In 1960, 2nd MAW designated VMF-235 as the Training and Standardization squadron for F-8U Crusader pilots. All pilot input to F-8 squadrons was first trained by 235 at MAG-32 Beaufort and then sent to their destination units. The F-8 had a high early accident rate and this mode was very similar to the U.S. Navy RAG or Replacement Air Group concept although not as extensive. The first class started ground school in June and several experienced flyers in that group were held as instructor pilots with the nuggets going on to other squadrons after fam stage.

This mode continued for the rest of 1960. In early 1961 the squadron was switched back to a regular unit training cycle. The C.O., LtCol R. L. "Skinny" Lamar was able to retain a dozen instructor/flight leaders and a dozen nuggets from recent classes.The Death Angels were scheduled for a gunnery deployment to N.A.S. Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and arrived there on 5 April 1961. The squadron was hangered and billeted on Leeward Point airfield on the west side of Guantanamo Bay and commenced flight ops 6 April. Traffic at Leeward was setup to takeoff and land to the east with a right hand pattern to keep most ops over the water and avoid overflying Cuba. The right hand approach was a bit unusual and caused some overshooting, wrapped up on final and waveoffs. The B.O.Q. was located on a rise just off the west end of the runway making these faux pas the subject of much derision!

Flight operations commenced with an emphasis on gunnery practice but the squadron also had to maintain a two plane standby to escort commercial aircraft who were flying down the slot east of Cuba. With no liberty and no family matters, early to bed and early to rise could produce a lot of flight time while deployed.

(In 1960 the 2nd MAW named VMF-235 as Standardization and Training Squadron for all F8 inputs. This is the initial cadre. First row: Supply Officer, Flight Surgeon, and Maintenance Officer, Andy Anderson. Second row: John Ditto, Stoney Mayock, Ernie Poor (S-3), R.L. "Skinny: Lamar (CO), Joe Lynch (XO), "Snake" Lewis, Dick Douglas. Third Row: Louis Erdman, Bud Pafford, Buck Peck, John Kirchner, Vince Falzarano, Duane Newton, Hondo Ondrick.)


On the morning of 15 April, the C.O. and his Operations Officer received a hurry up call to confer with the Commander Naval Base Guantanamo. When they ferried back from the East side of the Bay, they called a briefing for only the dozen designated flight leaders who had Top Secret clearances. They revealed that we were tasked to commence daylight Combat Air Patrol over a beach on the southwestern end of Cuba starting on 16 April. They had been given very little direct information about the operation at the Bay of Pigs.

With one section enroute, one on station and one returning from sunup to sunset and cycle times of two hours required just about the total efforts. Flight leaders were briefed to check in with a control agency and loiter offshore awaiting call. If engaged at that distance, fuel usage could demand a closer bingo and a USN carrier was standing way, way offshore. The leaders having been recently carqualed in type would be authorized two passes and the wingmen with no F-8 carqual would eject alongside. We had no real idea of who was doing what to whom and were not allowed to brief our wingmen on what little we did know.

Recent declassification of the Bay of Pigs action shows the landings commenced on 16 April and surrendered on 19 April after the CIA failed to provided the planned support. My logbook shows that we were in this top cover mode for over a week and then it finally trickled down. On an early flight, I recall looking down at the beach from 35,000 loiter offshore and seeing a silver aircraft with the approximate planform of a T-33 at very low altitude.

On the second day of this operation, we received a call for the C.O. to come to the Guantanamo Commanders Office for a quick consult. He grabbed me as Avionics

Officer and we were off to the ferry for the half-hour trip. I was left in the outer office and the Skipper was out in ten minutes and we were going back to Leeward. Seems that the USN Birdfarm off shore had some trouble identifying our I.F.F. code and we were asked to pull and check set all our I.F.F. boxes. All were correctly set but apparently had been misread by the carrier.

Later in the project, I had turned my section for home having heard our relief checking in and was cruising back to Gitmo in a southeasterly direction when my alert wingman saw targets at our ten o'clock. At a reduced fuel state, I could not afford to throttle up, so we turned in to create a head-on and were able to visually I.D. a section of Crusaders. As we passed, it was obviously a section of USN craft. The sightings of aircraft twice were the only significant things that occurred on my watch.

By the end of April we were back in our normal routine. Back at Beaufort life went on and our Skippers wife came to term. Lacking an onhand husband, Lillian Lamar had her sixteen-year-old son drive her to the hospital and she delivered the newest Lamar son. Two days later the C.O. of VMF-122 released a message to C.O. VMF-235 saying in effect that; "I claim your youngest son as a prize of war and will hold him until you return Mach Altus to VMF-122 custody". Mach Altus was the small Crusader Knight in Armor who had begged to accompany our squadron to Gitmo. An accommodation was reached.

The MAG-32 Groupies frequently flew the R4D down when squadrons were deployed and ferried personnel to Jamaica for liberty. I was some disappointed when I could not go on the first run to Montego Bay but all primed for the next trip. About eighteen officers and staff NCO's were on the next run and having heard about the liberty and luxury, I WAS READY! We had planned for three days and two nights and checked into a neat hotel that provided private rooms and a meal plan.On arrival, it was a shower, change into civvies and down to poolside to check out the rum goodies and the scenery.
Amazingly, a couple of United Airlines stewardii were hanging out. As young Marine pilots are wont to do we showed off a bit. One of our crew asked to be excused for a minute, as he had to go back to his room. He slithered up the outside wall of the hotel like a snake hanging onto the checkerboard stacked blocks. Much applause when he survived the trip back down. After dinner in the al fresco dining room some pub-crawling was in order and I outdid myself at the infamous Yellowbird Bar.

Zonked in my hotel room at O very early, one of the guys shook me awake saying "Get up, Trujillo has been assassinated and we have to get back to Gitmo". I mumbled, "Who the hell is Trujillo" as I crammed clothes into my bag. A sad flight back to Cuba after less than a day and none on the trip really seemed to know who/what was Trujillo. Raphael Trujillo turned out to be the long time military/political strongman of the Dominican Republic and members of the upper class had taken him out.

Once again the Death Angels were tasked to fly high cover, this time at Santa Dominica with no guidance as to who/what we were covering against??? Orbiting on high as the banana wars sputtered along was becoming old hat. With no rules of engagement we flew directly from Gitmo to Santa Dominica to save time/fuel and had no worries from the Haitian Air Force. This time the assignment lasted for only a few days of orbit time seeing only a couple of Pan Am flights making their regular rounds. This little assignment was even more anti-climactic than the Bay of Pigs.

Back at Gitmo the Cuban government was making rude noises at the United States for sponsoring the aborted landings. A scheme to sword-rattle back was hatched with the name "fence run". The Crusaders came steaming in to Leeward from the sea on a northerly course, hitting the beach to fly right over the B.O.Q. and along the fence, on the U.S. side, over a Marine watch tower and then a slight bend to right and drop the nose into a deserted swampy area. Twice, under close control, the pilots let a short burst of 20mm splat into the deserted swamp area. Legal flat-hatting was highly desired by all but alas it didn't last long.

Generally when a squadron goes on deployment the group and wing leave them alone to do their preferred training, this trip it seems that 235 was in the right place to be tasked. Several trips to Roosevelt Roads, P.R. had to be flown to support Marine BLT landings on Vieques Island. These were merely buzz jobs to hit the beach at the right time and the right place but served to cancel out gunnery training flights that could have been. The unit went back to Beaufort with very little gunnery drill but lots of drilling holes in the sky. No ribbons, no citations, no honors but a lot of chuckles and unique memories. CG FMFLANT came by to visit and said that we had been mentioned in dispatches and he announced that the unit would be outfitted with a brand new stable of factory fresh F8U-2NE aircraft and that was truly the best reward.


Banner photo: Snake Lewis and Phil Wallberg on the Hot Pad.

 

Gitmo

Gunnery and Banana Wars

by LtCol Matthew B. Peck, USMC (Ret.)

A reprint of a Yellow Sheet article by Matthew B. Peck, Jr., former F8 driver, Squadron-235 member and Editor Emeritus of the Red Nose Review.

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Plane Captain Corporal Wolfe helps Lt Tom O'Rorke get ready for flight.

Mach Altus plays tourist as he takes the Cuban sun on the Leeward BOQ patio.

Snake Lewis and Phil Wallberg man the Hot Pad

GITMO BOQ: Lt Buds Iles skewers Mach Altus with his own sword as Bob Johnson watches. The VMF-122 icon begged to accompany 235 on deployment.

Captain Matthew “Buck” Peck on the flight line