My name is Jim Doran. I’m 74 years old and served from 28 Jan 1963 to 1 Jul 1983.
I enlisted on Friday, 25 Jan 1963 when I was 16, on Sat I turned 17, on Mon I was at RTC San Diego. After the longest boot camp in the world… It really was. I enlisted right outside Great Lakes with 3’ of snow on the ground. I went to boot camp in San Diego. Halfway through boot I came down with Bronchial Pneumonia and spent 30 days in Balboa Naval Hospital. After 3 more weeks of boot I came down with Bronchitis and spent 2 more weeks in the RTC Branch Dispensary. Had I gone to Great Lakes I’d probably been fine.
After A school at the Naval Air Technical Training Unit, Jacksonville, FL and the A-1H/J Skyraider RAG (VA-122) at NAS Lemoore I reported to VA-52 at NAS Alameda in Dec 1963. I made lifelong friends in that squadron, unfortunately there’s only a few of them left – and we stayed in contact with each other. Many of you know one of them AOC Ed Murphy (RET). A number of you knew one of the others, the late CWO4 Carl Collier (RET).
In VA-122 I managed to bag some back-seat time, and some stick time, in the T-28B Trojan. A real thrill for a 17-year-old high school dropout.
My career was interesting and had its ups and downs, as do most. In Olongopo 4 of us carried a drunken Collier up the after brow of USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14). The next day the Chief sent me back to town to get rid of the monkey we’d hidden in Collier’s shirt. We were at the start of the political beginning of the Vietnam War, the Tonkin Gulf Incident on 5 Aug 1964. I say political, because we’d had troops in Vietnam for almost 4 years by then, and Trico/CAG-5 had been bombing Laos for almost 4 months. I don’t care what the politicians say about the Tonkin Gulf Incident, I KNOW it was real. How? Well it may have had something to do with the bullet holes in 2 of our birds! Had my first cat shot here too. However, facing backwards in a C-1A Trader with a broken arm was not the least painful cat shot I ever endured.
My first shore tour was in the A-4 Skyhawk RAG (VA-125). After a month in the shop I hit USS Yorktown (CVS-10) for a CQ det and 4 months later to MCAS Yuma for an Ordnance det. When I made AO2, I moved from the shop over to the Nuke School and taught loading on the A-4C and A-4E. There were only two AO2s teaching at the school, myself and CAPT Ralph Spangler (RET). Our bosses were AOCM Phil Kershisnik (RET), the late AOCM Ron Bushta and the late AOCM Mike Nunez. The A-7A side of the house include AO1 Gary Dasher (CWO4, RET).
After 6 months in B school at Jax, where I made AO1 the detailer called me and asked if I’d be willing to forego sea duty for another tour as a Nuke instructor. Now, I’d never thought detailers were stupid, but… So, just down the road I went to FASOTRAGRULANT Det Jax, a few months later we were renamed FAETULANT Det Jax. Here I taught the P-3, H-3, A-4, and A-7 and was one of 2 AO1 (the other was Tom Smithey) authorized to teach the pilot’s delivery course. Seems we had a shortage of pilot’s here. However, after a year of working in a windowless building and knowing the time and the day of the week by where I was in the syllabus, I terminated my shore duty.
In Dec 1970 I arrived in Saigon and a couple of days later reported to HA(L)-3 in the Mekong Delta. I was the Ordnance LPO and my boss was AOC Gary Dasher. I flew as crew chief/door gunner in our slicks (HH-1K and UH-1L). The only times I flew in a gunship (UH-1B) was when we ferried a “new” one to our det at Ca Mau and brought the “old” back to Binh Thuy. The slicks flew SEAL inserts/exfils and logistic runs around the Delta. The book says 3 crew and 7 pax, but I’ve squeezed 14 ARVNs into the bird – but I didn’t get to really ride inside. I sat on the deck with my legs hanging out of the door. I didn’t do the full 12-month tour in HA(L)-3 as on 1 Jul 71 I was promoted to Gunner (WO-1) and transferred to Pensacola for WO School. In Oct I reported aboard USS Constellation (CVA-64) as Ship’s Gunner. 18 months later I was Air Gunner and 4 months later, after almost getting killed 3 times in 3 days, I changed jobs with my roommate.
From Connie I went to CVWR-20 as CAG Gunner. This was the East Coast Reserve Air Wing. We had 2 VF squadrons (F-8J), both in Dallas; 3 VA squadrons (2 A-4L and 1 A-7A) located in Memphis, Atlanta, and JAX; 1 VFP squadron (RF-8G) in DC; 1 VAW Squadron (E-1B/E-2C) and an HS squadron (SH-3), both in Norfolk; a VAQ Squadron (EKA-3B) in Alameda; and 2 VC squadrons (A-4L), 1 in New Orleans and 1 at Miramar. The TAD trips were outstanding. We also made 2 trips to Fallon, 1 to CFB Cold Lake, Alberta, and a CQ det aboard USS Nimitz (CVN-68). During my tour we had 3 CAGs. The 2nd one, CAPT Dick Kiehl, had been my OinC at VA-125 Det Yuma and the 3rd one, CAPT Chuck Tinker, had been Air Ops in Connie when I was aboard.
Then it was back to sea as Squadron Gunner in VA-85, flying the KA-6D and A-6E. Worst tour of duty in my career. The troops were pretty damn good, but the two COs were not. The first one ruined the troops morale and burnt out the jets to ensure he made CAPT without taking the squadron to sea. He retired as a VADM. The second one didn’t know how to repair the squadron, so he did nothing. After volunteering to help OPS get ready for the NTPI, and being turned out, the CO decided it was my fault that the squadron failed. I called my detailer and cross decked to VF-14.
This was a pleasure tour compared to VA-85. As it turned out, the squadron, the Air Wing, and USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) all had their stuff in the same bag at the same time. This was the way Navy should always be. The Skipper of JFK retired as a VADM as did my squadron Skipper. The CAG, my XO, and my OPSO all retired as RADM. One of the many high spots was being sent TAD for 2 weeks aboard the Spanish Navy Carrier Dedalo (AP-01), the former WW2 vet USS Cabot (CVL-28). Dedalo’s air wing consisted of 6 Harriers, 3 Sea Kings, 6 Hueys, and 4 OH-58. The OH-58s were labeled on the doors, “2 pilots or 1 pilot and 1 torpedo”. You haven’t lived until you’ve launched from a 1,058’ flight deck in the dark, in a Huey, and landed aboard a 623’ flight deck! Puts a whole new definition on small!!
From VF-14 I reported to NAS Norfolk as Assistant Gun Boss and Ordnance Division Officer. For you guys who haven’t been there, this was not the laid-back weapons department we all thought it was. Besides supporting the HS community, we supported every ship at Norfolk. We ran, almost daily, ordnance loaded semi’s to the Destroyers, Submarines, Cruisers, Tenders and Carriers. Everything from small arms to Nukes. SEAL 6 used our red label area, as did the USAF and the RAF. (All the AIM fired by the Brits during the Falklands War were replenished from my magazines.) When the runways at Norfolk were closed for repaving, I took a det to Oceana to operate off their red label area. My det had more sailors and as much rolling stock as the Oceana Weapons Department.
My final tour was with VF-142 aboard IKE. I had chosen the squadron because, Ordnance wise, it was the worst in the Atlantic Fleet. It was, simply put, a flying club. Along with a new MMCO, a new XO, and a new AOC, we changed that. When I retired, we hadn’t had a gun jam in over a year, we’d gone 26 missile shoots without a miss (including the Phoenix), had a zero-defect Corrosion Control Audit. The Skipper asked me how I’d done it. I told him it was easy. I told the Chief that if I was in the shop more than 30 minutes a day, I was doing his job. If I was doing his job, he was fired. My job was keeping the department head, maintenance Chief and MCPOC off his ass. I always told him what I wanted done, by when, and why. I never told him how, unless he asked. He never asked.
I had the distinct honor to serve with these sailors during my career. They’re listed chronologically:
AN (CDR) Mel Swartz (Lives near Pax River)
AOAN (CWO4) Carl Collier (Deceased)
AO3 (LT) Wardee Bruce (Lives in Fresno, CA)
AO2 (CWO3) Ken Reichert (Deceased)
AO2 (CAPT) Ralph Spangler (Lives in Peterstown, WV)
AO1 (CWO4) Gary Dasher (Lives in FL)
AO2 (CWO4) John Stokely
AO1 (CWO4) Dewitt Edenfield (Lives in GA)
GMG2 (CWO4, USNR) Steve Moreno (Lives in NE)
AO1 (LCDR) Stan Eudy (Lives in JAX)
AO2 (LT) Gary Redhead (Lives in MD)
AOAN (LCDR) Henry Famularo (Lives in Tidewater)
AO1 (LCDR) Jeff Lord (Deceased)
AOC (CWO4) Bob Bryant
AO1 (CWO3) Gary Rollins (Lives in Tidewater)
AOC (CDR) Gerry Friedman (Deceased)
AOC (CWO4) Bill Straight
AOC (CAPT) Dave Lepard