MARINE CORPS AVIATION RECONNAISSANCE

MARINE CORPS AVIATION RECONNAISSANCE


The following is a collection of e-mails from BrigGen Bloomer regarding Marine Corps Aviation Reconnaissance historical information and recollections of his tour as the last CO of VMCJ-1. At the time VMCJ-1 was forward deployed to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan with a detachment on the USS Midway. Sincere thanks to General Bloomer for sharing this information!


Art Bloomer Brigadier General, USMC (Ret.)

Three VMCJ squadrons were established to support our three Active Duty Air Wings. We actually had another, VMCJ-4, that supported our Reserve Air Wing, the 4th MAW. During the Korean War, the 1st MAW was deployed from MCAS El Toro to Korea. It had two recon squadrons, VMC-1 for Electronic Reconnaissance and VMJ-1 for Photo Recon. See this link for interesting comment on VMC-1 during Korea: http://www.koreanwar.org/html/units/usmc/vmc1.htm. The 3d MAW was established at MCAS Opalacka, FL in the early 50s. After the Korean War, in about 1955, 3d MAW re-located to MCAS El Toro from Opalacka and 1st MAW which had been in Korea was headquartered in Japan at MCAS Iwakuni. Some elements of the 1st MAW were located at NAS Atsugi and some (helicopters) were located in Okinawa. Almost concurrent with this re-location and establishment of the higher headquarters, the VMC and VMJ squadrons were combined into Composite Squadrons. I believe the first VMCJ squadrons had F9F-8P photo airplanes, and F3D-2Q electronic recon birds. Prior that the VMC had the AD-5N for electronic recon and VMJ had the F2H-2P Banshees.

This alignment meant that VMCJ-3 was at MCAS El Toro, CA and VMCJ-2 was at MCAS Cherry Pt, NC. VMCJ-3 became the training squadron for Cadres that would deploy to 1st MAW at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan and become VMCJ-1 under our unit rotation program. When the Cadre deployed from El Toro to Iwakuni, a new Cadre was formed within VMCJ-3 to train for a year to deploy to WestPac and replace the VMCJ-1 squadron in 1st MAW. I joined VMCJ-3 at El Toro in December 1960 after a tour as a flight instructor at NAS Kingsville and then deployed with the Cadre to 1stMAW at Iwakuni in November 1961 to become VMCJ-1. We were flying the F8U-1P and F3D-2Q (later designated in 1962 as the RF-8A and the EF-10B). We returned to CONUS in November 1962 and were replaced by another Cadre that became VMCJ-1. This type of unit rotation continued until the Vietnam War commenced and in 1965/66 VMCJ-1 deployed to Danang. I think they even preceded the headquarters of the Wing which eventually relocated to Danang as well. I again served in VMCJ-1 in Danang from 1968-69. During all these years until 1973, VMCJ-1 was frequently deployed for short deployments aboard Navy carriers with the RF-8A to supplement the Navy's VFP dets. During 1962-65 RF-8As from VMCJ-1 were used in photo recon missions over Laos and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. In 1973, three EA-6As were first deployed on a regular basis aboard the USS Midway CV-41 as Detachment 101. In early 1974, three RF-4Bs were deployed aboard Midway along with the EA-6As. By the time I took command of VMCJ-1 in August 1974, our primary mission was to support CVW-5 on Midway with Detachment 101, three RF-4Bs and three EA-6As. This arrangement lasted for quite some time, and as you know, after September 1975, the support came from VMFP-3 at El Toro with the RF-4B and VMAQ-2 at Cherry Point with the EA-6A which was later replaced by the EA-6B.

I was the last CO of VMCJ-1 when it was shore based at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan with a detachment of four RF-4Bs and four EA-6A on CV-41 which was home ported at Yokosuka, Japan. My tour as the last CO was from Aug 1974 to Sep 1975. On 1 Sep 1975, VMCJ-1 was decommissioned at MCAS Iwakuni and was replaced by two detachments from stateside squadrons. One detachment of four RF-4Bs came from the newly formed VMFP-3 squadron at MCAS El Toro, CA which combined all RF-4B photo recon assets into a single squadron. The other detachment of four EA-6As came from VMAQ-2 based at MCAS Cherry Point, NC where all the EA-6A electronic countermeasures assets were combined. These two new stateside squadrons, VMFP-3 and VMAQ-2 were formed on 1 Jul 1975 with the decommissioning of VMCJ-3 at El Toro and the decommissioning of VMCJ-2 at Cherry Point. This left VMCJ-1 at Iwakuni/USS Midway as the last VMCJ squadron in the Corps. By 1 Sep 1975 detachments from VMFP-3 and VMAQ-2 were moved to Iwakuni, the EA-6As by TransPac, to replace the mission of VMCJ-1 on USS Midway. The VMFP-3 detachment inherited the RF-4Bs in Iwakuni from VMCJ-1.

During early March 1975 I moved my CP from Iwakuni to CV-41 and carqualed in the RF-4B. Cdr Lew Chatham was CVW-5 and shortly after that Capt Larry Chambers became the skipper of the Midway. I made two separate 20 day at-sea periods in March and early April. In mid April 1975 we departed Japanese waters for the Philippine Islands but on the way by Okinawa flew most of CVW-5s fixed wing airplanes off to Cubi Point to make room for the helicopters of MAG-36 based at Futenma, Okinawa. When we arrived in the Philippine area the Marine helicopters transdecked over to the USS Hancock which had come by MCAS Kaneohe on its way to WestPac to pick up helicopters from MAG-24. The Hancock airwing birds were now all on the ground at Cubi Pt and the Hancock was a helicopter carrier. It became the primary platform for the evacuation of Cambodia in Operation Eagle Pull. In the meantime, Midway made room for the F-8s and A-4s from Hancock to maintain their carrier qualifications. CVW-5 flew from Midway for several days and then was repositioned to about 60 miles east of Saigon about the 23rd of April just after Eagle Pull concluded. CVN-65 Enterprise and CV-43 Coral Sea were also in the task force. USS Blue Ridge and a couple of LPHs along with the Hancock were all loaded with Marine Helicopters. About a week before the evacuation of Saigon commenced, which was known as Operation Frequent Wind, the US Air Force flew 10 HH-3 Jolly Green Giants out to Midway from Nakom Phanom, Thailand using air refueling on a long route that did not involve flying over Vietnam. Once again we had to fly most of CVW-5s airplanes to Cubi Point to make room for the Air Force helicopters. In the case of VMCJ-1, I kept two of the RF-4Bs on board but they were in the hangar deck. All three of my "up status" EA-6As on Midway were repositioned to CV-43 USS Coral Sea where they flew during the evacuation for over 14 straight hours with one EA-6A in the air at all times. The evacuation took place, as I recall, on April 29-30, 1975. The Air Force pilots did a very commendable job flying from Midway and, except for the first launch, it was all night time ops. Midway recovered several of the Marine CH-53 that were short on fuel and couldn't make it back to Hancock, the Blue Ridge or whatever LPH they came from. While we were only supposed to have about 500 US citizens and/or third country nationals, we wound up with over two thousand Vietnamese on Midway for a couple of days. Most of them came out the day following the evacuation in Vietnamese Chinooks or Hueys. I saw one Huey land with about 50 Vietnamese kids in the cargo bay. Despite all the confusion on the flight deck we only had to push a couple of Vietnamese helicopters over the side to make room for a flight of 20 or so Hueys with only one radio in the flight. And no one was killed which was an absolute miracle with kids running around and rotor blades and tail rotors all over the place for them to run into. It was the day following that the O-1 pilot flew over Midway and asked for permission "to land on our runway." At that time the deck was locked with the USAF helos who couldn't fold their rotor blades like the Marine helos. Capt Chambers, the Midway skipper on his first cruise as the ship's skipper, made a gutsy call and launched all the HH-53s into a delta pattern while he turned into the wind and let the O-1 come aboard. The Vietnamese Major made a perfect no hook landing and with 35 knots of wind across the deck came to a stop with no problem at all. We were all astounded to see the Major, his wife and 5 kids exit this two place airplane.

After the evacuation of Saigon we moved Midway around the corner of SE Asia into the Gulf of Thailand and the USAF HH-53 helos were used to ferry about 50-60 Vietnamese fixed wing airplanes from Utapao, Thailand where the Vietnamese had flown them out of the country. About half of the planes were almost brand new F-5s and the rest were older A-37s. The HH-53 ferried them out with an external sling. When that was completed, Midway really did have a locked deck with about 100 Vietnamese fixed wing and helicopters on its flight deck. From there we went to Guam to offload the Vietnamese airplanes and helicopters. We were headed back to Cubi Point when the Mayaguez incident occurred so we steamed right past Cubi Point back to the Gulf of Thailand where we had just come from. Coral Sea got there ahead of us and was used in the bombing of Cambodia while the same USAF HH-3 helicopters ferried some of the Marines we used to guard the embassy in Sagion to make an assault on Ko Tang island where pirates had taken the ship and crew of the USS Mayaguez. We lost several Marines in this operation.

When we got back to Japan after this extended at-sea deployment we continued to do our usual 20 out and 10 in operations. CAG Lew Chatham was considerate enough to let me carqual in the EA-6A by flying 10 straight mission flights without ever running the deck. On the last two cruises in late July and August I flew both the RF-4 and the EA-6A from the carrier. On my next to last day at sea in August 1975 I got four traps, two in the RF-4 and two in the EA-6A. When we flew back to Iwakuni as the last launch of VMCJ-1 from the Midway I had about four days to get the squadron decommissioned and four EA-6As ready for a TransPac to MCAS Cherry Point. As I mentioned above, we left the RF-4s in Iwakuni for the VMFP-3 detachment.

The history of VMCJ, which is a composite reconnaissance squadron, in the USMC came from two separately operated squadrons known as VMC and electronic reconnaissance squadron and VMJ, a photographic reconnaissance squadron. The joining of those two squadrons gave rise to the designation of VMCJ and we had three squadrons, one in each of our three Air Wings. This occurred in the mid 1950s after the Korean War. I first joined VMCJ-3 in October 1960 as a Captain after a tour as a plowback flight instructor at NAS Kingsville. At that time we had the F8U-1P and the F3D-2Q which were redesignated in 1961 as the RF-8A and EF-10B. I deployed to Iwakuni in November 1961 and joined VMCJ-1. After that overseas tour I came back to VMCJ-3 for another 9 months. After a MAG-33 staff tour I got into an F-8 fighter squadron, VMF-122 that was just about ready to receive new F-4Bs but I got sent to Pax River for Test Pilot school in 1965 before I got to fly the F-4. By 1966 or so the RF-4B replaced the RF-8A in the VMCJ squadrons and while at Pax River the RF-4B was the first F-4 that I got to fly. Although I did get quite a bit of time in the F-4B and the F-4J at Pax River, the RF-4B with its ALQ-81 and ALQ-88 ECM pods was my primary test vehicle when I was the Project Shoehorn Coordinator at Pax River for all fixed wing airplanes receiving DECM equipment. I guess my experience in the VMCJ squadrons is what pegged me to that assignment. When I finally got to Vietnam in 1968 I was assigned to VMCJ-1 that had RF-4Bs, EA-6As and the old EF-10B. Despite the fact that I was current in both the RF-4B and the straight A-6, the first airplane I flew in combat was the EF-10B. I flew all three airplanes in Vietnam but mostly the RF-4B. After Vietnam, it was quite awhile before I got back into the cockpit. In 1974, as I was coming out of the Naval War College top level school at Newport, RI I had the opportunity to take VMCJ-1 in Iwakuni on its last mission. So when I took command of the squadron in Aug 1974, I went via Cherry Point to get current with 10 hours in the RF-4 and 10 hours in the EA-6A. So when I arrived in WestPac I wasn't quite ready to fly off the carrier. My last carrier landings were in 1962 with the RF-8A. So from Aug 74 to March 1975 I built up my time, ran the squadron on deployments between cruises to Korea and the Philippines. But, by March of 75 I was ready and between then and September 1975 I got a total of 75 carrier arrested landings in the RF-4 and the EA-6A.

When I was the G-3 at 2ndMAW in 1980 I got to fly the EA-6B which had replaced the EA-6A in VMAQ-2. When I was the Assistant Wing Commander at MCAS El Toro in 1983-84 I was able to get back into the RF-4B at VMFP-3 for a few flights.


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