Tuesday, August 21, 2012

TFH 8/21: Two Heroic "Saints"

The United States Navy formed Attack Squadron ONE HUNDRED SIXTY-THREE (VA-163), nicknamed the "Saints", on September 1, 1960. The squadron was equipped with the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. The squadron was assigned to Carrier Air Wing SIXTEEN (CVW-16) in June of 1962; the wing itself was assigned to the USS Oriskany (CV-34). VA-163 participated in three Vietnam combat tours with Oriskany between April 5, 1965 and January 31, 1968, as well as a fourth tour onboard the USS Hancock (CV-19) with Carrier Air Wing TWENTY-ONE (CVW-21) between July 18, 1968 and March 3, 1969.

One of the few "high value" targets in North Vietnam was an electrical generating station outside Hanoi. The facility was among the most heavily defended in North Vietnam, and the multiple missions launched against it had to penetrate dense flak and surface-to-air missile batteries.

Forty-five years ago today, VA-163's commanding officer, Commander Bryan W. Compton, Jr., led a strike on the plant along with another pilot, Lieutenant Commander James. B. Busey, IV. Both aviators sustained major damage to their planes as they led their squadron mates into and away from the target before landing safely on the Oriskany. Both men received the Navy Cross for their valor.

Navy Cross Citation for Commander Bryan Whitfield Compton, Jr.:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Commander Bryan Whitfield Compton, Jr. (NSN: 0-542886), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism as a pilot and as Commanding Officer of Attack Squadron ONE HUNDRED SIXTY-THREE (VA-163), embarked in U.S.S. ORISKANY (CVA-34), on 21 August 1967. As the strike leader of a major coordinated air attack against the Hanoi Thermal Power Plant, Hanoi, North Vietnam, Commander Compton, with precise navigation and timing, led the strike group to the target area through an extremely intense array of sophisticated enemy defenses, including at least twenty-eight surface-to-air missiles and heavy, accurate anti-aircraft fire. Despite the continuing heavy enemy opposition in the target area, Commander Compton skillfully maneuvered his strike forces and led them in an attack which inflicted major damage upon the target. During the attack, strike aircraft incurred extensive battle damage from the heavy flak opposition. With complete disregard for his own safety, Commander Compton remained in the vicinity of the target until the damaged aircraft exited the area safely. In addition to assisting the egressing strike pilots by calling evasive maneuvers necessary for them to avoid surface-to-air missiles and heavy concentrations of anti-aircraft artillery fire, he succeeded in taking seventeen pictures with a hand-held camera which provided immediate and invaluable damage assessment of this most significant target. By his superb leadership, outstanding courage and inspiring devotion to duty in the face of extremely heavy enemy opposition, Commander Compton contributed greatly to the success of a most hazardous mission and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Compton, born on October 23, 1928, had been a member of the United States Naval Academy class of 1951. He was later the first commanding officer of the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) from July, 1972-August, 1976 and retired from the Navy as a Rear Admiral. He is still living.

Navy Cross Citation for Lieutenant Commander James Buchanan Busey, IV:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Commander [then Lieutenant Commander] James Buchanan Busey, IV (NSN: 0-586527), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism on 21 August 1967 as a pilot in Attack Squadron ONE HUNDRED SIXTY-THREE (VA-163), embarked in U.S.S. ORISKANY (CVA-34). During a combat mission over North Vietnam, Commander Busey was the leader of a section in a six-aircraft bombing element which attacked the Hanoi thermal power plant in the face of the enemy's most sophisticated and complex arsenal of air defense weapons. As he commenced his attack, Commander Busey sustained anti-aircraft hits to his aircraft. He skillfully regained control of his aircraft and, although his plane was severely damaged, renewed his attack, placing his weapon precisely on target. Subsequent bomb damage assessment photography confirmed that he inflicted heavy damage to his assigned portion of the thermal power plant. Although still severely handicapped by his damaged aircraft, Commander Busey evaded four surface-to-air missiles during his egress from the target area. Then, through skillful airmanship, he returned his crippled aircraft to the aircraft carrier. By his tenacious aggressiveness, professionalism, and heroic actions in the face of the enemy's massed and determined defenses, Commander Busey upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Busey retired from the Navy in 1989 as a full Admiral after having served as the Vice Chief of Naval Operations from 1985 to 1987 and with the dual role of the Commander in Chief, US Naval Forces Europe/Commander in Chief Allied Forces Southern Europe from 1987 to 1989. In addition to his Navy Cross, he is also a three-time recipient of both the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and Navy Distinguished Service Medal, five-time Legion of Merit awardee, and also holds three Distinguished Flying Crosses. Admiral Busey, born October 2, 1932, is also still living.

VA-163 was inactivated in 1969 and formally disestablished on July 1, 1971. The Oriskany remained in commission until September 30, 1976. The carrier remained in reserve status until being struck from the Navy List on July 25, 1989. Oriskany was eventually sunk as an artificial reef off the coast of Florida on May 17, 2006. She rests in about 210 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico.

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