Marine All Weather Fighter Squadron 451
Hot Pad Duty
Guantanamo Bay was a lot like Da Nang. The Marines were surrounded by the Communists. Recreation was limited. VMF(AW)-451 was TAD at Leeward Point which was a lengthy walk and then a ferry boat ride across the bay to the Naval Base Gitmo where the civilized segment of the complex performed their duties and led almost normal lives. The last ferry back to the leeward side departed at midnight. Main side personnel, unlike the Marines, were allowed to have dependents aboard the base. This meant school teachers, nurses, librarians, Red Cross and other contract civilian support personnel lived, worked and played there. Although the dependent women were not fair game for the Marines, the other females certainly were. Competition was stiff! (No pun intended) With the regiment of Marine Grunts stationed at Gitmo chasing the skirts on a regular basis, the short-term aviation units at Leeward Point were at a disadvantage for obtaining rewarding bodily contact. So after a few fruitless forays to main side, the Leeward Pointers elected to live in their zoom-bags (flight suits) and spend free time at the watering hole club adjacent to the BOQ on top of the hill and only 200 yards from the DMZ. TAD Navy Patrol Squadron pilots like Ed Landers joined our song fests and played liars dice for drinks. We were the early warning system for mainside Gitmo. When shooting and screaming was heard from Leeward Point, Guantanamo Bay residents would know the base was being overrun.
The Warlords of 451 were assigned the combat alert mission from August to October, 1963 in support of the U-2 verification of Fidelís compliance with a surface to surface missile prohibition. The Crusaders were on hot pad immediate scramble status positioned at the end of the runway, engines turning, all flight checks completed, each jet armed with 8 sidewinder air to air missiles and 440 rounds of 20mm cannon ammo when the U-2 was over Cuba. One U-2 had been shot down early in the USA/USSR confrontation. The Squadron was on a 10-minute alert status during daylight hours when the U-2ís were not flying. We were disappointed when our aircraft were never scrambled to protect the U-2 flights. However, we were scrambled several times to escort CIA aircraft, unidentified bogies inbound to Cuba, and VIP aircraft inbound to Guantanamo Bay. Our outstanding Ordnance personnel maintained our 20mm cannon and rockets operating perfectly. The Proud group is shown below.
451 established a policy for flying after the U-2 alert was secured. We would scramble the two Crusaders ready for takeoff and climb to 45,000 feet, turn north towards Gitmo and accelerate to over 1.6 mach. We wanted Fidel to see the contrails. We would over fly the Naval Base and then turn back to the south. We were trolling for a SAM launch or other hostile response by the Commies which would justify our retaliation. No luck! We then flew about 100 miles south of Gitmo, made a descending right turn, pushed the nose over, put the gunsight pipper on Santiago De Cuba and kept the high mach all the way down. When five to ten miles offshore and passing 15,000 feet, we would break hard right, deselect burner, reduce to idle power and fly directly into the break at Leeward Point. The sonic boom continued like a 2,000-pound bomb right into the heart of Santiago. The adverse effect on the morale of the Cuban military was even greater than we anticipated. The 1.5 mach booms we dropped on Santiago collapsed structures and created mild panic among the population. Newspapers reported the mysterious explosions and concurrent damage to structures occurring in Santiago and the surrounding countryside.
Pictured standing are Bob Foley, Doug Lawrence and Lou Pritchett. Kneeling are Mofak, Joe Smart, Jim Spaith and Tiny wanless.
451 Crusaders relentlessly bombarded Santiago with sonic bombs--until two of our stalwart gray bars carried the boom into the break at Leeward Point. The Commodore was holding a reception and cocktail party at his quarters for visiting dignitaries. A thunderous blast shook the main side of Guantanamo Bay. Windows and glasses in many living quarters, PX, base Clubs, and visiting ships were broken. The Commodore, civilians, dependents, all hands and the mess cooks who lived in fear of attack, were traumatized. Personnel vacated buildings and jumped into bunkers. During the running and screaming, someone noticed two crusaders on the downwind for Leeward Point.
There was hell to pay for several days after that stunt. I was recalled to Roosevelt Roads by my skippers, Tom Nichols and Fox Dempster, who assigned another Captain as OIC of the Leeward HotPad. It was only temporary. For my punishment, I was sent back to Leeward Point again, and again!
Back to Back We Face the Past
Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.