Skyhawks in Vietnam


Surface to Air Missile.

See VA-23 page for details.

See VA-192 page for details;


Navy's Tonkin Gulf Club Marine Skyhawk Units In-country TARGETS


The A-4 Skyhawk ( A-4B, A-4C, A-4E, A-4F and TA-4F ) carried the battle to the enemy for the U.S. Navy and Marines.

A-4 Skyhawk Pilots were in on the action from the very first air strikes in Vietnam, to the very last days of the conflict.

Total Navy Air Losses = 854 Aircraft, 575 Fatalities and 144 POWs.
Of these, 271 (31.7%) were Skyhawks, with 98 (17%) Skyhawk Fatalities and 48 (33%) Skyhawk POWs.

Total Marine Air Loses = 271 Aircraft, 241 Fatalities and 12 POWs.
Of these, 91 (33.6%) were Skyhawks, with 32 (13.3%) Skyhawk Fatalities and 1 (8.3%) Skyhawk POW.

Skyhawk losses to MiGs = 1, to SAMs = 32. Total A-4s lost in combat was 195.

As one would expect statistics vary based upon source. One claims 282 lost during the conflict, 195 of them in combat. But the above stats appear to be the most accurate.

First Skyhawk loss was A-4C 149578 from VA-144 aboard the USS Constellation, struck by AAA on 05AUG64, flown by LTJG Everett Alvarez who became the first, and longest held, POW of the conflict.

Final Navy Skyhawk loss was A-4F 155021 from VA-212 aboard the USS Hancock, struck by AAA on 06SEPT72, the pilot, LT W.F. Pear was rescued.

Final Skyhawk loss was A-4E BuNo 151099 on 26 September 1972, when USMC pilot Captain James_P._Walsh USMC of VMA-211 flying from his land base at Bien Hoa Air Base, was struck by AAA and was forced to eject. He became a POW and was released on 12 February 1973.


Skyhawk Aviators

Highly decorated for their courage,
while under fire and as POWs

2 Medal of Honor
7 Navy Cross
Numerous Silver Stars, DFCs,
Purple Hearts and Air medals.
VSD = DaNang?
VBH = Bien Hoa
PMB = Clark or Cubi?
NCP = Cubi non-official?
DAG = DaNang non-official?
PMK = Clark or Sangley?

DaNang: ID=DNG, ch 77, area GCI was Panama


Medal Of Honor
Medal Of Honor

(Click for details)

Navy Cros
(Click for details)

Silver Star

Distinguished Flying Cross

Purple Heart


Air Medal

POW Medal

Vietnam Service

RVN Campaign


Enlisted personnel played a supportive role (maintenance) in the Skyhawk's participation in Vietnam. Due to the inherent dangers of carrier flight deck operations, and in-theater land based combat ops, they did not serve without incurring losses.

Some known Blue Jacket OPS Losses:
Blue Shirt Moody CVA-63 DEC62 Blown Over-board at sea just before his 18th birthday.

T. Prezorski Killed -Blown Over-board at sea.

Presidentail Unit Citation

Navy Unit Citation

Vietnam Service

RVN Campaign


OPS MAP 1968

Task Force 77


OCT 1965: An CVW-7 A-4E Skyhawk of either the VA-72 Blue Hawks or VA-86 Sidewinders off the USS Independence (CVA-62) starts to pull up after an attack on railroad boxcars at Van Hoi, North Vietnam, October 1965. A Bullpup missile explodes next to the boxcars.

1965-1968 Oriskany Rolling Thunder (1.35MB PDF)

The Thesis above on-line at the 'Combined Arms Research Library Digital Library'


Link to Satellite image (inter-active) of Subic Bay and Cubi Point, PI. Texas Tech University's Vietnam Center


To the family of Dave Pospisil: I was on active duty with Dave and we flew together in the late 60s and 70s.
When I reported to DaNang in ‘69, Dave was one of the pilots who trained the new guys to fly the 2-seat A-4 in the assigned reconnaissance mission. So for about 25 hours he and I would alternate flying in the front seat while the guy
in the back would be looking for the enemy. These missions were flown in daylight, over Laos, at about 200 feet above the ground, and were flown as fast at the A-4 could go, somewhere around 350 kts at military power. They were grueling, zig-zag flight patterns and always pulling ‘G’, and with enough hostile fire to maintain an interest, and always over 125 miles from friendly areas or the ocean. When a target was located we radioed for attack aircraft and then controlled the aircraft on the target.
Anyway, one day we were zooming along when he spotted something, I forget what it was, and he said: “It’s at the southeast corner of that intersection of the dirt roads. circle it.” Soooo, at very low altitude, high bank, and high ‘G’, he circles the road trying to point it out. I’m looking straight down at four identical road parts, then glancing back in the cockpit to try to see which way was north, and east, and so forth, then looking outside. Well, with all the ‘G’, turning, and direction-changing, I finally told him to climb...he did. rocket up to several thousand feet. Like a I was still dizzy five minutes later. He was the only one in twenty three years of flying who gave me visual vertigo. We laughed about that incident later while we were in VMT-103, the Skyhawk training squadron in Yuma.
That flying was hazardous. One day he was very low and very fast when his plane was hit with enemy small arms fire.
It hit the wing, in an area of the fuel tank, which was not of the self sealing type. (When it rained, it poured) The bullet blasted an access plate apart, and instead of draining fuel, it was like flushing a toilet - gone in 30 seconds. That left him with 545 pounds of fuel, at 200’ and 130 miles to any airstrip. He declared an emergency, pickled the external ordnance and empty external tanks, climbed to 25,000 feet and started an idle letdown into Da Nang, now with about 200 pounds of fuel. (Without an operating engine, the A-4 has the flight characteristics of a Coke machine).
He safely landed his machine, with a very pale new guy in the back, as the engine flamed out. He saved the aircraft.
Yuma. That’s where Dave saved my life. Like most returning pilots, we had done about every exciting and dangerous thing in an aircraft, and what was ‘normal’ in Vietnam could be considered crazy in the States. He was the aviation safety officer and I was going through a re-fam training to become an instructor. He saw the untamed side of my aviation skills and after a particular hop he, in his quiet way, mentioned how different it was back in the States, and in order to prepare the next generation of fliers, we had to always demonstrate the absolute restraint and professional flying which would be emulated by the new guys. It sunk in, and I changed my flight behavior because of that talk.

I have used that turning point many times over the years, and his counsel then remains good today. We flew together in Yuma as fellow instructor-pilots. One day after we landed, the Group Commander, Col. Gerry Fink, met us at the plane with a set of ‘orders’. Our orders were for us to immediately report to a helicopter that was standing by to take us out to the desert for a survival exercise. We weren’t told for how long or where we were going, and we were given a part of
an old parachute to simulate that we had just ejected in a remote place. We were to survive until rescued.  It wasn’t a big deal, and we had a chance to talk and stir our campfire until ‘rescue’.

He was a good Marine, and pilot, a devoted family man, and a man of his word. May it be of some solace to his family to know that I share in their loss.


The TA-4F goes to sea with CVW-21- 1972 as a Lazer Target Designator.

While the Marine’s use of the TA-4 as a visual reconnaissance and airborne forward air controller platform has been called the most extensive combat use of the two-seat Skyhawk, during the 1972 western Pacific combat cruise of CVW-21 aboard USS Hancock, pilots of VA-164 logged some serious combat time in the two-seat A-4. On that cruise, the A-4 squadrons in Airwing 21 were assigned responsibility for developing expertise in unique types of missions - an example being VA-55’s specialization in the Iron Hand mission. VA-164 deployed on that cruise with their aircraft wired for equipment to facilitate the delivery of laser-guided bombs, and worked on developing tactics for delivery and control of those weapons in a high-threat environment.

Then Commander Stan Arthur was Commanding Officer of VA-164 in the summer-fall 1972 time-frame when 164 flew a number of missions to deliver laser-guided bombs in North Vietnam. We asked Admiral Arthur to provide his recollections on that period.

Here is the information I (Bruce Corbett) recall from the 1972 cruise.

We deployed with part of our VA-164 aircraft (A-4F's) with a Laser Spot Tracker (LST) in the nose cone. The other piece of equipment that came with the LST was a new gun sight- Ferranti - which could display the spot where the laser energy was directed. As I recall, not all of our aircraft had this mod. When we got to combat, we were tied to either an airborne or ground FAC (forward air controller) to put a laser on the target. China Lake had been working on building a hand-held laser for our use to allow us to do our own lasing. Needless-to-say, this wouldn't work in a single-seat aircraft. We initially deployed these prototype hand-held designators to an F-4 squadron on one of the other carriers deployed to Westpac. Johnny Bittick (who now lives in the Dallas area) was our Operations Officer, and he ran this project. This was not a good solution as the carriers worked different line schedules.

In August 1972 we were able to get two combat configured TA-4F's transferred to us from the USMC (Bureau Numbers 154325 and 153491). Since we were pilot limited in the Squadron, with every pilot doing three man-up's per day (two actual flight's maximum), we trained other CVW-21 folks to do the lasing from the back seat of the TA-4. We had some of our RF-8 and E-2 folks qualified do the lasing. The designator box was very cumbersome, and both people in the aircraft had to wear laser protective glasses. It was almost impossible to hold a steady spot under any “G” load, so the TA-4 had to do a 1 to 0 “G” arc around the target, or knife-edge pass, over the target to allow the back-seater to see the target and have a chance at holding the laser steady. We had good success with the tactic, but the folks flying the TA-4 were not happy to be in such steady-state flight (in the target area), especially up North!

David Dollarhide and Bruce Corbett.


164 had two TA-4Fs assigned for the 72 cruise, beginning in August 72 (I can't remember if they kept them for the 73 cruise, but Pete would know that). They were used for lasing targets for the prototype LGBs we had then. China Lake made them a hand-held laser box about three times the size of a Brownie, so it was called the "camera." It wasn't stabilized in any way, so the back-seater would look through the view finder to locate the target, then try to hold it on the target during a wing-over type pass. The single-seaters in 164 had the Ferrante laser-spot tracker, so they would get a lock on the target prior to release. That would verify that the laser was on and allow the pilot to set up for the delivery. You didn't have to see the target - the LST reticle centered over it. The later A-4Ms had this capability (and more). Bob

The OA-4Ms were in service with the H&MS squadrons starting in mid 70s- I think H&MS 32 got their first bird in '75 or '76. They came to Iwakuni in '81. Reman'd TA-4Fs with better radio suites and ECM. But they were a switchology nitemare. Regarding the original LGB employments, China Lake has a background flick about an amazingly short period (hours, days?) in '72 when the Navy dropped 28 (I think) bridges with just about as many LGBs in NVN. It was all hand held designation and required a fairly permissive environment. The Air Force was doing something very similar. Jigger

I have to revise my timeline due to CRS- I think my first encounter with an OA-4M was April, 1979, not the mid 70s- I was in a TA-4J from China Lake for the MAG-31 CoC at Beaufort (the other seat was occupied by Lee Madera, former CO of MAG-31) and Jim Orr, 2nd MAW CoS at the time, drove in with the OA-4M prototype (I think)- I asked for a quick look and he said do anything you want but don't touch the @$%@!! comm switches!!! Apparently, he had already gone NORDO by leaving rear switches in wrong positions, etc- great system!!! In 80/81, we transitioned the TA-4Fs in Iwakuni to OA-4Ms- didn't have any impact on WESTPAC XCs!! Jigger (Bill Egan)

I was the XO of H&M-32 when we got them. I liked how we were limited to 2.5 Gs at first until the engineers decided the original calculations for the TA-4F were so conservative that all the added weight, etc. made no difference, so go ahead and use the TA-4F envelope. I got to meet Everett Alvarez at NAVAIR at a conference there on the OA-4M at that time. Switches were interesting indeed. Mark Williams.

I was qualified as a FastFac in the OA-4M before I left active duty in 82/83 and H&MS-32 still had them for a while after I left. Jigger is right about the switchology. My log book indicates that jet was not with us at that time. I was in line to be recalled to active duty in late 83, early 84 as there was a harebrained scheme of basing the jets in the Med (Cyprus) to call in Naval Gunfire on the eastern side of the Shouf Mountains in Lebanon. Nothing materialized as the New Jersey and other forces on the scene were able to manage the situation. Blade

A quick look-see shows these two-seaters with VA-164.Gabby

152859,"TA-4F",13505,04/03/69,"VA-164","NAS Fallon, NV"
152865,"TA-4F",13511,03/05/68,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
152877,"TA-4F",13523,02/13/73,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
152877,"TA-4F",13523,06/01/73,"H&MS-12","MCAS Iwakuni, Japan "
152877,"TA-4F",13523,12/18/73,"VA-164","NAS Lemoore, CA"
152877,"TA-4F",13523,06/18/74,"VA-164","NAS Pensacola, FL"
152877,"TA-4F",13523,06/18/74,"VA-164","NAS Lemoore, CA"
153459,"TA-4F",13525,03/11/68,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
153491,"TA-4F",13557,08/03/72,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
153491,"TA-4F",13557,09/18/72,"H&MS-12","MCAS Iwakuni, Japan"
153491,"TA-4F",13557,05/24/73,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
153491,"TA-4F",13557,06/19/73,"VA-164","NAS Lemoore, CA"
153506,"TA-4F",13572,05/24/73,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
153506,"TA-4F",13572,08/08/73,"VA-164","NAS Lemoore, CA"
153678,"TA-4F",13616,06/01/70,"VA-164","NAS Lemoore, CA "
154323,"TA-4F",13711,04/04/69,"VA-164","NAS Fallon, NV"
154325,"TA-4F",13713,08/02/72,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
154331,"TA-4F",13719,01/14/75,"VA-164","NAS Lemoore, CA"
154331,"TA-4F",13719,03/04/75,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
154331,"TA-4F",13719,04/07/75,"VA-164","NAS Cubi Point, RP"
154331,"TA-4F",13719,04/07/75,"VA-164","USS Hancock "
154331,"TA-4F",13719,10/20/75,"VA-164","NAS Lemoore, CA"
154343,"TA-4F",13731,03/11/68,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
154615,"TA-4F",13733,03/28/68,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
154618,"TA-4F",13736,04/01/68,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
154622,"TA-4F",13740,01/17/75,"VA-164","NAS Lemoore, CA"
154622,"TA-4F",13740,02/21/75,"VA-164","NAS Alameda, CA"
154622,"TA-4F",13740,03/11/75,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
154622,"TA-4F",13740,04/07/75,"VA-164","NAS Cubi Point, RP"
154622,"TA-4F",13740,04/07/75,"VA-164","USS Hancock "
154622,"TA-4F",13740,10/20/75,"VA-164","NAS Lemoore, CA"
154652,"TA-4F",13770,02/28/73,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
154652,"TA-4F",13770,06/01/73,"H&MS-12","MCAS Iwakuni, Japan "
154652,"TA-4F",13770,12/18/73,"VA-164","NAS Lemoore, CA"

**** Buick, Her are the T-Birds that went to sea with VA units in the Pacific. Can't say with certainty they all went into combat. Hope I didn't miss any. Gabby

152849,"TA-4F",13495,11/13/69,"VA-22","USS Bon Homme Richard"
152850,"TA-4F",13496,07/12/68,"VA-22","USS Bon Homme Richard"
152855,"TA-4F",13501,09/25/68,"VA-23","USS Oriskany"
152859,"TA-4F",13505,10/07/68,"VA-192","USS Oriskany"
152859,"TA-4F",13505,04/03/69,"VA-164","NAS Fallon, NV"
152859,"TA-4F",13505,06/23/69,"VA-152","USS Shangri La"
152865,"TA-4F",13511,03/05/68,"VA-164","USS Hancock", 152877,"TA-4F",13523,02/13/73,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
153459,"TA-4F",13525,03/11/68,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
153459,"TA-4F",13525,03/13/69,"VA-55","USS Hancock"
153467,"TA-4F",13533,10/19/68,"VA-112","USS Ticonderoga"
153677,"TA-4F",13615,11/23/69,"VA-94","USS Bon Homme Richard"
153678,"TA-4F",13616,11/13/69,"VA-144","USS Bon Homme Richard", 154314,"TA-4F",13702,07/08/68,"VA-22","USS Bon Homme Richard"
154314,"TA-4F",13702,10/31/68,"VA-195","USS Oriskany"
154320,"TA-4F",13708,09/27/68,"VA-23","USS Oriskany"
154321,"TA-4F",13709,08/07/68,"VA-144","USS Bon Homme Richard"
154323,"TA-4F",13711,10/07/68,"VA-192","USS Oriskany"
154331,"TA-4F",13719,03/04/75,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
154336,"TA-4F",13724,06/08/68,"VA-22","USS Bon Homme Richard"
154336,"TA-4F",13724,11/08/68,"VA-195","USS Oriskany"
154338,"TA-4F",13726,03/11/68,"VA-55","USS Hancock"
154338,"TA-4F",13726,06/12/68,"VA-22","USS Bon Homme Richard"
154338,"TA-4F",13726,03/13/69,"VA-55","USS Hancock"
154341,"TA-4F",13729,03/04/68,"VA-163","USS Hancock"
154342,"TA-4F",13730,03/11/68,"VA-163","USS Hancock"
154343,"TA-4F",13731,03/11/68,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
154615,"TA-4F",13733,03/28/68,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
154615,"TA-4F",13733,07/10/68,"VA-144","USS Bon Homme Richard"
154616,"TA-4F",13734,03/21/68,"VA-163","USS Hancock"
154616,"TA-4F",13734,10/31/68,"VA-195","USS Oriskany"
154617,"TA-4F",13735,03/25/68,"VA-163","USS Hancock"
154618,"TA-4F",13736,04/01/68,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
154618,"TA-4F",13736,07/09/68,"VA-144","USS Bon Homme Richard"
154622,"TA-4F",13740,03/11/75,"VA-164","USS Hancock"
154652,"TA-4F",13770,02/28/73,"VA-164","USS Hancock"

Who Were Those Guys?

The Playboys

By Larry Adkinson

A Playboy Skyhawk

4 Winter 2005 • Skyhawk Association

They were fighter pilots, scooter drivers, RIOs and RSOs. They were Marines doing their jobs as best they could.


In August 1967, the 1st Marine Air Wing introduced the two-seat TA-4F Skyhawks to the three fixed-wing air groups in South Vietnam. With its good low-level fuel specs, FM radio and excellent rear seat visibility, the aircraft proved a superb vehicle for Visual Reconnaissance/Tactical Air Coordination (Airborne) (VR/TACA). commonly called FastFAC operations. The TA-4Fs were armed with two pods of 5-inch Zuni rockets, half smoke and half high explosive and full 20mm ammunition for the guns. Aviators from the Marine Aircraft Groups (MAGs) at Danang (MAG 11), Chu Lai East (MAG 12) and Chu Lai West (MAG 13) flew daily FastFAC missions in 1967-68. These included such demanding missions as coordinating the dozens of aircraft stacked up overhead the besieged garrison at Khe Sanh, finding truck convoys on the North Vietnam and Laotian trails and adjusting fire for the 16-inch guns of the USS New Jersey BB-61 in North Vietnam’s lower route packages When President Lyndon Johnson halted the bombing of North Vietnam on 1 November 1968, our mud-Marines in I Corps had to face an increasingly large and better-equipped enemy force supplied from North Vietnam through Laos. To help fix this, in January 1969, Marines consolidated the FastFAC effort and all of the TA-4Fs in MAG-11’s Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron 11 (H&MS-11) aboard Danang AB.

This article is a brief history of the operations of that consolidated effort from Danang using the official call sign “Playboy.”

Pilots from MAG 12—Larry Adkinson, Jim Buffington, Bob Clapp, Doug Isaly, Dutch McCleskey, Roy Moore, Steve Sewell and Bob Miecznikowski—joined the small group of A-4 pilots in MAG 11. This group quickly expanded to include several pilots from MAG 11’s VMFA-542, including their CO, LtCol Keith Smith, as well as two of his key staff, Fritz Menning and Duane Wills. They flew almost daily TA-4F missions in addition to their F-4B sorties. An immediate result of the centralization of effort at Danang was the increase in deep air support to the the Marine Regiment, which was heavily engaged with North Vietnamese regulars in Operation DEWEY CANYON along the Laotian border. Working in close coordination with Air Force F-100F “Misty” Fast FACs, the TA-4F aviators helped identify and destroy enemy supply areas and heavy mortar and rocket positions in Laos. We also provided a badly needed communications link because we could mix UHF and via FM radio traffic to maintain common situation awareness for both the ground forces and jet aircraft.

By the spring of 1969, the TA-4F operations had a routine of 200 sorties monthly in order to provide continuous daylight coverage of the “Steel Tiger East” area in Laos (see map). In June 1969, Lt.Col Dick Hebert, took over the TA-4F mission and changed the unit callsign to Playboy, after the F-4U Corsair FastFACs in the Korean War. With a streamlined operation and solid liaison lines with other air units operating in the Steel Tiger area, Playboy began an in-country” exchange program with the “Misty” FastFACs to swap a pilot for 5-7 days between Phu Cat and Danang. This provided a minimum of five flights for Marines in the F-100F and a comparable exchange in the TA-4F for F-l00F pilots. The exchange, which continued through the summer of 1969, improved the performance of both services “on the trail.” And, as a relevant footnote, all of the USAF aviators seemed to prefer the TA-4F for the mission. The normal missions had a two-cycle sortie, with one tanker refueling in the middle, for an average sortie length of about three hours. Time available for strike control and reconnaissance normally ran about 45-50 minutes per cycle. The bulk of the missions were VR that developed information and passed it to the airborne command post (Hillsboro). If we found fleeting, lucrative targets, Hillsboro would divert ordnance fl ights to us in the target area. When a strike fi ghter was shot down anywhere in the area, the fast FAC with the most fuel would take charge of the RESCAP until the arrival of an A-1 Hobo or Sandy aircraft. Slow FACs, such as Nail or Raven, would often participate by operating at a higher altitude to observe and act as a radio relay while strike aircraft provided ordnance delivery as required. Two Playboys benefited from this in July 1969, when Capt Jim Buffi ngton and Maj Bob Miecznikowski had to eject in Laos. A Jolly Green from Thailand successfully rescued them after nearly six hours on the ground. Jolly Greens would rescue two more Playboy crews during the next year.

Name with PB# ********** Name with PB#

Adkinson, J.L 32 ********** Moore, E.R. 39

Buckley, J.E. 27 ********** Mills, W.W. 13

Buffi ngton, J.C 30 ********** Miecznikowski, R.S. 71

Chapman, P.W. 37 ********** Nelson, T.S. 90

Clapp, R.G. 77 ********** Ostermann, G.A. 50

Connolly, R.P. 22 **********Page, D.D. 35

Crouch, K.L. 09 ********** Pospisil, D.L. 99

DeFries, C.F. 20 **********Rasmussen, R.T. 45

Gagen, J.A. 08 **********Richardson, M.L. 21

Garske, E.W. 88 **********Reid, R.D. 26

Gering, M.S. 05 **********Robinson, L.W. 70

Griggs III, T.W. 48 **********Schwab, W.F. 34

Green, M.P. 65 **********Seder, T.D. 33

Grissom, E.D. 75 ********** Sewell, S.J. 61

Hanle, R.L. 04 ********** Shea, S.F. 15

Hauptfuher, H.B. 43 ********** Smith, J.T. Unk

Hickerson, R. 26 ********** Smith, K.A. 03

Higgins, D.G. 17 ********** Smith, W.R. 41

Hearney, R.D. 57 ********** Spindler, D.D. 79

Henrich, C.R. 44 ********** Stowers, R.M. 69

Hebert, R.F. 01 ********** Swaby, D.R. 24

Isaly, D.K. 66 ********** Van Esselstyn, N.K. 37

Jones, P.J. 62 ********** Ward, G.W. 12

Jupp, W.A. 02 ********** Weber, D.J. 06

Kane, J.J. 15 ********** Wilson, W.B. 77

Light, B.R. 25 ********** Wilmarth, J.M. 55

Lewis, F.E. 61 ********** Wills, D.A. 23

McCleskey, W.R. 58 ********** Wood, L.A. 68


Playboy’s standard operating procedure (SOP) entailed flying at whatever altitude was necessary to accomplish the mission. Contrary to some earlier beliefs that flying at very low altitude was foolhardy, the Playboys demonstrated its prudence. Aircrews studied their maps and operated in the same area every day so they were able to effectively navigate at 200-500 feet and 380-400 knots. And, since the environment was characterized by non-radar, visually acquired, manually tracked antiaircraft weapons fire, moving at nearly 400 knots while smoothly maneuvering in three dimensions almost completely negated visual tracking solutions by enemy gunners. Our Skyhawks were in and out of a gunner’s envelope almost before he could react, so we were seldom fired on with any accuracy, and almost never hit. This low altitude energy maneuvering was made easier in August 1969, as J-52P-8 engines with an additional 700 pounds of thrust were installed in all the TA-4Fs.
We divided the crew duties so that the rear-seater observed the road while the front-seater navigated and avoided terrain or weather. Although the enemy threat dictated most of our low altitude maneuvers, we did our best to maintain the field of vision for the rear-seater. These low altitude tactics were effective, safely manageable, and produced results. For example, on 7 July 1969, operating at very low altitudes, Playboy spotted/ adjusted for a flight of A-6As flying radar offset-aim-point delivery tactics in overcast (600-foot ceiling) conditions. This resulted in destruction of an enemy truck convoy that was moving under concealment of the low cloud cover, a fact clearly demonstrated by the 35mm photos taken by the Playboys. This tactic became commonplace as the heavily loaded A-6s orbited above the clouds while the Playboys would penetrate through a hole in the cover and, using knowledge of the local terrain to navigate at very low altitude, locate targets for destruction.
In the summer of 1969, several Fleet carrier pilots came into Danang and flew missions with us. This program paid off as Navy pilots, A-4 and A-7 alike,returned to their carriers with a better understanding of the intelligence behind their “tree-busting” missions. Ironically,these orientation flights helped us man the TA-4Fs during a critical pilot shortage when some Playboys flew three missions and logged 100-flight-hour months in July and August of 1969. In order to fill the ranks of Playboy, we got volunteers from A-4, F-4, and A-6 communities in MAG-12 and MAG-13, including Naval Flight Officers (NFOs) from the Danang squadrons. Once designated by the wing, each Playboy—pilot and NFO alike—had a unique number assigned (see table above). Egos and traditional roles disappeared. Everyone< focused on efficient VR and effective strike control that required two people working at peak efficiency.

During September 1969, Playboy developed a night deep air support (DAS) tactical package in response to an enemy situation. We positively established that enemy gunfire was most intense at sunset in areas where active nightly road repair and heavy supply movement was going to occur. Under these twilight conditions, enemy gunners could silhouette aircraft against the sky while the ground was already darkened, thus complicating exact identification of the source of gunfire. Also, enemy road repair crews could work almost unobserved in the twilight and supply trucks could be on the move before the arrival of the nightly swarm of aircraft specifically configured for night detections and attack. To counter this, we put together the “hammer” package. This involved sending the TA-4Fs to an area where such activity was predicted. The Playboy would come through the target area at maximum speed, minimum altitude, using his knowledge of the terrain to locate the exact spot and achieve surprise. When gunfire erupted behind the TA-4F, he would pull up, reverse course and drop a series of flares while continuing to climb up to a “perch” from which he could locate the target. He then pulled over the top, put marks on/near the target with 5-inch “Zuni” smoke rockets. A flight of two F-4B strike aircraft escorting the TA-4F at a much higher, undetected altitude would then roll-in on the flared and marked target with gun,cluster ordnance and heavier high explosive bombs to destroy trucks and crater the road.

At left, author Larry Adkinson poses with CG 1st MAW, MajGen “Smoke” Spanjer and Playboy One, LtCol Dick Hebert. Picture was taken following Adkinson’s 500th combat mission, flown with Gen Spanjer.
The fourth member of this hammer flight was a photo aircraft (RF-4B) that made a high-speed photo pass within a couple of minutes after the ordnance exploded. This photography was often startling in terms of confirmed bomb damage assessment, and most important to the FACs, reduced the number of guns and gunners in the operating area. The hammer tactic remained in the inventory and was used during different periods as need dictated.

The dry season in central Laos lasts from October to April. In 1969- 70, this resulted in massive enemy efforts to move supplies over dry Laotian roads. Playboy flew nearly 700 combat missions during October, November, and December, including control of some 350 strikes and participation in 25 rescue operations. Some Playboy aircraft sustained hits, yet all but one returned safely to base. On 27 December, Maj Rick Lewis and 1Lt Paul Phillips were forced to eject in central Laos, just south of Sepone. They were recovered 23 hours later after an intensive antiaircraft artillery suppression effort enabled Jolly Greens to make a successful pickup. On 5 January 1970, Maj Larry Robinson was killed in action while escorting a Playboy TA-4F on a modified (daylight) hammer tactic. “Robbie” was flying an F-4B and was rolling in on an active gun position that 1Lt Bud Garske had marked. He took barrage fire from multiple 37mm antiaircraft guns in the area, sustaining a direct hit in the cockpit area. Apparently neither he nor his backseater attempted ejection. In nearly one year of sustained operations in Laos, which included hundreds of enemy fire incidents, the loss of Larry Robinson (Playboy 70) was the first, and he was not flying the TA-4F.

Operation GRAND CANYON was another Playboy interdiction operation. Beginning on 2 February 1970, it targeted Marine Corps strike aircraft to interdict enemy infiltration routes west of Hue City along the Laotian border. Playboys provided dawn-to-dusk strike control of 1 MAW A-4, F-4, and A-6 aircraft, totaling 150 sorties. The operation was an unqualified success as they completely closed choke-points and facilitated heavy BDA by B-52 strikes on the vehicles stopped behind these interdiction points.

In early March 1970, while on a VR/TAC(A) mission, LtCol George Ward was killed by a single enemy bullet that entered the front cockpit. 1Lt Duncan Higgins, an A-4 pilot in the rear seat, flew the aircraft back to Danang. LtCol Ward was designated to relieve Dick Hebert as H&MS-11 CO. He and Larry Robinson were the only Playboys killed in action, although two others were wounded on missions. Maj Dorsie Page was forced to land his TA-4F with bullet wounds in both legs. He had an NFO in the rear seat. Capt Don Swaby had a 19.2mm round pierce his windscreen and the resulting shrapnel severed his oxygen hose, shattered his visor, and sent Plexiglas into his eyes. Several fragments penetrated his mask and shattered his microphone, but he was able to clear his eyes, spit out the fragments, and safely return to Danang thus becoming a Marine who REALLY spits bullets.

In April, Dick Hebert was relieved as commanding offi cer of H&MS-11 by LtCol Speed Shea. During his tenure as CO, Dick Hebert grew the Playboys into a highly effective operational unit. His enthusiasm and intrinsic leadership qualities engendered great personal loyalty from his aviators and men. They would always know him as "Playboy One."

The Playboy effort transitioned from deep support missions in Laos to a more traditional Marine Corps role in close support of the ground forces engaged in I Corps. This period also saw the loss of the third (and last) aircraft as Capt R.T. Rasmussen and 1stLt Chip Mills ejected from their TA-4F in the A Shau Valley in the summer of 1970. A Jolly Green helicopter crew, sustaining some 15 hits, picked them up in a heroic rescue action. Their six-hour effort was punctuated by a running gun battle between the enemy, the Sandy A-1 RESCAP aircraft, and the Jolly Green door gunners.

The end came on 14 September 1970, when the Playboy mission was canceled. The crews experienced the bittersweet emotions of pride in a job well done, while retaining the ache of a job they were not allowed to finish. Who were those guys? They were Marines (see Table 1) doing their jobs as best they could. Little has been said or written of them, but many of the dedicated TA-4F crewmen who passed through the Playboy rolls went on to become squadron commanders and more. Others returned to pursue civilian careers after their tours in Vietnam. Regardless of what they went on to do, all counted their experiences on the trail in Laos as second to none.

Ed. Note: The author, Col Larry Adkinson retired from the Marine Corps in 1988 after serving in several A-4 and F-8 squadrons, including two combat tours in Vietnam and a tour as CO, VMA-331 in 1981-83. A longer version of this article won the prestigious Geiger Award in 1986 for its significant contribution to USMC aviation history. Col Adkinson is currently employed as Director of the Synthesis Center, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, Quantico, VA.


01 AUG 1963 10 MAR 1964 USS Oriskany CVA-34 CVW-16 VA-163 A-4B
        VA-164 A-4B
17 OCT 1963 20 JUL 1964 USS Kitty Hawk CVA-63 CVW11 VA-112 A-4C
        VA-113 A-4C
28 JAN 1964 21 NOV 1964 USS Bon Homme Richard CVA-31 CVW-19 VA-192 A-4C
        VA-193 A-4C
14 APR 1964 15 DEC 1964 USS Ticonderoga CVA-14 CVW-5 VA-55 A-4E
        VA-65 A-4E
05 MAY 1964 01 FEB 1965 USS Constellation CVA-64 CVW-14 VA-144 A-4C
        VA-146 A-4C
05 AUG 1964 06 MAY 1965 USS Ranger CVA-61 CVW-9 VA-93 A-4C
        VA-94 A-4C
21 OCT 1964 29 MAY 1965 USS Hancock CVA-19 CVW-21 VA-216 A-4E
        VA-216 A-4C
23 OCT 1964 16 MAY 1965 USS Yorktown CVS-10 CVSG-55 VMA-223 Det T A-4C
07 DEC 1964 01 NOV 1965 USS Coral Sea CVA-43 CVW-15 VA-153 A-4C
        VA-155 A-4E
20 FEB 1964 11 AUG 1964 USS Bennington CVS-20 CVSG-59 VA-93 Det Q A-4B
19 JUN 1964 16 DEC 1964 USS Kearsarge CVS-33 CVSG-53 VA-153 Det R A-4B
06 MAR 1965 23 NOV 1965 USS Midway CVA-41 CVW-41 VA-22 A-4C
        VA-23 A-4E
05 APR 1965 16 DEC 1965 USS Oriskany CVA-34 CVW-16 VA-163 A-4E
        VA-164 A-4E
10 MAY 1965 13 DEC 1965 USS Independence CVA-62 CVW-7 VA-72 A-4E
        VA-86 A-4E
21 APR 1965 13 JAN 1966 USS Bon Homme Richard CVA-31 CVW-9 VA-192 A-4C
        VA-195 A-4C
12 AUG 1965 23 MAR 1966 USS Hornet CVS-12 CVSG-57 H&MS-15 Det N A-4C
28 SEP 1965 13 MAY 1966 USS Ticonderoga CVA-14 CVW-5 VA-56 A-4E
        VA-144 A-4C
26 OCT 1965 21 JUN 1966 USS Enterprise CVAN-65 CVW-9 VA-36 A-4C
        VA-76 A-4C
        VA-93 A-4C
        VA-94 A-4C
10 NOV 1965 01 AUG 1966 USS Hancock CVA-19 CVW-21 VA-212 A-4E
        VA-216 A-4C
19 OCT 1965 13 JUN 1966 USS Kitty Hawk CVA-63 CVW-11 VA-113 A-4C
10 DEC 1965 25 AUG 1966 USS Ranger CVA-61 CVW-14 VA-55 A-4E
        VA-146 A-4C
22 MAR 1965 07 OCT 1965 USS Bennington CVS-20 CVSG-59 VA-113 Det Q A-4B
04 APR 1966 21 NOV 1966 USS Intrepid CVS-11 CVW-10 VA-15 A-4B
        VA-95 A-4B
12 MAY 1966 03 DEC 1966 USS Constellation CVA-64 CVW-15 VA-153 A-4C
        VA-155 A-4E
26 MAY 1966 16 NOV 1966 USS Oriskany CVA-34 CVW-16 VA-163 A-4E
        VA-164 A-4E
21 JUN 1966 21 FEB 1967 USS Franklin D. Roosevelt CVA-42 CVW-42 VA-12 A-4E
        VA-72 A-4E
        VA-172 A-4C
29 JUL 1966 23 FEB 1967 USS Coral Sea CVA-43 CVW-2 VA-22 A-4C
        VA-23 A-4E
15 OCT 1966 29 MAY 1967 USS Ticonderoga CVA-14 CVW-19 VA-192 A-4E
        VA-192 A-4C
05 NOV 1966 19 JUN 1967 USS Kitty Hawk CVA-63 CVW-11 VA-112 A-4C
        VA-144 A-4C
19 NOV 1966 06 JUL 1967 USS Enterprise CVAN-65 CVW-9 VA-56 A-4C
        VA-113 A-4C
05 JAN 1967 22 JUL 1967 USS Hancock CVA-19 CVW-5 VA-93 A-4E
        VA-94 A-4C
26 JAN 1967 25 AUG 1967 USS Bon Homme Richard CVA-31 CVW-21 VA-76 A-4C
        VA-212 A-4E
29 APR 1967 04 DEC 1967 USS Constellation CVA-64 CVW-14 VA-55 A-4C
        VA-146 A-4C
11 MAY 1967 30 DEC 1967 USS Intrepid CVS-11 CVW-10 VSF-3 A-4B
        VA-15 A-4C
        VA-34 A-4C
06 JUN 1967 15 SEP 1967 USS Forrestal CVA-59 CVW-17 VA-46 A-4E
        VA-106 A-4E
16 JUN 1967 31 JAN 1968 USS Oriskany CVA-34 CVW-16 VA-163 A-4E
        VA-164 A-4E
26 JUL 1967 06 APR 1968 Uss Coral Sea CVA-43 CVW-15 VA-153 A-4E
        VA-155 A-4E
04 NOV 1967 25 MAY 1968 USS Ranger CVA-61 CVW-2 VA-22 A-4C
18 NOV 1967 28 JUN 1968 USS Kitty Hawk CVA-63 CVW-11 VA-112 A-4C
        VA-144 A-4E
28 DEC 1967 17 AUG 1968 USS Ticonderoga CVA-14 CVW-19 VA-23 A-4F
        VA-192 A-4F
        VA-192 A-4C
03 JAN 1968 18 JUL 1968 USS Enterprise CVAN-65 CVW-9 VA-56 A-4E
        VA-113 A-4F
27 JAN 1968 10 OCT 1968 USS Bon Homme Richard CVA-31 CVW-5 VA-93 A-4F
        VA-94 A-4E
        VA-212 A-4F
04 JUN 1968 08 FEB 1969 USS Intrepid CVS-11 CVW-10 VA-36 A-4C
        VA-66 A-4C
        VA-106 A-4E
18 JUL 1968 03 MAR 1969 USS Hancock CVA-19 CVW-21 VA-55 A-4F
        VA-163 A-4E
        VA-164 A-4E
07 SEP 1968 18 APR 1969 USS Coral Sea CVA-43 CVW-15 VA-153 A-4F
        VA-216 A-4C
26 OCT 1968 17 MAY 1969 USS Ranger CVA-61 CVW-2 VA-155 A-4F
01 FEB 1969 18 SEP 1969 USS Ticonderoga CVA-14 CVW-16 VA-112 A-4C
18 MAR 1969 29 OCT 1969 USS Bon Homme Richard CVA-31 CVW-5 VA-22 A-4F
        VA-94 A-4E
        VA-144 A-4E
14 APR 1969 17 NOV 1969 USS Oriskany CVA-34 CVW-19 VA-23 A-4F
        VA-192 A-4F
        VA-195 A-4E
02 AUG 1969 15 APR 1970 USS Hancock CVA-19 CVW-21 VA-55 A-4F
        VA-164 A-4F
        VA-212 A-4F
05 MAR 1970 17 DEC 1970 USS Shangri-la CVS-38 CVW-8 VA-12 A-4C
        VA-152 A-4E
        VA-172 A-4C
02 APR 1970 12 NOV 1970 USS Bon Homme Richard CVA-31 CVW-5 VA-22 A-4F
        VA-94 A-4E
        VA-144 A-4F
22 OCT 1970 03 JUN 1971 USS Hancock CVA-19 CVW-21 VA-55 A-4F
        VA-164 A-4F
        VA-212 A-4F
07 JAN 1972 03 OCT 1972 USS Hancock CVA-19 CVW-21 VA-55 A-4F
        VA-164 A-4F/TA-4F
        VA-212 A-4F
08 MAY 1973 08 JAN 1974 USS Hancock CVA-19 CVW-21 VA-55 A-4F
        VA-164 A-4F/TA-4F
        VA-212 A-4F
18 MAR 1975 20 OCT 1975 USS Hancock CVA-19 CVW-21 VA-55 A-4F
        VA-164 A-4F/TA-4F
        VA-212 A-4F


Marine Skyhawk Units Based Ashore in Vietnam and aboard ship in the Tonkin Gulf.

Da Nang Air Base: MAG-11, H&MS-11, MALS-11 with VMA-211, VMA-311, VMA-331.

Chu Lai Air Base: MAG-12 with VMA-121, VMA-211,VMA-214, VMA-223, VMA-224, VMA-225, VMA-311, VMA-331, H&MS-13, H&MS-17.

Bien Hoa Air Base: MAG-12, H&MS-12, VMA-211, VMA311, VMA-331.

CVS-12 CVSG-57: 01 MAY 1968 to 09 NOV 1968: MAG-15, H&MS-15.




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