As the Navy attack group and supporting fighters headed west over North Vietnam, small gray puffs blossomed in the clear sky—antiaircraft fire. More appeared, joined by black bursts from larger AA guns and tracers from light guns. The flak quickly thickened, engulfing and buffeting the aircraft, while far below long orange flames indicated missiles headed skyward.
The scene, as observed by then-Commander Robert F. Dunn from his A-4C Skyhawk, “was a maelstrom of sights and a cacophony of noise with warnings and voice calls. It reminded me of an orchestra with, at first, a few violins and other strings, then the brass and finally that crescendo, which comes with cymbals clanging, bass drums beating, missiles taking the place of the conductor’s baton.”
Despite all the enemy fire, the attack group hit its target and all of the Navy aircraft emerged unscathed. As Vice Admiral Dunn matter-of-factly put it in his U.S. Naval Institute oral history, “We just did our thing and came back out.”
That 11 June mission was just one of 121 “Alpha” strikes conducted by Attack Carrier Air Wing 14 (CVW-14) during its 1967 deployment as part of Operation Rolling Thunder, the three-and-a-half-year air campaign against North Vietnam. In “Navy Air Strike: North Vietnam,” Vice Admiral Dunn gives a participant’s perspective on Rolling Thunder, which quickly was hamstrung by White House and Pentagon micromanagement. Moreover, the author figuratively puts you in a Skyhawk cockpit for a typical Alpha strike.
Complementing the article, this issue’s gatefold special—“122 Days on Yankee Station”—examines CVW-14’s 1967 deployment by focusing on the air wing’s planes, carrier, chronology, and tactics as well as North Vietnamese defenses. Special thanks to Vice Admiral Dunn for invaluable research assistance and to graphic artists James M. Caiella and Karen Wright for illustrations.
Two other Sea Service articles round out our Vietnam War coverage. In “From Blue to Green and Brown,” retired Navy Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler recounts how the Navy quickly assembled forces and creatively adapted craft that secured South Vietnam’s coastline and waterways. And Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Krystyn Pecora describes how a Coast Guardsman made the ultimate sacrifice in an attempt to rescue a downed aviator.
The third Sea Service is represented in this issue by retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel George S. Converse’s piece, “A Most Timely Skirmish.” About how Marine participation in suppressing an attempted prison break may have helped secure the Corps’ future, the article earned Converse first prize ($5,000) in the 2015 Naval History Essay Contest, which is sponsored by the William M. Wood Foundation.
Salvatore R. Mercogliano earned second prize ($2,500) for his piece, “Semper Sealift: The U.S. Marine Corps Merchant Marine and Maritime Prepositioning,” and Navy Lieutenant Commander Richard Lee, Chaplain Corps, won third prize ($1,500) for “Japanese Success at Okinawa 1945.” Stay tuned for information about the 2016 Naval History Essay Contest.
Richard G. Latture
Our thanks for the service and generosity of the following veterans and family members whose support has underwritten coverage of the Vietnam War in this issue of Naval History:
• Captain Roger E. Ekman, U.S. Navy (Retired)
• Roger A. Enrico
• The Honorable John F. Lehman
• Alfred M. Cady III
• Commander David E. Prusiecki, U.S. Navy (Retired), whose gift is in memory of Lieutenant Terrence P. Ryan, U.S. Navy, KIA 11 January 1970, Tonkin Gulf
• Ruth Metcalf.