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This page contains various actions and operations involving the USS Coral Sea, her crew and airwings. The stories include combat, special missions and other operations. Every attempt has been made to give an accurate as possible accounting of these actions. Please let me know if something is in error or if you have something to add to a story.
1952 MED Cruise: Show of Force - Yugoslavia
In the Summer of 1948 Yugoslavia was expelled from the Comintern. Over the next several years, there were serious tensions between Yugoslavia and its
Communist neighbors. In March 1951, Tito claimed that Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Soviet Union were massing forces along Yugoslavia's border. In
mid-March, a reinforced Marine Corps battalion arrived in the area. Later in March, the relief force for the Mediterranean arrived six weeks early to cover `the
politically critical spring period.' In the last week of May, the Fleet was augmented with another aircraft carrier. In September 1952, President Tito went to sea aboard
the carrier Coral Sea, a demonstration to the Soviet Union that American aid was available and acceptable to Yugoslavia.
1956 MED Cruise: Show of Force - Jordan
Following a period of growing intermal tension and foreign policy turmoil, King Hussein dismissed British General Glubb as Commander of the Jordanian Arab Legion. In reaction to this move, two carriers (Coral Sea and Randolph) and an amphibious force were moved into the Eastern Mediterranean. The formation of a new cabinet in May effectively ended this crisis.
1956 MED Cruise: Show of Force - Pre-Suez
Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal on 26 July 1956. Tensions immediately rose as both France and the United Kingdom began preparations for military operations. Two carriers (Coral Sea and Randolph) and an amphibious force (which was reinforced in early September) were moved into the Eastern Mediterranean. The fleet dispersed in mid-September as the level of tension in the area appeared to subside.
1956 MED Cruise: Show of Force - Suez Crisis
The Suez Crisis began on 26 July 1956, when, following the United States' decision to withdraw its offer of a grant to aid the construction of Egypt's Aswan High Dam, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. The governments of Britain and France secretly began planning for an invasion of Egypt. Not to be outdone, Israel soon was doing its own invasion planning, completing its final plan on 5 October. After several inter-national mediation efforts had failed, Britain and France agreed in mid-October 1956 to undertake a joint intervention in Egypt. Aware of the upcoming Israeli plan to invade the Sinai, French officials suggested that a Franco-British force could enter Egypt ostensibly to separate the com-batants, while actually seizing control of the entire Suez waterway. On 26 October, the United States learned of Israel's military mobilization, and President Dwight Eisenhower sent the first of two personal messages to Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion asking that Israel do nothing to endanger the peace. In the Mediterranean on the 28th, the U.S. Sixth Fleet was placed on alert. Undeterred by U.S. diplomatic maneuvering, Israeli forces began attacks in Egypt on 29 October. The following day Britain and France began to make their move. The British government issued an Anglo-French ultimatum calling on the Israelis and Egyptians to withdraw their forces to a distance of 10 miles from the Suez Canal and demanding that Egypt allow British and French forces to temporarily occupy key posi-tions guarding the canal. That same day, Admiral Walter F. Boone, U.S. Commander Naval Forces, Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, ordered the Sixth Fleet to assist in the evacua-tion of U.S. nationals from Israel and Egypt. Coral Sea (CVA 43) and Randolph (CVA 15), the fleet's two attack carriers that were already oper-ating in the eastern Mediterranean, were directed to keep clear of British naval units operating there. In Norfolk, Va., the Navy ordered one attack carrier, a heavy cruiser and a destroyer squadron to get ready to sail to the Mediterranean to augment the Sixth Fleet and a second CVA and a division of destroyers to be on 72-hour notice. The Anglo-French attack on Egypt began at dusk on 31 October with a series of large-scale air strikes. The following day Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Arleigh Burke signaled Vice Admiral Charles R. "Cat" Brown, Commander Sixth Fleet: "Situation tense; prepare for imminent hostilities." Brown signaled back: "Am prepared for imminent hostilities, but whose side are we on?" In classic Burke style, the CNO's return response was, "Keep clear of foreign op areas but take no guff from anybody." The Suez Crisis increased in intensity on the afternoon of 5 November when the Soviet Union sent diplomatic notes to Britain, France and Israel threatening to crush the aggressors and restore peace in the Middle East through the use of force. President Eisenhower's reaction to these threats was that "if those fellows start something, we may have to hit 'em and, if necessary, with everything in the bucket." Coral Sea and Randolph and their escorts shifted to an operating area southwest of Crete in order to improve their readiness posture for a general emergency. Agreeing to a cease-fire on 6 November, Britain and France ended their military operations that night at midnight. Soviet military moves continued during the next few days, however, and on the 7th, Burke ordered attack carriers Forrestal (CVA 59) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA 42) to sail from Norfolk toward the Azores, together with a heavy cruiser and three divisions of destroyers, to act as a standby augmentation to the Sixth Fleet. U.S. Navy forces were directed to maintain readiness to execute emergency war plans. Tensions remained high until 15 November, when United Nations forces were brought into Egypt to provide a buffer between the Egyptians and the invasion forces. From that point on, the Soviet intervention threat gradually dissipated.First hand account during that period:
The Landing at the Suez Canal
Clinton M. Cox, USMC
Marine Detachment, USS Coral Sea CVA-43
1955 - 1957
We arrived on October 31, 1956 in the vicinity of Alexandria, Egypt. As I recall, our entire Marine Detachment, with no other personnel involved, except the boat crews that were to operate the landing craft, were to deliver our Marine Detachment ashore at Port Said for the purpose of assisting American citizens in the evacuation from the area and we were to have gone as far south as Cairo, Egypt to offer assistance.
We were relieved of all normal duties, which included guarding the Special Weapons, manning the ship's Brig and staff orderly duty, aboard the USS Coral Sea CVA-43. We worked through the night loading the landing crafts with weapons and ammunition. Being well equipped, our arsenal included our M-1 rifles, 45 caliber pistols, a 50 caliber machine gun, several Thompson sub machine guns, mortars, rocket launchers and hand grenades. We were prepared for any hostilities.
Our uniforms for the landing were khakis and helmets, but were to wear our barracks caps ashore to the port so we would not alarm the civilian and military populations. We were briefed as to our mission and then told to rest before boarding the landing crafts. We were scheduled to leave the ship early the following morning. For several days we lay in wait for the order to board the landing crafts. Then, an order came to stand down. There were approximately 80 to 90 Marines ready to go ashore if ordered to do so. We were to be led by Captain George C. Fox, USMC and M/Sgt George F. Frederiksen, USMC.
The "Floating Battalion of Marines, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment" came on scene to assist in the evacuation of American personnel. Civilians were delivered aboard the USS Coral Sea while we steamed in circles off the coast of Egypt.
During the month of November 1956, and well after the planned landing by the Marine Detachment, an attempt was made to form the Ship's Landing Party aboard the USS Coral Sea. The Marine Detachment was in charge of this operation. It was to include Naval personnel but it was never completed. Most of the Naval personnel had jobs to do that were important to the day to day operation of the ship, therefore the Landing Party was never completely formed. Their reasoning was understandable.
The USS Coral Sea stayed off the coast of the Suez Canal for almost 30 days. From late October through November 23, 1956 we remained on station at points Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses off the Suez Canal.
During that period of time, British and French aircraft flew over the USS Coral Sea on their way to bombing missions at Port Said and the Suez Canal. Explosions lighted the sky and could be seen in the distance. We flew large American Flags that were illuminated at night with spot-lights so the foreign planes flying over us would not mistake us to be hostile.
1960-61 WestPac: Show of Force - Laos
Following the Pathet Lao capture of strategic positions on the central plain of Laos, Seventh Fleet forces (including two CVAs (Lexington and Coral Sea), one CVS (Bennington), and an amphibious force, were ordered to the South China Sea.
During the last three months of 1960 USS Coral Sea operated in various parts of WestPac, but as the crisis in Laos grew she was directed to take up station in the South China Sea. In December 1960 a military coup overthrew the Laotian government and open civil war began. The North Vietnamese, who needed unrestricted access to the road and trail network along the Lao/NVN and Lao/SVN borders to support the Viet Cong in South Vietnam, assisted the Pathet Lao in setting up a Communist enclave in the Plaine des Jars area, and the Soviet Union began providing supplies via airlift to the Pathet Lao. CORAL SEA's airwing, which included Skyraider and Skyhawk ground attack aircraft, provided the basis for immediately available military support for the pro-Western elements in Laos.
Follow-up from Hap Litzell: After several hours of searching, I found a copy of 15 Pages of an article titled Hans Kristensen, Japan under the US nuclear Umprella". I thought this might be of interest to you. I am only going to type a couple paragraphs from page 5 because the Coral sea is specifically mentioned and verifies what you and I already knew about the ships deployment to the South China sea in 1960 & 61.
I quote: "Several crises with Communist China over Taiwan and the crisis in Laos resulted in U.S. Pacific forces being put on high alert several times during the early 1960's prompting CINCPAC to deploy nuclear forces. During 1961, for example, PACOM forces were alerted twice for imminent combat action and combat units were pre-positioned in the Philippines, on Okinawa, or in the South China Sea. Equipment was loaded, and planes and ships stood by ready to move forces into Southwest Asis immediately upon receiving an order to execute war plans. These crises put to the test a new nuclear war plan introduced by the US Navy in the early 1960's; the Single Integrated Operation Plan (SIOP).
On December 31, 1960, for example, forces earmarked to support CINCPAC operations in defense of mainland Southeast Asia against Communist aggression or insurgency in Southeast Asia, were placed on DEFCON 2 (the defense condition immediately below outbreak of war). Three naval task groups, including the two nuclear strike carries USS Lexington and USS Coral Sea were ordered to depart Okinawa immediately for operations in the South China Sea. Following a week of high alert, the forces were returned to DEFCON3 on January 1961, and ordered no more the FOUR hours steaming distance away. Eventually, on February 25, DEFCON 4 was re-established.
Already the following month, however, tension escalated once more. On march 19th, U.S. forces were placed back of DEFCON 3 in response to a deteriorating of the situation in Laos. This alert condition was raised to DEFCON 2 two days later, and four nuclear carriers were called in."
That pretty much tells it all about the 60-61 cruise.
February 7, 1965 WestPac: Operation - Vietnam
In response to a Viet Cong attack on barracks area at Pleiku, South Vietnam, aircraft from carriers, USS Coral Sea, USS Hancock, and USS Ranger attack North Vietnamese area near Donghoi.
1964-65 WestPac: Vietnam - The Start
[Submitted by Mike Robertson] - We were headed to Sidney Aust. for port of call when we were diverted to Subic Bay PI to take on Bombs, ammo and supplies. The USS Coral Sea was the first carrier battle group to launch full air strikes at North Vietnam in Feb. 65 after the USS Turnner Joy and the USS Maddox (Destoryers ).
[Submitted by Walt "The Salt" Hardy] - I have this book "flat-tops and fledglings" by Gareth L. Pawlowski on page 317 he writes that the Coral Sea pulled into Subic bay 30 January 1965 for four hours replenishment. I say it was 6 February 1965 we pulled into Subic Bay for Four hours to offload our liberty launches to carry more aircraft because the next day 7 February 1965 the Coral Sea launched aircraft with the Ranger and Hancock against North Vietnam targets at Dong Hoi military barracks. The ship left Subic bay like a speed boat, the planes was loaded with weapons and the captain made everybody a**hole pucker up tight when he said, "Men, men I just received a message from commander task force 77.5 that the Coral Sea, Hancock and Ranger will rendezvous in a designated area in the South China Sea and make retaliatory air strikes against the North Vietnamese" over the 1MC. Even though it was a long time ago I still remember those words!
[Submitted by Unknown] - Late on the evening of February 6, Coral Sea was slicing through the waters of the Western Pacific enroute to Manila Republic of the Philippines. Part of her crew were watching and playing Bingo over KCVA-TV. Others had turned in for the evening contemplating rest and relaxation in Manila.
1964-65 WestPac: Vietnam - Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon Letter.
1964-65 WestPac: F8 Ejection - Vietnam
[Submitted by Randy Kelso] - This sequence of photos show Lt. Jack Terhune ejecting from his damaged F8 over the China Sea in 1965. He was picked up by a helicopter from the USS Coral Sea. Many thanks to Les Jackson for supplying these great, original photos of the ejection sequence. Les served as a ship's company journalist on the 64-65 cruise. The photos were taken by LTJG Roy A. Zink of VFP 63 from his RF-8 photo bird. LCDR Jim Ginn is seen flying his F-8 along side of the crippled F-8.
We spent most of 1965 (an 11 month cruise) off the coast of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. Flight quarters, long hours and constant danger were the rule, especially for our pilots. As I recall, Mr. Jack Terhune's aircraft was shot up on a raid into North Vietnam and he was trying to make it back to the boat but lost all his hydraulic fluid. When this happens in the F-8, everything hangs out in the breeze (gear, flaps, speedbrake, wing raised, hook, etc.)... then the stick freezes! Mr. Terhune told his two wingmen (Mr. Jim Ginn on the starboard side and Mr. Roy Zink in a photo Crusader on the port side) that he was about to punch. Mr. Zink started his starboard camera taking pictures at a high rate and the result was the series you see on our site. The pictures made the newspapers and several Navy publications; it was apparently the first time such a sequence had been captured on film. I remember seeing the originals posted on a bulletin board on the ship shortly after it happened. I looked for many years for a copy of those pictures. When I talked to Mr. Terhune at his home in Texas some thirty years later, I asked where they were. He said that they were hanging on his front room wall! I ended up getting our copies for the web page from Les Jackson who was a Journalist in Public Affairs aboard the Coral Sea during our watch.
July 15, 1965 WestPac: Operation - Vietnam, VA-165/AAM Laotian A-6 Rescue
[Submitted by Walt Darran] - Robert Door ("Skyraider---") is quoted as saying USN had A1's based in Udorn in 1965. Not true. However, VA-165, embarked (USS) Coral Sea (CVA-43), occasionally supported Air America choppers on RESCAPS before USAF Jolly Greens and Sandys got it sorted out and were allowed to play north of the Mekong.
On 15 July 65 two FIREWOOD (VA-165) divisions were sent to cover the pickup of the crew of the first A-6 shot down in the war. MUSTANG (Coral Sea) was on Yankee station, the crash site was in Laos, so we made a 0400 launch and flew direct, over Vinh; our friends on the ground celebrated our overflight with a delightful fireworks display to greet the new day.
We split at the Laotian border. Division #2, led by XO Harry Parode, went to Udorn to top off and stand by. Division #1, led by Skipper Ken Knoizen, plus myself, J.E.B. Stuart, and Bill Lyons, rendezvoused with the AAM choppers and started searching. We soon picked up a PRC-49 signal. The lead AAM chopper (Julian "Scratch" Kanach, later chopper pilot for Ross Perot's "Wings of Eagles" Iranian "evacuation") sighted a man on the ground, but after several low passes had to retire due to a fuel leak caused by Pathet Lao playing with automatic weapons. There was considerable confusion, partly caused by the fact that the downed pilot's transmitter was working, but not his receiver; vice-versa for the BN. We did not figure it out at the time, and they were a mile apart, so the communication sounded like me and my ex-wife. After we contributed some thunder and lightning to the festivities another H-34 picked up both crewmembers, then we destroyed the evidence and adjourned to the infamous Air America bar in Udorn for a debrief.
Assuming we were staying for the evening, we happily accepted celebratory drinks and pu-pu's offered by our new friends. A couple hours later we were brought up short by a message from MUSTANG telling us to get our young asses back home ASAP. It was a colorful recovery at 2040.
A couple notes:
1. Unarmed AAM choppers made an incredible number of pickups under hostile fire throughout the war, but they DID NOT receive any sort of bounty/bonus for them, just normal flight and hazard pay, which they got anyway for being, as I recall, beyond an 80-mile radius north of Vientiane. But every chopper jock that I knew would drop everything and head for the scene if he had a chance to pick up a downed airman. I personally saw Charlie Weitz (AAM) pick up 5 downed pilots in 5 days, 4 under fire, one (a Raven from LS 36) that had crashed on takeoff into an unmarked minefield (Charlie had to touch down in the minefield to effect the pickup). Just a brief respite from routine duties. Cojones grande!
2. This particular rescue got several write-ups, some after the war, possibly because both the pilot and BN, Don Boecker and Don Eaton, VA-75 embarked (USS) Independence (CVA 62), later made Admiral.
3. I later visited Sandys in Udorn to discuss SERE and SAR tactics, and flew a BR/RT on Route 6 with Dick Needham in #419 on 26 June 66. When I flew for AAM in Udorn (On-Mark B-26), then CASI in Vientiane (Pilatus Porter), Sandys were kind enough to issue me a card for the Sandy Box, and gleefully responded to my VHF calls referencing ground contacts up-country. Then someone mentioned "Firewood Buddha" as a FAC callsign in their debrief, some anal-retentive intelligence-type raised an eyebrow and a few questions, and we had to cool it. No sense of humor.
It was an interesting time, and we were indeed fortunate to fly Spads. Better to screw your way around the world than to blow your way around! Spads 4ever!
November 6, 1967 WestPac: Operation - Vietnam, Rescue
Helicopters from USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) rescues 37-man crew of Liberian freighter Royal Fortunes aground on a reef in the Tonkin Gulf.
November 19, 1967 WestPac: Mission - Vietnam[Email's from Doug Clower, Ted Stier and an article form southeasttexaslive.com]
Pilot's cheated death in the air - but 5 1/2 years of hell waited below.
A single warning shouted over the radio saved Doug Clower's life on a Sunday afternoon in 1967 over North Vietnam.
"We were escorting 16 A-4 Charlies to bomb an airfield south of Haiphong, and we got into a dogfight with two (MiG)-17s and four (MiG)-21s," said Clower, a 1955 Lamar State College of Technology graduate. "Somebody yelled 'Break left!' and I broke left. Who hollered, I don't know."
The missile would have scored a direct hit if he didn't break. Instead, it exploded near his Phantom, forcing Clower and his radar intercept officer, Lt. j.g. Walt Estes, to eject. Clower's wingmen, Lt. j.g. Jack Teague and Lt. j.g. Ted Stier, were shot down moments later.
[Read the details of the MIG engagement. Click here]
Clower landed uninjured in a rice field in calf-deep water and was captured in seconds. "They had AK-47s and I had two .38s and I thought those weren't good odds," he said.
Estes and Teague, the pilot of the other F-4, did not survive to be taken prisoner. But he and Stier lived.
"They stripped me and took me to some place where they could hold us till they could get a jeep," Clower said. "Then they took us to Hanoi and started torturing us."
Lt. Ted Stier in the other Phantom ejected from his crippled aircraft: "When I landed I was about 50 yards from the a/c and under fire by the local militia. The a/c was pretty much intact but a fire was burning on its right side aft of the radome. I transmitted on my survival radio that I was on the ground and about to be captured. That was the beginning of my 5 + years in the Hanoi Hilton."
"As a sequel to all of this, I thought I was transported to Hanoi with Jack Teague. I had been injured on the ground and also given a version of the rope treatment prior to dispatch to Hanoi. On the trip there, I was in an out of consciousness but sensed another captive with me. On the last leg of the trip I was able to see under my blind fold and saw someone who I thought was Jack Teague. After repatriation and talking with Doug Clower I believe it was Doug who I saw. While imprisoned and in different camps throughout the years, I would inquire through our com net if anyone had run into Jack or Walt, the results were always negative."
"Jack and Walt's remains were repatriated in the late '70's, ' 78 if I remember correctly. Several years ago DoD asked me to ID some photos they had of 2 dead flyers. It wasn't disclosed who had taken the pix or how they obtained them, but they were of Jack and Walt. They were lying on the ground, obviously dead, and surrounded by locals.. I suspect they fell into the hands of the civilians who either shot them or beat them to death. In my own case, I consider myself lucky to have been captured by the militia who kept the incensed and highly agitated civilians at bay. At one point, in order to disperse a crowd of people who were impeding our travel out of the shoot down area, they leveled their rifles, fired off several rounds & yelled Hanoi, Hanoi. I knew then, whatever fate had in store for me, would be found in Hanoi, if we could stay clear of the civilians."Anchors Aweigh
Today, Clower, now 74, lives on his farm in Bleiblerville, a small town near Brenham, with his wife Maurine on 160 acres where he grows hay. A native of Clarksdale, Miss., and retired twice, first from the Navy in 1975 and again after 27 years as an oil and gas engineer, he is twice a grandfather and five times a great-grandfather.
But 50 years ago, as a 1955 graduate of Lamar State College of Technology with two engineering degrees, Clower was a man looking for a way to support his family. His wife, Maurine "Sweetheart" Brown, is a native of Beaumont.
"I shopped the streets of Beaumont and talked to all the recruiters. The Navy told me they could send me to OCS and the civil engineer program," Clower said. "I thought my wife and kid could eat better off that than my being enlisted."
But when a problem cropped up and the Navy was unable to get him into the engineering program, the recruiter asked him, "How'd you like to fly?"
Twelve years later, during October and November 1967 Clower's squadron, VF-151, lost five crews during missions in the skies over North Vietnam. The fourth and fifth crews the squadron lost were Clower and Estes, and Teague and Stier.
On Nov. 19, 1967, just before noon, Clower rode his Phantom off the USS Coral Sea and would not return home again for more than five years.
"We stopped a couple times along the way," Clower said of the trip to Hanoi. "They seemed to stop in little villages and we were blindfolded and tied and naked and they would throw open the drapes. It seemed like the women who would come up and pinch us and throw rocks at us."
When they reached Hanoi, Clower and Stier were taken to the Hoa Lo Prison, the infamous "Hanoi Hilton."
"The Heartbreak Hotel," Clower said.
The three days from the time he was shot down until he was put in a cell still run together in his memory.
"I knew as I laid there on that cold concrete floor, hurting, hungry and broken, I knew I had broken. I was convinced they could make me denounce God," Clower said. "I said, 'God, give me the strength to do those things that are right in your eyes and the eyes of my country.' "
The torture of American prisoners was not about getting information, Clower said. It was about control and keeping them under their captors' thumbs.
"They wanted me to point out the targets for the next day, but I didn't know," Clower said. "Every time they got me in a position I couldn't take it anymore, I'd lie to them. Hit me again, and I'll lie to you again."
In the later years of his captivity, the North Vietnamese allowed the prisoners to have a Bible for one hour on Christmas and Easter to celebrate the holidays. In doing this, though, they unwittingly gave the POWs access to parts of the Bible throughout the rest of the year.
During the hour they had it, the prisoners would all line up two-by-two and each pair would together memorize a verse by repeating it again and again. As soon as it was firmly set in their memories, they would return for another verse and keep this up until the book was taken away.
After their Bible was taken away, the prisoners used their memories and ink made of cigarette ash to copy the 50 or so memorized verses on toilet paper. To keep their improvised Bible safe, the paper was rolled up and stuffed into a hollowed out bar of soap.
To communicate, the prisoners would tap on the walls using a code system that set the alphabet -minus the letter "K" - into a five-by-five grid.
"There was never a night that I did not hear 'tap-tap, tap-tap,' G.G. Good night and God bless," Clower said. "And if you got caught tapping that, you'd be tortured."
Clower's last day as a prisoner of war came March 17, 1973, but it was not without a few stumbling blocks. After he was issued civilian clothes provided by the Red Cross, guards told him to change back into his prison uniform.
"It was frightening. They took me and two other prisoners and walked us to the big house."
Waiting for him when he arrived at the big house was the camp commander, known as "Bushy" to the prisoners. He was sitting at a table with three American officers and four neutral officers.
"I walked into the room and pulled the biggest bluff of my life," Clower said.
Clower said he figured he was the senior American officer in the room because the three Americans were all majors, equal to him as a lieutenant commander, but he was pretty sure his date of rank in 1964 made him senior. He told everyone he was in charge.
"Bushy said, 'There is no rank among these prisoners. They're killers of children and old people, and (Clower) is the blackest of the black,' " he said. "He told the guards to drag me out, and the major said, 'Sir, we'll never leave Vietnam without you.' "
Three days later, Clower arrived home in San Diego and saw his wife for the first time in more than six years.
"It was amazing, wonderful," said Maurine Clower, 72. "I had his mom and stepdad, his sister and her husband, my mom and dad, and of course our daughter. We all went to the airport to meet him."
Maurine Clower said before Doug deployed, they discussed the possibility of him being captured.
"Anything you go through, I don't care what it is, the hardest thing you know is the hardest thing you know. I was fortunate because I knew if he survived the first year he would come home."
More than 30 years after he was repatriated, Clower said he is not haunted by his experiences as a POW.
"I do not have post-trauma syndrome, if I do I'm not smart enough to notice," Clower said. "I'm a better man now because of it. I know what my limits are. I can survive and I did survive."
April 9, 1972 WestPac: Operation - Vietnam, Shootdown & Rescue of Major Clyde Smith
[Special thanks to Steve Dumovich of the AWA Group for letting us use this story.] - Golf of Tonkin: Scott and I were fired off the catapult about 1800 on a road interdiction mission-call sign Bengal 505- near Tchepone, Laos, on Route 9 west of Khe Sanh. We carried 12 Mk-82 500-pound bombs and 12 Mk 20 Rockeyes. Tchepone was a major transshipment location along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and had a reputation as a hot spot: an Air Force AC-130 was shot down near there just two weeks earlier. The North Vietnamese had mounted a major offensive into South Vietnam in early April, but we knew little about the ground war. Soon after arriving on station, we saw several trucks on the road trying to get a head start on the evening run down the trail. It was about 1900 and the day was turning to dusk; the weather was clear.
Listen to the interview Maj. Clyde Smith did with Captain Harris aboard Coral Sea here
1972 WestPac: F-4 MIG Fight - Vietnam
[Article from - The Patriot, Cuba, NY - by Caroline Mae Higby] Hinsdale, NY. - On November 11th, 2002, Veterans Day, a Navy F-4B Phantom [USS Coral Sea - VF-51] was dedicated along with a Veteran's Memorial at the Hinsdale American Legion Post. There to dedicate the F-4B phantom jet was the pilot who took it on its last flight in North Vietnam on June 11th, 1972. Rear Admiral Winston Copeland Jr. (retired), United States Navy, currently lives in Lompac, California with his wife, Elizabeth Janine Douglas, and his four children. He and his wife flew across the continent especially for this dedication.
"This plane is a significant part of my life and I am delighted that they (the Legionaires) have preserved it," said Rear Admiral Copeland. The story of the jet's last mission is a glorious and dangerous one. On a Sunday morning over 30 years ago Naval Aviator Copeland and another F4B were assigned to be a MIG cap "blocker" between Fan Hua and the aircraft carrier over 100 miles out to sea.
First, they lost all radio contact; a common occurance during the perils of the Vietnam conflict. Four MIG-17s loomed above them in no time at all. Two were close to the other plane. Copeland and his co-pilot, Captain Don Bouchoux, went behind the lead MIG, fired and took the wings off the enemy aircraft. There was a huge fireball to avoid. The two MIGs on the left took off in seeming retreat.
According to Copeland one never deserts their wingman, so they went back to check on him. Together, the jets headed out to sea, towards the carrier and out of North Vietnam. On the way home their fire light came on, but they hadn't noticed being hit. Regardless, one always has to respect a fire light. "Planes on fire tend to blow up," says Rear Adm. Copeland, " and that can ruin your day." The radio came back on. The other plane came over, saw that they were on fire and quickly retreated to a safe distance.
They shut down the burning engine, yet it was still ablaze. They thought of ejecting, but decided against it, since the dangers in the water included sharks and sea snakes as well as being easy targets for enemy fire.
Captain Bouchoux and Copeland made it back to the carrier, but the carrier refused to let them land. Tradition states that for each kill a pilot does one roll before they land. The plane they were with did two, one for his own and one for them, since they were in a dangerously damaged aircraft. The carrier suggested that both pilots eject to which Copeland responded, "Jeez, we could have ejected yesterday. We want to land this thing!" They went fifteen or twenty miles out to sea and waited until the flames subsided. After the landing they looked under the plane. The aircraft had been hit by groundfire before the dogfight had even begun. The fuel line had been severed and it had welded the F-port sparrow to the fusilage of the plane. Aircraft 149457 never took flight again. It was set aside to be used for spare parts. According to Copeland, "Tales get retold and stories get embellished. But, I assure you, I put my pants on just like you do; one leg at a time."
According to Judge Advocate Tod Smith the plane didn't cost the Hinsdale Legion that much, but dismantling and shipping the aircraft did. They had to cut the plane into two pieces, hollow out the inside and take each of the bolts out. Seven guys jumped up and down on the wings and still they wouldn't come off the "tough old girl," he explained.
After delivery there was an entire weekend filled with rain. The craft became mired in the front yard of the Legion. Tod Smith was driving past a crane crew working on a bridge nearby. He stopped to ask their assistance. In less than an hour the crane drove in to the parking lot of the Legion to rescue the sunken jet. It took six days to piece the plane back together a period during which it continued to rain. Through the Legionaires' dedication it finally stands in memoriam today.
1972 WestPac: Vietnam - Operation Pocket Money
[Submitted by - Robert D. Gill jr.] - I was a minemen 2nd class on board CVA-43 from Nov. of 71 to July 72. I was the petty officer in charge of a 3 man mine assembly team assigned to G division. We were TAD out of MOMAG (Mobile mine assembly Group) Charleston S.C. for that Westpac tour. I was the MN2, Roland Pusher was the MN3, & Tim Mercier was the MNSN. With a lot of help from the AO's of G division, we put together the first 36 MK-52 mines that were dropped into Haiphong harbor on May 9th 1972 on Pres. Nixon's orders.
Operation Pocket Money, the mining campaign against principal North Vietnamese ports, was launched on 09 May 1972. Early that morning, an EC-121 aircraft took off from Danang airfield to provide support for the mining operation. A short time later, Kitty Hawk launched 17 ordnance-delivering sorties against the Nam Dinh railroad siding as a diversionary air tactic. Poor weather, however, forced the planes to divert to secondary targets at Thanh and Phu Qui which were struck at 090840H and 090845H, Vietnam time, respectively. Coral Sea launched three A-6A and six A-7E aircraft loaded with mines and one EKA-3B in support of the mining operation directed against the outer approaches to Haiphong Harbor. The mining aircraft departed the vicinity of Coral Sea at 090840H in order to execute the mining at precisely 090900H to coincide with the President's public announcement in Washington that mines had been seeded. The A-6 flight led by the CAG, Commander Roger Sheets, was composed of USMC aircraft from VMA-224 and headed for the inner channel. The A-7Es, led by Commander Len Giuliani and made up of aircraft from VA-94 and VA-22, were designated to mine the outer segment of the channel. Each aircraft carried four MK 52-2 mines. Captain William Carr, USMC, the bombardier/navigator in the lead plane established the critical attack azimuth and timed the mine releases. The first mine was dropped at 090859H and the last of the field of 36 mines at 090901H. Twelve mines were placed in the inner segment and the remaining 24 in the outer segment.
All MK 52-2 mines were set with 72-hour arming delays, thus permitting merchant ships time for departure or a change in destination consistent with the President's public warning. It was the beginning of a mining campaign that planted over 11,000 MK 36 type destructor and 108 special MK 52-2 mines over the next eight months. It is considered to have played a significant role in bringing about an eventual peace arrangement, particularly since it so hampered the enemy's ability to continue receiving war supplies.
1974-75 WestPac: Operation - Cambodia - Operation Eagle Pull
USS Coral Sea assits in the evacuation of the U. S. Embassy in Phnom Penh as Cambodia collapses to the Khmer Rouge.
1974-75 WestPac: Operation - Vietnam - Operation Frequent Wind
The USS Coral Sea provided close air support for the evacuation of Saigon. Here are some pictures of the flight deck with planes loaded with ordanance ready to fly over Saigon in support of Operation Frequent Wind. The last American helicopter to lift off the roof of the United States Embassy in Saigon was escorted by a Fighting Redcock A-7E of VA-22 flying from the USS Coral Sea. Tool's of the trade used at that time can be seen in these pictures, MK-82 500lb bombs, Rockeye CBU's, 5" Zuni Rockets, AIM-9 Sidewinders and AIM-7 missels.
[Submitted by - David Taylor] - I was an IS3 with CTF-77, stationed at Subic Bay PI during 74-75' and we boarded the Coral Sea in January that year and stayed on til June. In those six months, now remembered 25 years later, it seemed everything happened for that year in the PI! Most operations were in the South China Sea, with Rear Admiral Coogan and his staff of 30 offficers including two Captains watching over it all. I was one of 25 enlisted with them doing the research and anaylis of photos and charting whereabouts of every vessel.
12 May 1975 WestPac: Operation - Cambodia - SS Mayaguez
On 12 May 1975, the SS Mayaguez was seized by Cambodian gunboats and escorted to Koh Tang Island. The USS Coral Sea was enroute to a liberty call at Fremantle (Perth), Australia. She was diverted to the Gulf of Thailand. On May 13, 1975 embarked aircraft from Carrier Air Wing Fifteen, tail code NL, attacked Cambodian gunboats guarding the captured container ship SS Mayaguez off their coast. The hostile naval units were sunk. On May 15th attacks were also made to ease the way for Marines to successfully assault the captured ship dousing it with tear gas. 'Coral Maru' also hit targets on Koh Tang Island and the Cambodian mainland. Wounded Marines from the Koh Tang Island battle were brought back to the ship for advanced medical attention and transfer to Subic Bay, PI. The ship's and air wing's personnel were awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation.
[Submitted by - David Taylor] - On May 12 we were called to assist another boat, a SS Mayaquez taken that afternoon by the Cambodians. We had to leave our trip plans and headed back to Cambodian waters. The ordeal lasted three days, we being again in the War Room plotting and listening into what was going to give, and I intercepted the message from Washington telling the troups to pull out. A leaflet, one I had held, in Cambodian asked for the release of all on the island. This leaflet, many of them were dropped by aircraft over the small island Koh Tang, and at night the rescue took place, returning the Marines to both the Hancock which was used, and to the Coral Sea. That night I walked to the hanger bay of the carrier and walked around the wounded Marines laid out there, I couldn't talk with them but felt sorry for what had happened. It was my only look at wounded and war casualities!
Coral Sea relieved Midway in the northern part of the Arabian Sea on 5 February 1980 in connection with the continuing hostage crisis in Iran. Militant followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had come to power following the overthrow of the Shah, seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 and held 63 U.S. citizens hostage. The USS Coral Sea along with the USS Nimitz and others forces attempted to rescue the hostages on April 25, 1980. All during the rescue, Navy fighters from the carriers Nimitz and Coral Sea would fly a combat patrol along the Iranian border, ready to dart in and render assistance if Iran tried to pursue. Would the plan have worked? We'll never know. The mission met with disaster on the first phase of the attack.
1983 MED Cruise: Operation - Show of Force - Honduras
In 1983, the U.S. Government expressed great concern over the safety of Honduras, citing the threat of invasion from neighboring Nicaragua. On 14 June, 100 Green Beret military advisors arrived in Honduras. On 18 July, the Ranger CVBG was diverted from a planned Indian Ocean deployment to the vicinity of Central America through 12 August. On 16 August, the Coral Sea CVBG arrived off the east coast of Nicaragua and, on 26 August, New Jersey arrived on station west of Nicaragua. These vessels departed the region in mid-September.
1983 MED Cruise: Operation - Show of Force - Libya
Following Libyan aggression against Chad, aircraft from CVN-69 Eisenhower operated in the Gulf of Sidra. CV-43 Coral Sea's departure from the Mediterranean was delayed for a day because of uncertainty over the situation.
1985 MED Cruise: Operation - Show of Force - Malta
On 23 November 1985, an Egyptian airlines was hijacked to Malta. USN ships, including CV-43 Coral Sea responded to the hijacking and moved toward Malta for contingency purposes.
1986 MED Cruise: Operation - Libya
In Operation Prairie Fire on March 15, 1986, President Ronald Reagan ordered the Sixth Fleet to begin Freedom of Navigation maneuvers in the Gulf of Sidra to demonstrate American resolve to operate freely in what it believed to be international waters. Colonel Khaddafi claimed the Gulf of Sidra as Libyan territorial waters, declaring a "Line of Death" across the entrance to the gulf beyond which ships of other nations would not be allowed to enter. F/A-18's from the USS Coral Sea and USS America flew combat air patrols, protecting the carrier groups from Libyan aircraft. The Hornets were frequently called upon to intercept and challenge numerous MiG-23s, MiG-25s, Su-22s, and Mirages sent out by Libya to harass the fleet. The Hornets often flew only a few feet from their adversaries, ready to shoot if need be.
On 5 April, in response to the US show of force, the La Belle Discotheque in the Federal Republic of Germany was bombed, resulting in the death of one U.S. serviceman and many injured.
On 14 April, aircraft from the carriers Coral Sea and America, as well as USAF FB-111s from Lakenheath AFB in the U.K., struck targets in Libya as part of "Operation Eldorado Canyon." The Hornets went into action for the first time, flying several ship-to-shore air strikes against Libyan shore installations that were harassing the fleet. During this action, the Hornets from the Coral Sea attacked and destroyed the SA-5 missile site at Sirte which had been "painting" US aircraft on its radars. This was the combat debut for the Hornet, and incidentally marked the first combat use of the AGM-88A HARM anti-radiation missile. The Hornets attacked the SAM sites in bad weather and at wave top heights. All Hornets returned to the Coral Sea without mishap.
[Submitted by - Jeff Uphoff] - I was in VAW-127 on that cruise. This shot has the CO's name on the side, together with a "kill" silhouette of a Libyan (Soviet-built) Nanuchka-class patrol boat which we helped sink.
[Submitted by - Mark Swisher] - I was a flyer in VQ-2 and have time on this bird. A friend was onboard the A-3 when they intercepted a Libyan gun boat. They identified the boat and passed coordinates to the A-6 guys who promptly sank her. Love that story!
- Libya Videos Two outstanding videos from David Huber covering the Libya operation. A lot of footage aboard the USS Coral Sea.
1989 MED Cruise: Show of Force - Lebanon
Following the Israel capture of Sheik Obeid and claims that Lt. Col. William R. Higgins, USMC, had been killed, USN forces were ordered to steam toward Lebanon and Iran. The America CVBG was ordered from Singapore to the Arabian Sea; the Coral Sea CVBG left a port call in Alexandria, Egypt, ahead of time; and BB-61 Iowa broke off a port call in Marseilles, France, to steam east toward Lebanon. The cruiser Belknap, with the Sixth Fleet commander aboard, headed to the waters off Lebanon, canceling its participation in a port call in the Soviet Union.
1989 MED Cruise: USS Iowa - Puerto Rico
CORAL SEA, CV 43, April 19, 1989, Aids Stricken USS Iowa, BB-61
Operation off Puerto Rico, CORAL SEA rushed to the aid of the battleship Iowa. The Iowa suffered an explosion in No. 2
turret. The seriously injured from Iowa were brought to CORAL SEA by helicopter with its major medical
[Submitted by - Mark Lynn VA-55 '87-'88 Med, '89 Med] - First hand account of that day on the USS Coral Sea:
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