A-7 ConnectionsArticle by Kyle Kirby, Photos by Jeff Willhelm
Scroll down to the bottom for a 2010 update!
There are at least three local pilots who have flown our A-7 Corsair II. Kenny Wayne Fields of Mooresville flew 313 on it's delivery flight to VA-82 to the USS America before he was shot down in Streetcar 304. Walt Moser of Gastonia flew 313 on it's flight to the boneyard. Joel Eaton of Miami flew 313 on numerous combat missions, and that is him ready to be launched carrying an unusual load of ordinance in the black and white photo.
Kenny Wayne Fields
Sabre Society member Jeff Wilhelm called me one day asking for information on our A-7. He was doing a photo shoot for the Charlotte Observer of a Mooresville resident who had just written a book about getting shot down on his first combat mission over Laos. He was flying an A-7 when this occured. We had no idea which squadron he flew with or any other details. We just knew the book was titled 'The Rescue of Streetcar 304'. Jeff and I discussed the possibility of him being in VA-82 but didn't really think the chances were too great. Boy were we wrong!!
Jeff called back the next day and was pretty excited. He had spoken to the Mooresville author named Kenny Wayne Fields. Jeff told him about our A-7 and its history before bringing him to the Hickory Regional Airport for the photo shoot. Kenny explained that VA-82s callsign was Streetcar and he probably flew our airplane. After checking his logbooks, Kenny found he was the first person to land our aircraft on a carrier deck! When he came to our museum for the photo shoot, a gaggle of us came out to greet and talk to him. All of us including Kenny were elated!! Several stories were swapped and Kenny of course knew Joel Eaton and elaborated on some of the events of his shootdown and other events. It is a miracle he is alive and like Joel Eaton, an honor to have him here!
I encourage all to read his book as he did a magnificent job of writing it. It truly is amazing how many people were involved in his rescue and the incredible skill and courage of our men and women in uniform. Kenny is on a whirlwind book signing tour including the National Air and Space Museum and other notable places. He plans to be with us on Dec. 8th this year for a book signing. I encourage everyone to attend as these guys can really breathe life into these aircraft with just amazing stories that are astounding. It also gives some great insight into the Vietnam War and shows how gallant and awesome our Vietnam warriors were! It's sad that it is so misunderstood and some of these vets have had a pretty hard time with the all of the controversies involved. Let me assure you, our Vietnam veterans are as worthy of praise as any American fraternity of soldiers from any era. We really enjoyed Kenny's visit and look forward to his visit in December
Walt Moser is another of the three 1968 cruise VA-82 Marauder pilots that have visited the museum. Walt came in with his logbook and he had flown our aircraft to the boneyard after VA-82 got rid of their A models. He resides in Gastonia and obviously flew combat with our other friends and they stay in touch on a regular basis. In talking with these great guys, they informed me that the squadron had twenty pilots in 1968. Of that small number, THREE have been to revisit 154345 and the others are aware that it now resides at the Hickory Aviation Museum. I can't even describe what an honor it is to have our A-7 represent these gentlemen who went into harm's way on behalf of mine and your FREEDOM! Each has said they will be back and we always welcome their visits.
Joel arrived at Hickory airport (probably in mid 1992) in his Cessna shortly after the A-7 was brought in. Kregg was working with the line crew at the time and noticed that he made a quick dash to the A-7. This was before we painted her up in VA-82 livery. Kregg approached him and he told Kregg he had flown with VA-82 in Vietnam. We had already researched the Corsair's history and knew she flew with the Marauders when Joel was in the squadron. He stated that the Bureau Number rang a bell. After giving Kregg a debrief on the cockpit and other details, he departed and said he would check his logbooks to see if he had flown 154345. A couple of days later he called and said he had indeed flown several combat missions in our bird off the America!
He showed great enthusiasm in our project and actually sent several photographs and other items that were instumental in our accurate painting of the aircraft. This scheme was short-lived and only lasted through their first cruise in 1968. Although slight variations occured, this scheme is rarely depicted in photographs and his information really helped secure the scheme we finally adopted. As the A-7 was our second aircraft we were still very young and small as a "museum'. Joel wrote a very nice letter to the Naval Museum in Pensacola praising our efforts and that was a big plus for us in their eyes.
Joel and his wife returned a couple of weekends ago and we had a chance to speak about his career as a Naval Aviator. This is just always a wonderful opportunity. Joel praised the A-7 and said it always got him home. He chose the Corsair because it was a brand new weapons system and wanted to be a part of the new program. Pilot selection was good, they had a good cast of flyers to work with as the new jet was being readied for combat. Of interest, in order to provide pilots with combat experience to lead them, their CO and XO were brought in from the A-1 Skyraider community and transitioned to jets on the job!!! It is great to have access to his wealth of knowledge of our aircraft as he said our aircraft was probably a replacement bird from Subic Bay as their original complement were aircraft that had Bureau Numbers starting in the 153 range. Joel says he will be returning to the museum when he can as he has a home in the Boone area. We welcome his visits.
In talking with Joel Eaton on his last visit, he confirmed to me that the shot of our A-7 on the America's flight deck was with himself in the cockpit!!! He told me he had done a cat shot and left something up on the 'dash' near the bombsight on an earlier flight. During the launch, the object came back and hit him in the eye. He found the 'spacesuit' (can't remember type) style helmet more comfortable after the injury and was the only pilot in the squadron to wear one. He vividly recalled the mission as it was the only time he ever carried the Zuni rockets which are on the outboard stations in the photo. They were attacking POL stations along the Ho Chi Minh trail and used about a 20 degree dive when firing the Zuni. He has combat photos of the mission and I can't wait to see them. As we talk to Joel again I will update the specifics such as helmet type, etc.
More VA-82 Pictures Thanks to Ed Caco for pointing out that you can see more pictures of the A-7 in VA-82 here:
Scroll all the way to the bottom to see the most applicable pictures, though they are all pretty interesting.
2009 UpdateOn Sunday, July 5th 2009, we had another reunion of our local Streetcar 313 pilots! They are Tom Brown, Joel Eaton, Walt Moser, David Page, and Kenny Fields.
Joel Eaton handed me this photo upon his arrival for our mini VA-82 reunion on the 5th of July. What a significant shot this is! A four ship of A-7As banking over the Atlantic Ocean near Roosevelt Roads, Purto Rico. VA-82 did workups here prior to their combat deployment to Vietnam. After transitioning to the Corsair, they had to become familiar with the new beast and that is exactly what this picture depicts. There were live firing ranges there and other facilities to indoctrinate our nuggets to the fine art of utilizing tritonol to its greatest effect and other procedures that will help them survive the rigors of combat. This section is being led by none other than our very own A-7 BuNo 154345!! And of great interest, directly behind is BuNo 153255. This is none other than the very aircraft Kenny Wayne Fields was shot down in on May 31st, 1968 on his very first mission!! Streetcar 304 is right there in this magnificent shot! Kenny recently returned to Laos and the site where this A-7 impacted with terra firma. The aircraft you are looking at in this picture has been recycled into a myriad of items. Pots , pans, roofing, and who knows what else. Kenny did manage to bring a few scraps back but these folks over there are resilient and utilize anything they can for survival. What an honor to have this magnificent piece of history here in Hickory and thank you Joel Eaton!!!
May 2010 Update:
After reading the Hook article on VA-82, John "Hondo" Johnson emailed the museum and explained that our A-7 had flown in his unit too!! That unit would be VA-37 Bulls, and they took in combat ops aboard USS Saratoga in 1972!! John was kind enough to forward these pics and let us use them on our site here!! In the bottom picture, aircraft AC-300 was lost on 10 Nov with Fred Wright at the controls two days after he flew his 300th combat mission!!! Incredible!! Things had really heated up by 1972 and the Bulls lost a few aviators. Five former VA-37 flyers from 72 are coming the first weekend in June to see 154345 and we are more than honored to host them!!
Here is a picture of our bird over North Vietnam:
June 2010 UpdateKenny Wayne Fields sent us an email that he received from Ron Smith. Here it is:
My name is Ron Smith, & I am an original member of Va-82. I was a plane captain on both cruises aboard the America & the Coral Sea. If you remember correctly, 304 was not your originally intended aircraft for that infamous sortie. You were scheduled to take my plane, 313, but it had a bad hydraulic leak & was grounded, so 304 was the backup. When you were down, I remember listening in the line shack of your conversation with the gunshots going off in the background, & whoever you were talking with telling you to dig a hole 6 feet deep, get in it & cover up. Then we were told you got hit in the backside as the helo was taking you away. If I remember you got malaria, & it was quite a few months before you returned. Heard about Lt. Lentz from a friend. Knew him well - I was honored to be one of 2 enlisted men to play on the base basketball team with him when we won the championship. I could go on forever but, congratulations on you book - that I just heard about & plan to purchase. Forty four years - a long time- best of luck.