Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323
Remembering VMFA 323 in South Vietnam as recalled by Thomas M. Mernone...
I believe these dates to be mostly correct: Our squadron initially landed in Iwakuni, Japan, in early October, 1965. The bar girls, normally the “best” informed source of “scuttlebutt”, said “the rattlesnakes would be “in country” by Turkeyday. Well, we were deployed to Da Nang, Viet Nam, December 1, 1965, for three months, exactly. We all thought that we would get that extra month of “combat pay” (big money back then,$65/mo) for just a few days. We were wrong!
Then, we went back to Iwakuni three months later and then on to Naha, Okinawa for a missile shoot. Three weeks later and the day of our squadron beer party, we got recalled to Iwakuni, to refit, because, we were told, General Chiang Kai-shek wanted a “Marine Phantom Squadron” to chase Mig’s away from the Island. We stayed there for about forty-five days, went back to Iwakuni and to Da Nang around July 1, 1966.
I was part of the advanced party, early August, 1966 for about seven days, that sent, I think, five birds, to a sandpit called Chu Lai, where we launched birds down a Marston matting (sheet metal) run way, laid on leveled off sand. They also had a SATSCAT, Short Air Tactical Support Catapult, powered by one J-79. A Phantom has two, with burner, so normally the bridle would slack off about half the shot because the plane was going faster than the Cat shot. Well, one time, the catapult crew put an A-4 bridle on the F-4, and when the bridle slacked off, the F-4 swallowed it down the right intake and as it lifted off, you could see the “tin foil” blowing out the tail pipe. The RIO ejected at the top of the climb and the pilot shortly there after. The plane crashed into the bomb dump. We went back to Da Nang short one air craft and, I think, sometime in mid-September,1966, we went to the new Marine Air Station, Chu Lai, Viet Nam. The place wasn’t done and we have Vietnamese workers all over the place pouring concrete and such. Then, I guess, the Sea Bee’s built the temporary hangars for us.
The day we were waiting for finally came and we all (1/4th of the squadron) got on an R-4 (cargo plane), flew back to Da Nang and got on the big bird.
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