Marine VMCJ-2 & VFP-62 (not complete group) pilots
After Receiving Distinguished Flying Cross Awards
Marine Squadron VMCJ-2 Flies Cuban Missile Crisis Missions
VMCJ-2 was the composite reconnaissance squadron for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing based at MCAS Cherry Pt. NC in 1962. The squadron flew both RF-8A Crusaders and the EF-10B Skyknight electronic warfare aircraft. The squadron had been involved with reconnaissance missions over and around Cuba since 1960 when the Soviets started their relationship with Fidel Castro's government. The EF-10Bs operating around the island's periphery were credited with one of the first intercepts of a Russian early warning radar in Cuba and had monitored the build up of the Russian designed radar controlled AAA and SAM air defenses in the months before the October missile crisis. The squadron's RF-8As had been providing monthly coverage of the fence line at the Guantanamo Navy base for sometime as well as performing some undisclosed over flight missions on at least two occasions dating back to 1960.
The squadron's capabilities were well known at the CINCLANT JRC in the Fall of 1962 when the threat from the military buildup in Cuba reached crisis stage. Capt.(later Col.) Ben Skinner, a VMCJ-2 alum assigned to the JRC staff, was actively involved in monitoring the intelligence gathering operations and in the planning for contingency operations in September and early October. When CINCLANT ordered an increased readiness posture on 6 October to support a likely air strike against Cuba the need for low level tactical photo reconnaissance to supplement coverage from U-2 flights became a high priority. Shortly afterwards, the CG 2nd MAW was requested to provide four RF-8As from VMCJ-2 to augment VFP-62 which was tasked to be ready to conduct photo operations over Cuba on short notice. On 10 October, Capt. Dick Conway, the VMCJ-2 photo officer flew to NAS Cecil to attend a planning meeting as the designated 2nd MAW rep, returning on the 11th. He briefed the squadron's RF-8A camera system status, noting their aircraft, unlike VFP-62's, still had the old 70MM cameras vice the new KA-45's with Image Motion Compensation. Since the KA-45s were essential for the planned low level high speed missions, the supply system was ordered to redirect 4 systems to VMCJ-2 ASAP. Upon arrival the photo technicians worked around the clock to get the KA-45s installed. Capt. Conway flew the first test hop in buno [Bureau Number] 144618 on 15 October.
The CG 2nd MAW had insisted his Marine pilots come with their aircraft as part of the deal and as a result 5 VMCJ-2 pilots were assigned to augment VFP-62; Capts. Fred Carolan, Dick Conway, John Hudson, E.J. Love and Dale Tinsley, who was the backup pilot. The bunos assigned were 144618,145611,145612 and 145635, all retaining their CY tailcode and distinctive playboy bunny logo. The VMCJ-2 det[achment] flew into NAS Cecil on 21 October to join VFP-62 and redeployed to NAS Key West on the 22nd. The remainder of the squadron had also deployed to Key West and provided maintenance support for the Marine aircraft there, with the Navy supporting subsequent turn arounds at NAS Jacksonville and critical camera system repairs.
The experienced Marine pilots were integrated into the VFP-62 Blue Moon mission schedule but flew their VMCJ-2 aircraft except for at least one occasion when Capt.(later Lt. Gen.) Hudson flew Navy buno 145607 shown in his photo with Cdr. Ecker. The Marines flew missions with their Navy counterparts on 25 & 27 October as part of the critical first week's effort to determine the operational readiness of the Russian medium and intermediate range missiles, and then on the 29th to confirm that the order to dismantle them was being carried out. Subsequently, they flew nearly every day from 1 November until 15 November to continue to monitor the retrograde movement. The Marines sometimes flew as wingmen in a section led by VFP-62 pilots and also led other sections themselves. A Marine only section flew a Blue Moon mission on 10 November with the CO's blessing to celebrate the birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps. While at Key West the VFP-62 aircraft had red bunnies painted on them by the "midnight painters" from VMCJ-2, but Cdr. Ecker, in a nice gesture to "his" Marines let them stay.
The Marines returned to MCAS Cherry Pt. on 18 November. Subsequently, the 4 primary pilots joined the VFP-62 formation as President Kennedy presented the squadron the PUC [Presidential Unit Citation]. Later in a ceremony at Jacksonville, Admiral Dennison, CINCLANT, presented the 4 pilots the DFCs [Distinguished Flying Crosses] for their part of the historic operation.
(The above article was written on 18 November 2008, the 46th anniversary of the Cuba Missile Crisis by Col. H. Wayne Whitten USMC (ret) President of the Marine Corps Aviation Reconnaissance Association, with inputs from Lt. Gen. John Hudson, Col. E.J. Love , and Lt. Col. Dick Conway, USMC (ret)
L-R CDR William Ecker Marine Capt John Hudson.
Click photo to enlarge.
Created on ... November 20, 2008