year later, at the YMCA in Chicago, Illinois, Rear Admiral F. B. Bassett presented John Henry Balch—by then a civilian—the Medal of Honor. For his intrepid service, he was also awarded the Silver Star, the French Croix de Guerre, the Italian Crux de Guerre, and the Portuguese Croix de Guerre.

When World War II erupted, this highly decorated Sailor again joined the Navy and served in Australia and the Philippines. He retired from the Naval Reserve in 1950 as a commander.

Today the Naval Health Clinic at Quantico—where thousands of Marines today receive medical care—bears the name of this brave Sailor.

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



Fighter Squadron 74 (VF-74) was established at NAS Wildwood, New Jersey, on 16 April 1945 as Fighter Bomber Squadron 20 (VBF-20). After briefly operating the F4U-1 and F6F, VBF-20 flew the F8F Bearcat.

VBF-20 was redesignated VF-10A on 15 November 1946 and moved to NAS Charlestown, Rhode Island. The Bedevilers deployed for the first time in February 1948 on board the USS Philippine Sea (CV-47) to the Mediterranean.

VF-10A was redesignated VF-92 on 12 August 1948 and moved to NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island. The squadron was redesignated VF-74 on 15 January 1950 and switched to the F4U- 4 Corsair. After a 1951 Mediterranean deployment on board the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42), VF-74 deployed on board the USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) to the Korean War zone in May 1952 and flew more than 1,500 combat missions.

After a brief period flying the F2H-2 Banshee, VF-74 operated F9F-8 Cougars for one deployment on board the USS Lake Champlain (CVA-39), switching to the F4D-1 Skyray in 1956 for three deployments on board the Franklin D. Roosevelt and the USS Intrepid (CVA-11).

On 8 July 1961, VF-74 took delivery of its first F4H-1 (F-4B), becoming the world's first operational Phantom II squadron. Beginning in August 1962, VF-74 took the F-4 on 14 Mediterranean deployments over the next 20 years on board the USS Forrestal (CVA/CV-59) and the USS Nimitz (CVAN/CVN-68).

The Bedevilers also deployed twice to the Tonkin Gulf for air strikes on North Vietnam. The first ended tragically in July 1967 when a devastating fire broke out on the flight deck of the Forrestal. VF-74 lost 42 men and three F-4Bs. The second Vietnam deployment, in 1972-73 with F-4Js on board the USS America (CVA-66), was made without a combat loss.

VF-74 switched to the F-14A Tomcat in 1983 and made five deployments to the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean on board the USS Saratoga (CV-60). The Bedevilers participated in the October 1985 intercept of an airliner carrying the hijackers of the ocean liner Achille Lauro. In March 1986, VF-74 covered the U.S. retaliatory strikes against Libya.

VF-74 became the first operational fighter squadron to operate the F-14A+ (later F-14B), and introduced the aircraft into combat over Iraq and Kuwait in January 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. After a final deployment to the Adriatic in support of operations over the former Yugoslavia, VF-74 was disestablished at NAS Oceana, Virginia, on 30 April 1994.

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


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