Bo's Memoir


" If you don't like something, change it.
If you can't change it, change your attitude"

(Updated February 16th, 2020)

Bo's Memoir Introduction (Blog)

This memoir was the result of numerous people asking me if I have ever considered writing a book about my Vietnam combat experience. I will be devoting nine of about twenty one chapters to my flying tours including my three combat tours. I had significant flight time in eleven types of aircraft during my flying career. The following is a poster the Ray Thomas Captain USN Ret. made up for me.  Ray and I flew together in Attack Squadron Eighty Two.


I flew the four aircraft with the red tails during flight training; the T-34 at Saufley Field for primary flight training, the T2A at NAS Meridian and NAS Pensacola for basic jet training, and the TF9 and AF9 cougar and F-11 Tiger at NAS Kingsville in Advanced jet training. I was awarded my "Navy Wings of Gold" in February, 1965. I flew the A4 Skyhawk in VA-15 at NAS Cecil Field and on two Vietnam deployments onboard USS Intrepid CV-11 from 1965 through December, 1967. I flew the AT-33 (not pictured) and F-105 Thunderchief in the 4519 Combat Crew Training Squadron at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas and had a 34 flight our checkout in the F4 Phantom at Davis Monthan AFB in Tuscon, Arizona from 1968 through 1970. After checking out in the A7 aircraft in replacement pilot training, I flew the A7E Coursair in VA-82 at NAS Cecil Field in Jacksonville Florida with one Mediterranean cruise in 1971 and my third Vietnam deployment 1972 onboard the USS America CV-66 fling the A7C. I flew my second tour in the A7E in VA-15 at Cecil Field with one Mediterranean cruise in 1977. I was the Commanding Officer of VA-15 from Dec 1977 through April 1979. We were recognized as the best Light Attack Squadron on the East Coast with the Battle "E" during that tour. My third A7 tour was as the Commanding Officer of the VA-174 Hellrazors at Cecil. VA-174 was the replacement pilot squadron and had over 1000 sailors and 100 aircraft. I flew the A7B/C/E and the TA7C during that tour and recorded my 500th carrier arrested landing (trap) on the USS America during that tour!

This page was originally intended as an introduction to my Memoir including links to the chapters as they came online. But it is morphing into something more that that.  As I read more books on the Air War over North Vietnam, I am motivated to give my readers (if there are any) a glimpse of significant items that I am adding to my Vietnam chapters along they way. As a result, I am updating this page (blog) at least bi-weekly to put in little "tid bits" that I feel the reader (especially those interested in the Vietnam War chapters) might want to read more about.


When I flew those missions, my only concerns were to fly the flight schedule and be as effective as a combat pilot as I could. The political aspects of the war were not part of my concerns. However, writing my memoir has involved reading numerous accounts of the air war in Vietnam including research in how the political aspects of the war affected our effectiveness thus changing my Memoir in to part journal, part analysis. I will be using green text to indicate the political stuff. I will use the navy blue text for the material which is related to items of fact along with combat tactics in the Vietnam chapters. 
I should note that all three of my Vietnam deployments were during the summer monsoon season which featured the best flying weather and consequently the most intense portions of the air war over the north.

In addition to my own recollections and my flight log book, I am using information provided by my squadron mates, then Google and Wikipedia as external sources while writing this memoir. I have also read numerous books about Rolling Thunder (1965-1968), Linebacker One and Two (972), and about VAL 4 and the OV-10 close air support operations in the Mekong Delta.

I made a major discovery, actually my wife Diana made the discovery.  While cleaning out the garage, she found a couple boxes of pictures and documents. Included were pictures from Ridgewood High School, photos, combat charts, and award certificates from my time flying A4 Skyhawks in Vietnam with VA-15 in 1966 and 1967. There are photos from my USAF Exchange tour flying the F-105 and my two VA-82 deployments flying the A7 Corsair from the USS America CV-66; one Med cruise in 1971 and photos, combat charts. and documents from our Vietnam deployment in 1972.
We found pictures and the original copy of an article I wrote which was published in the Journal of Naval Science when I was attending the Royal Air Force Staff College in Bracknell, England. We found photos and documents from my Executive Officer/Commanding Officer tour in VA-15, my tour as Commanding Officer of VA-174, my time as Executive Officer of the USS Saratoga CV-60, and my time as Commanding Officer of the USS Austin LPD-4. I have been going through these items and have begun the process of incorporating them in the appropriate chapters of the memoir and will continue to do so over the next several months.

Click on Vietnam Bibliography for a current list of the books I have read while writing the chapters about the air war over Vietnam.
 

"Thud Ridge, Flying the F-105 Thunderchief in Combat Over Vietnam" written by Colonel Jack Broughton

"Thud Ridge" which was published while I was on my USAF Exchange tour flying the F-105 in 1969.

You should read this book if you want to experience a detailed description about what it was like to fly F-105 missions to Hanoi via Thud Ridge during Operation Rolling Thunder. I
t is a detailed narrative report about flying the "Thud" written by the Wing Commander at Takhli Air Base in Thailand.

"Alpha Strike Vietnam, The Navy's Air War 1964 to 1973", written by Jeffrey L. Levinson is a collection of chapters based on interviews of twenty two naval aviators who flew during the air war. 
If you only read one book about Navy air  operations over North Vietnam, read this one first !

For my VA-15 shipmates, Chapter 11 is about the USS Intrepid's work up and deployment as the Dixie Station carrier in 1966 based on the interview of LCDR Don Felt, Intrepid's Strike Operations Officer.


"Flying Black Ponies" The Navy's Close Air Support Squadron in Vietnam.
Kit Lavell describes the standup and flight operations in the Mekong Delta by VAL-4 the Navy's OV-10 squadron in the Mekong Delta. This incredible book describes the on and off again relationship between VAL-4 and VAL-3 (the helo counterpart) during close air support missions in support ARVN ground forces with US advisors, SEAL Team special operations and PBR/Slick boat riverine operations.
The book also describes life in the two operating bases of VAL-4; Vung Tau and Binh Tuay and how they manage to be the most effective  providers of close air support despite little logistics support with a "McHales Navy" approach.


VA-82 summer of 1972 Linebacker 1 and 2

I have completed the chapter my deployment with VA-82 onboard USS America CV-66 during the summer of in 1972. At the beginning, I remembered very little about the 1972 VA-82 Vietnam deployment; my third Vietnam tour.
But as I re-established contact with some of my VA-82 Marauder squadronmates; Jim "Rock" Yeager, Ray Thomas, Charlie Sapp, Jim Kuzmick, Marv Baldwin, and Nick Nickens, we were able to reconstruct that deployment in some detail. I (we) have just completed detailed descriptions of the Battle of Mo Duc which took place on September 17th, 1972, a "Pocket Money" mining mission we (me, Rock, and Ray Thomas) flew near Hon Gay on October 4th, and a major strike mission I lead against the Do Xa bridge near Hanoi on October 5th with "Rock", Dan Ryder, and Ray Thomas. The mission to Hanoi features a two minute audio tape of a salvo of three SA-2 surface to air missiles directed at my lead section.

I have just established contact with Frank Gerwe and Ron Brooks and hope to get more information from them. My next step is to make contact with the more senior officers, Captain Tom Scott, Don Sumner, RADM Jerry Breast, Admiral (four stars) Leighton "Snuffy"Smith (my roommate on both deployments) as well as Bruce Page, Terry Ede, Al Miller, and Jim Brister. These connections after almost fifty years have produced quite a bit of interest in getting together at a reunion.

It turned out that Charlie Sapp before reporting to VA-82, had a tour of duty flying OV-10 Broncos with Light Attack Squadron four (VAL-4) in the Mekong Delta providing close air support for SEAL teams, US Navy River Patrol Boats, and various other ground forces. I have included some very interesting stories about his experiences with VAL-4. If you're interested, check out the Chapter
VA-82 A7 Corsair Tour-1972



In order to understand the political role that President Lyndon Johnson played in Operation Rolling Thunder (1965-1968) and President Richard Nixon played in Operations Linebacker One and Two (1972), I researched both these men by reading: 


To really understand President Johnson's life and political motivation, it is helpful to read all four volumes of Robert Cato's biography of Lyndon Johnson.
Volume 1. Johnson's early years growing up in the high country of Texas.
Volume 2. Johnson's life as a Congressman and his relationship with Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn
Volume 3. Johnson's life as a Senator and his relationship with Senator Richard Russell.

Volume 4.
"The Passage of Power". President Johnson's goal of passing
"Great Society" legislation and his difficulty in coming to terms with his role as Commander in Chief for the Vietnam war.


To best understand President Richard Nixon's role as Commander in Chief during the Vietnam war, I chose to review it through the eyes of his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger in his book "The White House Years".

President Nixon understood that the way to limit Russian and Chinese support to North Vietnam was through bilateral negotiations with Russia through things like the SALT talks and through Nixon's eventual expansion of our relations with China through his visit to China in May,1972.

 

Politics was not a significant factor in my childhood, my time at Cornell, or during the training command when I was in pursuit of my Navy  "wings of gold". There were some political events during those periods in my life that were significant such as the Cuban missile crisis in October, 1962 and the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on November 22nd, 1963. I will be adding my comments about how these events affected me in the relevant chapters.

I was raised by my parents to be goal oriented and to achieve my goals through hard work. Competition with my peers was not part of the process. I was taught to be helpful to my peers and mentor when appropriate.  Basically, I was taught to treat others as I would like them to treat me (The Golden Rule).

My objective in writing this memoir is to reflect upon my life and lessons learned in the process of living it and to provide a historical record for my Navy shipmates and my children. I am also enjoying the challenge of writing it.  Conducting the research online, through reading relevant books, and providing factual information from my flight log book has required some effort but has been enjoyable. I also have liked the increased contacts I am experiencing with my Navy friends as I seek their comments on my memoir including war stories of their experiences.

I decided to publish it online as part of my personal website. A good aspect of putting it online is that it is a living document and people who read it can correct any errors in content and make suggestions for any additions they might have.  I'm not asking you to point out misspellings, typos, or grammatical errors. I need to go back to the early chapters on my Childhood and time at Cornell and do some editing . I am spell checking and editing as I write now. I want your inputs such as events I have omitted or mistakes in fact that I have made.  I hope you will do so and let me know your recommendations by email at:
bo_smith@bellsouth.net

As I am writing this in some cases fifty or sixty years after the events occurred, the dates and places are the best I can remember or document in some way. I am learning that memories that seem clear to me and my friends are not necessarily accurate concerning the place or time that they occurred. 

Also, I will be inserting lessons I have learned along the way and possibly ideas about why I did what I did even when at the time of the event, I had no idea why I was doing it. This is particularly true about how flying combat missions over North Vietnam in the summers of 1966, 1967 and 1972 affected my life after that.

I have come to believe that those emotionally strenuous times resulted in my case (and likely for other pilots who experienced the loss of a close friend in combat) in a type of mild but significant variety of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) known as "emotional numbness".  All good carrier pilots have to have the ability to compartmentalize focusing only on the business at hand in order to properly fly the aircraft. This is particularly critical when experiencing inflight emergencies as an incorrect action can cause the loss of the aircraft and possibly the life of the pilot. In combat, it also became necessary to put off grieving for someone who has just been lost in order to continue to fly the mission in progress or the next mission after that. After awhile, you may be unable to outwardly display grief at all. An advantage of this "emotional numbness" is that it is easier to concentrate on those things you can control and ignore those that you cannot. I think that the losses we experienced during my first two Vietnam deployments significantly affected my third Vietnam deployment with VA-82. It did not make me more cautious; exactly the opposite. I believed that "speed was life" and being aggressive and unpredictable increased your suvivability. But I was more emotionally detached not wanting to get too close to my fellow Marauder pilots lest I should loose one of them. I think that is why I had very little memory about that deployment until I recomnnected with my fellow Marauder pilots.

I am dedicating my memoir to Vice Admiral Jerry O. Tuttle US Navy Retired. I worked for Jerry Tuttle in my first squadron, Attack Squadron Fifteen (VA-15 VALions). I flew with him in combat operations in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967 and observed his leadership style over the years. I did my best during my naval career to follow his lead on how to identify and solve problems and run a squadron or ship as a Commanding Officer. Jerry passed away on October 30th, 2018.  VADM Tuttle was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday, March 14th, 2019 after a Catholic Mass was given at the Fort Myer Post Chapel. A reception followed at the Fort Myer Officer's Club after the burial. Most of the VA-15 (circa 1966/67) pilots, wives, ex-wives, and widows were present. We conducted a squadron reunion at the Warriors Taphouse in Virginia Beach March 15th and 16th to celebrate VADM Tuttle's life.  You can click on my on Dedication page for some pictures of the event. We just completed another reunion from November 12th trough the 15th, 2019 at the Casa Monica Hotel in St. Augustine. Jerry Tuttle's wife Barbara and her son Mark and Mark's wife Karen's attendance at the reunion was a high point at the reunion.
Unfortunately, we had to toast the passing of another VALion pilot, RADM Bob Cole USN Ret. who died shortly before the reunion after a gallant fight with liver cancer.

There are a lot of people who contributed significantly to my life over the years. I plan to mention them during the writing of my story on how they positively affected my life. I am relying on my sister, Barbara, who recalls more details about our childhood together with our parents than I do.  Jeff Lapic was my best friend during junior high school, Ridgewood High School, during our college years, and during our first few years in the Navy.  Captain Jerry L. "Possum" Terrell USN Ret has been my shipmate and best friend for over fifty years (1965 to present). Possum has been with me at my best and worst times; always positive and supportive.  Most of my fellow pilots in VA-15 (circa 1966/67) were outstanding officers, exceptional combat aviators and loyal shipmates. I continue to stay close to them through squadron reunions.  Captain Pete Schoeffel who was shot down on October 4th, 1967 and spent almost six years as a POW before being released in March, 1973, has become a close friend.  I enjoy monthly conversations with him while driving to and from monthly Navy luncheons.  One of the junior pilots, Gene Atkinson, and his wife Kay are great friends and my wife Diana and I have enjoyed spending time with them fishing or just hanging out at their home in Harkers Island, NC. Please ad Kay Atkinson to your prayers as she is fighting cancer.  Marianne and Lehman Barnes were colleagues during my educator days and continue to be friends to this day. My wife Diana and I are members of the New Day JAX Church in Jacksonville. We enjoy the fellowship, music, and message we experience with this group.

I have had three wives over the course of my life. All of them have been a significant factor in my life. My first wife Mary (1963-1978), is the mother of my first three daughters; Heather, Laura, and Stacy. She was married to me during all three of my Vietnam combat tours. She kept the "home fires burning" during my sea duty tours. She has been very helpful in providing facts and photos of our time together while I was in the Navy. My second wife Cathy (1978-2000), is the mother of my fourth and fifth daughters; Jessica and Lindsay. She divorced me after I retired from the Navy and decided to pursue my second career in education instead of flying for the airlines.  I have been married to my third wife, Diana, for eleven years now (August 2008 to present). Diana and I enjoy our life together. We live in Jacksonville Florida with our three Shih Tzu dogs; King Tut, Panda, and Bella and our cats; Gemini (orange tabby) and Ruby (American  Curl).

You can find additional information about me in addition to this memoir on my website at:  http://bo-smith.net.



I am making progress.  I have completed the chapters on my Childhood  through high school (still requires editing), my time at Cornell University (1959-1963), flight training (1963-1965), and my USAF Exchange Tour (1968-1970).

I have completed drafts of the chapters about my first and second squadrons; VA-15 and VA-82 including my three Vietnam combat deployments.  I will continue to make changes to these chapters as I get inputs from pilots who were in these squadrons with me and as I process the photos and documents recently discovered in my garage.

I have just started work on the chapter about my tour at the Royal Air Force Staff College in Bracknell, England in 1973-1974.

 Chapters

Childhood through High School
(1941-1959)
Cornell University
(1959-1963)
Navy Flight Training
(1963-1965)
Maintenance Officer's School
Memphis
VA-45 and VA-44
NAS Cecil Field, Jacksonville

(February 1965-October 1965)
VA-15 (1965-1966)
First  Vietnam Deployment
USS Intrepid CV-11
Dixie Station/Yankee Station
(109 combat missions)
(June 1966- October 1966)
VA-15 (1967)
Second  Vietnam Deployment
USS Intrepid CV-11
Yankee Station, Tonkin Gulf
(94 combat missions- total 203)
300 Total Intrepid Traps
(November 1966-November 1967)

US Air Force Exchange Tour


AT-33 Instructor/F4 Phantom/
F105 Thunderchief Instructor Pilot

McConnell AFB, Wichita, Kansas
(March 1968-March 1970)

VA-82 A7 Corsair Tour-1971

1971 Mediterranean Cruise
(July 1971-December 1971)
 USS America CV-66


VA-82 A7 Corsair Tour-1972

Third Vietnam Combat Deployment
Yankee Station, Tonkin Gulf
  (June 1972-December 1972)
(102 combat missions)
USS America CV-66

Royal Air Force Staff College

Bracknell, Barkshire, England

(January 1973-February 1974)

COMNAVAIRLANT Staff Tour
Norfolk, Virginia
(March 1974- February 1976)
A7 Class Desk Officer
Aide and Flag Lieutenant
VA-15 Executive Officer  Commanding Officer
(1976-1979)
USS America CV-66 Med Deployment
(Dec 1977-April 1979)
COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E"
COMTHIRDFLEET Staff Tour
Ford Island, Oahu, Hawaii
Air Training Officer
(May 1979-February 1981)
Commanding Officer VA-174
NAS Cecil Field
Jacksonville, Florida
(March 1981-July 1982)
Total USS America Traps-500
Idaho Falls Ship Material Course
(Feb 1983-June 1983)
Executive Officer USS Saratoga (CV-60)
Med Deployment
(1984-1986)
Commanding Officer USS Austin (LPD-4)
(May 1986-May 1988)
Med Deployment-May 86-Nov 86
Northern Wedding/Med Deployment
(1987-1988)

Chief of Staff
COMCRUDESGROUP 12

(1989)
USS Eisenhower CV-69 Deployment
COMFAIRWESTPAC
Operations Officer
COMORANGE- 7th Fleet
Atsugi, Japan
(1990-1991)
Desert Shield (Aug-Sep 1990)
Retired as Captain US Navy
July 31st, 1991

Total Tactical Jet Hours- 4060
Total CV Landings- 980
Total Combat Missions- 305
(Total 511 combat flight hours)
  Nine Deployments

Educator
Terry Parker High School
University of North Florida
Florida Space Research Institute
(September 1991-May 2007)



Blue Ridge Mountains
Cabin in Burnsville, NC
December 2008-December 2016
Bo's Mine Tours
(2011-2016)



Website Created by Robert S. "Bo" Smith