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  AT2 William C. (Bill) Pilcher, USN
Patrol Squadron Five (VP-5)
"Mad Foxes"
Crew 8
NAS Jacksonville, FL 1960-1963

Being a crewmember on an anti-submarine patrol aircraft had to be one of the best jobs in the Navy.  Maybe it was because I loved to fly anyway and that, combined with the challenge of hunting down a submarine (especially those commie Russian ones) in the middle of the ocean, was very rewarding.  I didn't realize it at the time, but looking back now I wouldn't trade my Navy experience for anything.

When I enlisted I asked for two things: to take basic training at the Recruit Training Center in San Diego, and then be assigned  to a Patrol Squadron in Jacksonville.  I didn't have any particular reason for choosing a Patrol Squadron, just picked it from a list of possible assignments. But before joining the squadron I spent nearly a year in various aviation tech schools in Memphis, TN and Norfolk, VA.

Finally reported to my squadron near the end of 1960 and was assigned to crew 8 as 2nd Tech.  In October 1961 we deployed to Keflavik, Iceland to track Russian subs passing through the Denmark Straits heading for the U.S. east coast

 

January 12, 1962  A very bad day. One of our planes, LA-9, pictured here in the last known photo taken just days before it went down, left on a routine patrol at 0800 carrying a crew of 10 plus the base flight surgeon and an extra navigator.  The flight surgeon was along just to get his hours in for flight pay and the extra navigator was along because it was the crew's first operational flight since arriving from Rota, Spain. Normal procedure was to report your position every hour on the hour.  LA-9 failed to report it's position beginning at 1000 and failed to return to base as scheduled at 1600.  Search and rescue missions were flown for a week under severe weather conditions before declaring them lost at sea.  When offered the opportunity to resign from flight duty due to the hazardous flying conditions, no one accepted.  When the official search ended, the crews of VP-5 continued to look for any signs of our lost brothers for the remainder of our deployment.

Four and a half years later, in the summer of 1966, a British geological team came across the wreckage while exploring the remote Kronborg glacier in Greenland. The summer melt had partially exposed the crash site but with no radio communication with the outside world, they were unable to report their find until the scheduled rendezvous with their return ship in late summer.  A recovery team was hastily assembled but the site was covered by four feet of snow by the time they arrived.  Still, they were able to dig away enough of the snow to recover some of the remains.  It's a long story but for the next 40 years, the families, with the tireless effort of one of my squadron mates, Bob Pettway, fought with the Navy to send another recovery team to collect and identify the rest of the remains for proper burial at Arlington. You can click here for the long version in an article about the Memorial service that I attended back in November, 2009.

Cuban Missile Crises
When president Kennedy addressed the nation to announce the Cuban blockade on October 22, 1962 we were either already at, or on the way to NAS Roosevelt Roads, Puerto  Rico.  All I remember is we didn't have much time to pack and get airborne.

Most of our time there was spent locating, observing and photographing all shipping headed toward Cuba. While there were several Russian subs in the area, our destroyers were on top of them 24/7 and didn't need any help.  Since the fall of the Soviet Union we've learned that those subs were equipped with nuclear torpedoes and, if suffiently threatened, would have used them.

During the time we flew the blockade we encountered only one belligerent Russian freighter.  Her entire forward deck was covered with four rows of long canvas covered tubes, obviously missile parts headed for Cuba. After making repeated unsuccessful attempts to establish radio contact, warning that they were violating the blockade and to turn around, they stayed the course bound straight for Cuba ... until we fired a couple of rockets across her bow.

Flying ASW Patrols, often at very low altitude, was not without it's risks. But unlike our Marine and Army infantry brothers, we were never fired at by anything more lethal than the middle finger of the Russian sailors who always gathered on deck to shoot us the bird as we buzzed their wheelhouse taking pictures. But we always returned fire and sometimes, as a purely humanitarian gesture, we would throw them a few of our extra potatoes, just in case they were running low on sea rations.

My last deployment was to Sigonella, Sicily in April, 1963.  There, between operational flights, one of the things we frequently had to endure was taking what were called "area familiarization flights."  These involved flying to some unfamiliar airfield, landing, and then spending whatever time it took to be sure you were familiar with the area before returning to Sigonella. Here's one of the unfamiliar places we landed; Rome, Italy. (I don't know how those golf clubs got there. Somebody must have gone off and left them on the tarmac)  That's me with the camera around my neck.  Some of the other places we were unfamiliar with were London, Paris, Athens, Crete and a few others.  

Thus ended my Naval Aviation career.  I was sent to Norfolk, VA for discharge in August, 1963. But it didn't end my association with those I served with. I've been fishing with the flight engineer on my old crew (now an avid tournament fisherman out of Jacksonville) and attended my squadron's reunion, held every two years. The picture here is from our latest reunion held in Jacksonville in  April, 2010.  Pilots and crew gather for several days to renew acquaintances and relive our days of chasing subs all over the Atlantic.