Lest We Forget: Amazing Grace, VAH-8

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

In 1966 she retired from the Naval Reserve, but a year later the Navy, now fully aware of the importance of computers, recalled her to active duty for six months. That half-year turned into 21 years!

Traveling the world to speak about the future of computers, she constantly emphasized that "change can be good." Often frustrated when she would hear yet another Sailor say "but that's how we've always done it," she was heard to say "Someday I'm going to shoot somebody for saying that." To prove her point that convention is not always necessary, she kept a clock on her wall that kept perfect time but ran counter-clockwise. Because light travels one foot in a nanosecond, she always carried a one-foot piece of wire with her, brandishing it before listeners as she explained why programmers should not waste time-not even a nanosecond!

Grace Hopper eventually retired from the Navy a second time-this time for good-in 1986. Today an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer bears her name and though known officially as the USS Hopper (DDG-70), the ship is better known throughout the Fleet by the nickname Admiral Hopper earned during her long and extraordinary career: "Amazing Grace."

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


Heavy Attack Squadron Eight (VAH-8)-the Fireballers-was established on 1 May 1957 at NAS North Island, California, moving in May 1957 to NAS Whidbey Island, Washington, to fly the A3D-2 (A-3B) Skywarrior as a unit of the Navy's carrier-based nuclear deterrent force. The squadron also maintained a capability for conventional bombing and mining.

The Fireballers were assigned to Carrier Air Group Two on board the USS Midway (CVA-41). Shortly before its first deployment on the Midway , VAH-8 sent a three-plane detachment in July 1958 to operate from the USS Lexington (CVA-16) for six months during tensions between China and Taiwan in the Formosa Strait. The main body of the squadron deployed on the Midway to the Western Pacific on 16 August 1958.

VAH-8 made five more deployments to the Western Pacific on board the Midway . During the return from the second, in March 1960, the Fireballers flew all nine A3D-2s from Midway 2,100 miles west of Hawaii to Whidbey Island, a distance of 4,800 miles. The squadron accomplished the journey in 10.9 hours with two fuel stops in Hawaii and California.

Deployments on the Midway during the early 1960s took the squadron off Southeast Asia during the tensions in Laos and South Vietnam. On its final deployment on board the Midway , VAH-8 went to war over Southeast Asia beginning in April 1965 during Operation Rolling Thunder, attacking such targets as marshalling yards and troop camps. The Fireballers also flew sorties as aerial tankers with their hose-reel-equipped A-3Bs. Deploying in May 1966 with Carrier Air Wing 15 (CVW-15) on board the USS Constellation (CVA-64), VAH-8 left the carrier during a stop in Hawaii and flew ahead to NAS Cubi Point, Philippines, to provide refueling support to aircraft operating over Southeast Asia from the USS Ranger (CVA-61) and the USS Enterprise (CVAN-65). The squadron rejoined the Constellation in June on her arrival in the Tonkin Gulf and continued in its primary role, aerial refueling. In 1967, flying KA-3Bs with permanent refueling equipment, the Fireballers made their final Tonkin Gulf deployment on board the Constellation with CVW-14.

VAH-8 was disestablished at NAS Whidbey Island on 17 January 1968. It was the only Fleet heavy attack A-3 squadron not to transition to the reconnaissance or electronic warfare communities.

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

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