On the night of 20 January 1969, five U.S. Navy riverine craft growled their way along the very narrow Kinh Dong Tien Canal in the Mekong Delta. Drooping fronds of Nipa palm brushed by as Yeoman First Class G. H. Childress steered his PBR 8137 by the dimly visible wake of PBR 770 ahead.
All at once, the night exploded in a frenzy of light and sound as the elephant grass along the starboard bank began strobing with the muzzle flashes of machine-gun fire and rockets emerged from the opposite bank, their pyrotechnic tails blindingly bright. The men in the 8137 returned fire, their hyphenated tracers reaching for the unseen enemy in the foliage close aboard.
Suddenly, a rocket crashed into the 8137, exploding in the starboard engine area. Childress sensed that his boat was settling rapidly, so he steered her into the bank and ordered his men off as the PBR sank into the canal. Crouched in a drainage ditch, the helpless sailors were in a desperate situation until they saw PBR 770 coming back down the canal. Crouched on the bow of the fiberglass boat was a lone sailor, Chief Boatswain Quincy Truett, returning the point-blank enemy fire with an M-16. Truett extended a hand to the first of Childress’s crew and hauled him aboard. Driven off momentarily by the heavy enemy fire, the 770 returned, Truett still fully exposed on her bow with bullets cracking all about him.
Truett hauled another sailor aboard before the 770 was again driven off. The feat was repeated two more times, until only Childress remained in the ditch, huddling beneath a shower of tracer rounds criss-crossing the black sky above.
Again, the 770 moved into the bank with Chief Truett still firing his rifle from the open bow. Childress scrambled up the ditch wall, his feet slipping in the sucking mud. Gratefully, he felt Truett grab him by the shirt. Just as he got aboard, Childress felt Truett’s grip release. As he looked up, he saw Truett fall to the deck, hit in the throat by an AK-47 round.
For his incredible courage, Quincy Truett received the Navy Cross posthumously. On 3 February 1973, as Geri Truett watched the USS Truett (DE-1095) slide down the ways, taking to the sea for the first time, she pondered what it was that had drawn her husband to Southeast Asia, leaving her and their six children behind. Quincy’s only explanation had been, “That’s where the war is; that’s where I belong.”
Attack Squadron 72 (VA-72) was established on 25 January 1945 at Naval Air Station Astoria, Oregon, as Bombing Fighting Squadron 18 (VBF-18). The squadron, flying F6F-3/5 Hellcats, was too late to see combat in World War II, and was redesignated Fighter Squadron 8A (VF-8A) in November 1946, and VF-72 in July 1948.
As a fighter squadron, VF-72 flew F8F-1/1B/2 Bearcats and later F9F-2/5 Panther jet fighters during seven carrier deployments on board the Leyte (CV-32), Philippine Sea (CV-47), Midway (CVB-41), Bon Homme Richard (CV-31), and Bennington (CVA-20). VF-72 flew strikes against enemy targets during its 1952 deployment to the Korean War zone on board the Bon Homme Richard.
The “Bluehawks” were redesignated VA-72 on 3 January 1956 and became the first operational Navy attack squadron to fly the A4D-1 Skyhawk light attack jet. The squadron upgraded to the A4D-2 version before embarking on its first Skyhawk deployment, on board the Randolph (CVA-15), and later switched to the A-4C (A4D-2N).
VA-72 flew the A-4E version when it deployed to the Tonkin Gulf in 1965 onboard the Independence (CVA-62). The Bluehawks led the first successful strike against a surface-to-air missile site in North Vietnam. VA-72 returned to the Vietnam War in 1966 on board the Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42). During the two deployments to Vietnam, the Bluehawks lost five aircraft and two pilots to enemy action.
After Mediterranean deployments on board the Shangri-la (CVA-38) and John F. Kennedy (CVA-67), the Bluehawks upgraded to the A-7B Corsair II in 1970. In 1977, the squadron switched to the A-7E. While deployed on board the America (CV-66), the Bluehawks participated in retaliatory strikes against Libyan radar sites on 14 April 1986. Later the squadron deployed on board the Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69).
The planned transition to the F/A-18C Hornet strike fighter was canceled in 1990 by a deployment—on four day’s notice—on board the John F. Kennedy to the Red Sea in support of Operation Desert Shield, the response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Beginning in January 1991, VA-72, operating along with sister squadron VA-46 as the Navy’s last A-7 combat squadrons, flew 362 Desert Storm combat sorties without loss against Iraqi forces.
Upon return from the Gulf War, VA-72 closed out 46 years of service when it was disestablished at Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Florida, on 30 June 1991.