Lest We Forget: Swede Vejtasa, VF-51 (Part 2)

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

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


VF-51 (Part 2)

After a second Western Pacific deployment with CVW-15 on board the USS Coral Sea (CV-43), VF-51 upgraded to the F-4N Phantom II. In April 1975, the Screaming Eagles covered the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy and advisers in South Vietnam and Cambodia. During May the squadron also flew strikes against Khmer Rouge forces in Cambodia during efforts to free the SS Mayaguez .

In 1976, VF-51 operated over the Mediterranean Sea with CVW-19 on board the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42), the carrier's twilight deployment and the last in F-4 fighters for the squadron. The Screaming Eagles relinquished their F-4Ns for F-14A Tomcat interceptors in 1977 and rejoined CVW-15 for its remaining 18 years.

In 1979, VF-51 deployed to the Indian Ocean on board the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) during the embassy hostage crisis in Iran and the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. After a subsequent Indian Ocean deployment on board the Kitty Hawk, VF-51 transferred with CVW-15 in 1982 to the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) to begin an eight-year association, beginning with a round-the-world deployment through the and the Mediterranean, Indian, and Pacific oceans.

During the next three deployments, VF-51's operations included intercepts of Soviet aircraft over the northern Pacific and Bering Sea. In 1984, VF-51 became the first F-14 squadron to intercept the new TU-22M Backfire long-range strike aircraft.

In 1988, VF-51 flew cover for Navy units supporting Operation Earnest Will, the escort of Kuwaiti oil tankers through the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War.

VF-51 moved with CVW-15 back to the Kitty Hawk in 1991. During a 1992 deployment to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf, the Screaming Eagles flew cover for Operation Restore Hope, a humanitarian relief effort in Somalia. Later in the deployment, after Iraqi aircraft violated the no-fly zone over southern Iraq, VF-51 staged a detachment of Tomcats to Dharan, Saudi Arabia while the Kitty Hawk steamed to the Persian Gulf with the remainder of the squadron. The unit covered the Kitty Hawk's 13 January 1993 strike against Iraqi targets.

On its final deployment, in 1994, VF-51 operated off the Korean peninsula during tensions with North Korea. The Screaming Eagles returned home to NAS Miramar, California, in December 1994. The squadron was disestablished on 31 March 1995 as part of the post-Cold War draw-down.

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




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