Testimony of Pilot: Pilgrimage of Honor

Testimony of Pilot# 20

On the evening of 10 January 1973 , VA-115 “Arabs” aircrew Lt. Mike “Mondo” McCormick and Ltjg. Alan “Arlo” Clark, were catapulted from the  USS Midway, flying  “Arab 511.” They were on a single plane low level SAM and Radar Suppression mission in support of B-52’s on a bombing operation over North Vietnam.  That night Mondo and Arlo would become the last Intruder Crew to make the ultimate sacrifice in that long war.

This January 10th on the anniversary of the shoot down of his father, Col Tad Clark (USAF) returned to the crash site to honor his Dad and Mondo.

VA-115 Family,

A few thoughts, as this trip to Vietnam comes to an end and I reflect on the last several days.  Right or wrong, one man’s perspective…

As painful as it is to recount, we all lost something dear as a result of the Vietnam War.  For some a brother in arms…a fellow sailor, aviator, VA-115 Arab, for many a best friend, for a few in this email chain a family member, a loved one, a husband, a father.  While we hope for healing…I’ve come to the conclusion that we were created to have and enjoy relationships…and when those special ones in our life are removed, there will forever remain a feeling of loss and pain.  I believe the intent of that pain is to help us remember the significance of one’s life and encourages us to live a life of purpose.  The men we lost had purpose.

Secondly, as a fellow combat pilot, there are few professions that coalesce the elements of patriotism, courage, professionalism, dedication and loyalty.  To live a life with a warfighter ethos and spirit, is a life well lived.  Again, it gives us purpose, focus and resolve.  You all lived that and daily demonstrate that.  I salute your courage, bravery and tenacity as I can envision your Intruders skimming the deck under the radar, reporting “Feet Dry”, crosschecking your APR-25 radar warning receivers, with 18,000+ lbs of weapons, and meticulously ingressing, attacking, threat-reacting and egressing in order to put bombs on target, on time, and get back on the deck of the MIDWAY…only to do it again, the same day/night.

As an F-16 guy, my most rewarding times have been in the 22nd Fighter Squadron and 480th Fighter Squadron where I was a ‘Wild Weasel’…SAM hunter & killer.  And while I’ve been afforded the opportunity to fly 118 combat missions over Afghanistan…it doesn’t come close to the threats and tactical challenges you all faced in Vietnam.

It’s been special to reflect on the Wing I have the privilege to command now, the 8th Fighter Wing, as I think about my Wing fighting along side of you in Vietnam (taking out the Doumer and Ham Rong, “Dragon’s Jaw”, bridges) with their F-4Ds and precision-guided munitions.  What a special connection.  I have such respect for you all.

I imagine, the last place Mondo and my dad would ever suspect a family member or friend would ever put boots on was the spot their A-6 would impact the ground, under a deck of clouds, in a remote part of the country and under the cloak of darkness.  That’s why I went.

My visiting their site was an extension of how we all feel…that they are still remembered even halfway around the world…close to 50 years later.

My final thought relates to the people of Vietnam.  Yes, Vietnam is a communist country and Ho Chi Minh is on every Dong bill.  But I choose to look past that and I believe the people of Vietnam know why we, as Americans, were there.  We were there to prevent Vietnam from becoming a communist country.  What’s remarkable is, everyone I met and spoke to, to include my driver who I was with for three days, took time to share with me that they know their government system is corrupt, that it’s flawed, that the best education their young people seek is not in Russia or China, but the United States, and that it is the United States they depend on to thwart the oppressive influence China has on them and this region.

While our elected leaders are responsible for the irresponsible manner in which the war was first conducted…our involvement in Vietnam has made an enduring impact.

I’m proud to be the son of a VA-115 Arab…I’m honored to know you all…thank you for all of your sacrifices!  And, thank you for allowing me to share this life experience with you.

Respectfully,

Tad

Mike ‘Mondo’ McCormick and Alan ‘Arlo’ Clark

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In summer 2003, Lt. Michael McCormick’s and Lt. j.g. Clark’s remains were unearthed by a joint U.S. and Vietnamese recovery team in Vietnam. On Jan. 10, 2004, in a snow-covered Arlington National Cemetery, Tad stood with his mother, relatives and a host of his father’s and Mondo’s graying colleagues, in the presence of the man he never met.
“We all gained a lot of closure. He no longer was a name on the Vietnam War memorial wall, but a soldier returned to American soil,” Clark said

April 27, 2010 “Arabs” from VA-115, family members, others from the Intruder Community, active duty Navy, and Naval Aviation supporters all gathered in front of “Arab 511” to dedicate this aircraft in the name of Mike McCormick and Alan Clark, to represent all Intruder crews who served and all who will be “forever young.”
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References

Christmas ’72 Stories: (8) “A-rab Beeper, come up voice.”

Memorial Day 2015: Mondo and Arlo

USS Midway A-6 Dedicated to a Special Intruder Crew!

Arlington National Cemetery Website

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Colonel Tad D. “WOLF” Clark

Col. Clark is the Commander, 8th Fighter Wing, Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, home of the “Wolf Pack.” He serves as the U.S. Forces Korea Area VI commander for more than 7,000 forward-stationed and combat-ready Air Force and Army personnel.  The 8th Fighter Wing consists of more than 2,700 active-duty personnel, four groups and 13 squadrons, including two F-16 fighter squadrons.

Col. Clark received his commission in 1996 from the U.S. Air Force Academy. He flew 118 missions in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM with multiple expeditionary fighter squadrons culminating in more than 600 combat hours in the F-16. He was a member of the 2006-2007 USAF ‘Thunderbirds’ Air Demonstration Squadron.

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 22 – Guadalcanal – Enterprise, Cactus and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal; Endgame

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 22

Japanese cargo ship Kinugawa Maru  beached on the Guadalcanal shore.  She had been sunk by U.S. aircraft on 15 November 1942 while attempting to deliver men and supplies to Japanese forces holding the northern part of the island. Savo Island can be seen is in the distance. 

The provision of daytime airpower  by 1) the Cactus Air Force, 2) Air Group 10 (both from Enterprise and in augmenting the Cactus Air Force from Henderson Field), and  3) the 11th Bombardment Group from Espiritu Santo by Navy, Marine and Army Air Corps aircrews was a significant but only partially  recognized element of the U.S. victory in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.  Continue reading

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 21 – Guadalcanal – Enterprise, Cactus and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 21

On the morning of 13 November 1942, Marine aircraft of the “Cactus Air Force” attacked and caused the destruction of the Japanese battleship Hiei off Savo Island.  F4F Wildcat fighters of Marine squadron VMF-121, commanded by Captain Joe Foss, are engaged in a diversionary attack on the  battleship to cover an attack by Avenger torpedo bombers of Marine squadron VMSB-131. By  Robert Taylor.

As the end of this series approaches please note that the year of the carrier is not intended to address the overall war in the Pacific nor all aspects of the Guadalcanal Campaign which included significant land and sea battles in addition to the two carrier vs. carrier battles. While the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands was the last of four carrier battles in 1942, the series would not be complete without some discussion of the actions of the Cactus Air Force and USS Enterprise/Air Group Ten during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal fought November 12-15, 1942.

The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal 

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 20 – Guadalcanal – Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands: Discussion

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 20 (2/2)

Who won? As the two navies carrier battle groups retreated from the fourth and last carrier battle of 1942, the Japanese by multiple metrics could be judged to have won the day. Both sides were damaged greatly in similar manner, but for the Japanese, in a singular way that would be unrecoverable and thereby fatal when next  Japanese and American carriers dueled – their experienced squadron and section leadership was decimated.

What Price Victory?

American observers take a variety of positions on the outcome at Santa Cruz. Marine General Vandegrift termed the battle a “standoff.” Theater commander Admiral “Bull” Halsey wrote that “tactically, we picked up the dirty end of the stick but strategically we handed it back.” Similarly, official Navy historian Samuel Eliot Morison rated the battle a Japanese tactical victory that gained precious time for the Allies. And aviation historian John Lundstrom, author of the most detailed examination of the aerial exchanges, wrote of a “supposed” Japanese decisive victory. Robert Sherrod, chronicler of Marine aviation in the war, said Santa Cruz was a case in which “the box score is deceptive.” Continue reading

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 19 – Guadalcanal – Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 19 (1/2)

On the morning of 26 October, during the attack on the Enterprise,  Task Force 61 Commander Admial Thomas Kinkaid remarked with pardonable hyperbole to AP correspondent Eugene Burns: “You’re seeing the greatest carrier duel of history. Perhaps it will never happen again.”

John Hamilton’s depiction of fighting around the battleship South Dakota and carrier Enterprise during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.

We come now to the fourth and final carrier battle of 1942, what the Japaneses referred to as the Battle of the South Pacific. Yet despite the task force commander’s comment above, the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands  is arguably either the forgotten or least noted of the carrier battles of that year or at best remembered as the battle where the USS Hornet was sunk and a Japanese victory. But, the Japanese “victory” was Pyrrhic. The true mark of the Battle of the Santa Cruz is that Japanese losses were so grievous that they withdrew from significant carrier participation, not to return until the the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944 – the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.

The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, [25–27 October 1942]  was the fourth carrier battle of the Pacific campaign and was the fourth major naval engagement fought  during the Guadalcanal campaign.

The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands 

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Testimony of Pilot (19): Chapter 3 Ending -Such Men and Women

Testimony of Pilot# 19

“… They leave this tiny ship and fly against the enemy.  Then they must seek the ship, lost somewhere on the sea.  And when they find it, they have to land upon its pitching deck.  Where did we get such men?”

As the closing post in testimony’s Chapter 3 – Where did we get such men?  – the purpose is first, to add to the collection a fairly well traveled  but I think spot on piece The Fighter Pilot, by an unknown – obviously Air Force –  author;
and second, to provide some discussion of the characterization of what such men and women really do – despite the fighter pilot label – and will continue to do in the future.  Truth be told, it’s really what they’ve always done though sometimes Red Baron semantics and  emerging technology tends to blur the picture.

Cdr James Stockdale leading the Operation Pierce Arrow strike on Vinh, North Vietnam as the result of the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964 by R.G. Smith.

The Fighter Pilot

 author unknown

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Testimony of Pilot (18): Eulogy For a Fighter Pilot

Testimony of Pilot# 18

They do tell stories about fighter pilots and indeed, fast mover combat pilots of the fighter/attack  clan are seldom reluctant to pass on a little this is no s..t  (TINS) with quite possibly some embellishment of their swashing of buckles derring -do over time. 

Most readers are familiar with Pat Conroy’s book and follow-on movie The Great Santini, and some most certainly are knowledgable about Conroy’s Marine aviator father Colonel Don Conroy. Even though there is most certainly a dark side to Don Conroy as a father, for me this series and particularly for a chapter labeled “where did we get such men,” not capturing Pat Conroy’s eulogy for his father would just be incomplete … and so here’s to the Great Santini – and note, even among fighter and attack guys, carrying off that call sign required some real TINS.

COLONEL DON CONROY’S  EULOGY 

by his son, Pat Conroy. Continue reading

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Testimony of Pilot (17): Naval Aviation Culture

Testimony of Pilot# 17

Proceedings Magazine – September 2011  published an article by Former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman  “Is Naval Aviation Culture Dead?” discussing  the fallout of Tailhook ’91 and the effect political correctness has had on a hard-earned mystique, noting The swaggering-flyer mystique forged over the past century has been stymied in recent years by political correctness.

Secretary Lehman’s focal point and full text go beyond the scope of Testimony of Pilot Chapter 3,Where did/do we get such men?” but his lead in defines our heritage very well.

from

Is Naval Aviation Culture Dead?

by John Lehman
Proceedings Sept 2011, U.S. Naval Institute

We celebrate the 100th anniversary of U.S. naval aviation this year, but the culture that has become legend was born in controversy, with battleship admirals and Marine generals seeing little use for airplanes. Even after naval aviators proved their worth in World War II, naval aviation faced constant conflict within the Navy and Marine Corps, from the War Department, and from skeptics in Congress. Throughout the interwar period, its culture was forged largely unnoted by the public.

It first burst into the American consciousness 69 years ago when a few carrier aviators changed the course of history at the World War II Battle of Midway. Continue reading

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Testimony of Pilot (16): James Bond Stockdale – Where Indeed?

Testimony of Pilot# 16

MEDAL OF HONOR citation… for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while Senior Naval Officer in the Prisoner of War camps of North Vietnam on 4 September 1969. Recognized by his captors as the leader in the Prisoners’ of War resistance to interrogation and in their refusal to participate in propaganda exploitation, Rear Admiral Stockdale was singled out for interrogation and attendant torture after he was detected in a covert communications attempt…

… Sensing the start of another purge, and aware that his earlier efforts at self-dis-figuration to dissuade his captors from exploiting him for propaganda purposes had resulted in cruel and agonizing punishment, Rear Admiral Stockdale resolved to make himself a symbol of resistance regardless of personal sacrifice. He deliberately inflicted a near-mortal wound to his person in order to convince his captors of his willingness to give up his life rather than capitulate. He was subsequently discovered and revived by the North Vietnamese who, convinced of his indomitable spirit, abated in their employment of excessive harassment and torture toward all of the Prisoners of War. By his heroic action, at great peril to himself, he earned the everlasting gratitude of his fellow prisoners and of his country… 

Always Leading and Always Will

by Orson Swindle (USMC, Ret)
with add by Paul Galanti (USN, Ret)

Prisoners of War in North Vietnam

[Reproduced with permission of USNI and the author]

The country, the Navy, the Stockdale family, especially his beloved wife, Sybil, and those of us who were POWs in North Vietnam suffered a terrible loss with the passing on 5 July (2005) of Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale. Husband, father, patriot, mentor, author, and dear friend, he touched our lives profoundly. Distinguished graduate of the Naval Academy, Medal of Honor recipient, courageous warrior, brilliant leader, almost bigger than life, he never stopped inspiring us. It is difficult to accept that he is gone. We recognize how fortunate we are that he came our way. Continue reading

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Testimony of Pilot (15): “Where you ask? Oh, I can answer that!”

Testimony of Pilot# 15

Where do we get such men?

…From the farms and the fields of America, grown from boys who labor and look beyond the horizon toward better lives—for themselves and for their families.

         The fields of Lewis Alexander Hopkins were red Georgia clay, and he saw the horizon along the backs and between the plow harness of Tom and Golden, the mule and the horse.  After a long day, Lewis would trudge back home to a farmhouse with loose-fitting boards that let in the wind, a front porch where the family visited with neighbors, and with the outhouse down yonder.

That’s the way Anne Hopkins began the eulogy for her father, Rear Admiral Lew Hopkins –from a farm in Georgia.”

         Below are excerpts from an interview with her Dad for the oral history collection of Admiral Nimitz Historic Site-National Museum of the Pacific War, Center for Pacific War Studies in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Admiral Hopkins and his daughter Anne in a Dauntless.

Interview with

RADM. Lewis A. Hopkins (USN-Retired)

SBD Pilot (VB-6) – USS Enterprise –Battle of Midway

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