"Blev" Blevins, A03, USN (Ret)

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The "Cold Cat" Launch and Loss of E1A Pilot
LT John Richard McDonough, USNR (Deceased)
of VAW-13 Detachment 1

"In Memoriam"

LT John R. McDonough, USNR (Deceased)

LT John Richard McDonough, USNR (Deceased)
Photo courtesy of New Jersey, Vietnam Veterans Memorial

"He which hath no stomach to this fight let him depart. But we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers!! For he today, that sheds his blood with me, shall always be my brother." - William Shakespeare

August 26, 2007

From an Email from Dan Blevins, addressed to John J. McDonough, nephew of LT John Richard McDonough, who was seeking information on his uncle's death aboard the U.S.S. Hancock in 1966.

Dan Blevins, an Aviation Ordnanceman working the Flight Deck witnessed the mishap and eventual loss of LT McDonough and told a very articulate and exacting account of the accident:

I remember the crash pretty well, as it was on my 21st birthday and was working the flight deck early that morning. We were doing our usual early AM launch against targets in the north of Viet Nam, on Yankee Station, Task Force 38, operating about a hundred miles (+ or-) off Da Nang.

It was my second year working the flight deck on the Hancock and I was an old salt by then.

When we first went to Viet Nam, we had been operating just several miles off the coast and well within shore battery range and remember distinctly, the Gooks, firing large projectiles across the flight deck. Carriers being about 80% fuel and ammunition, necessitated moving operations further to sea. Which is where we were operating.

It was still dark, but the horizon was beginning to lighten and revealed partially cloudy skies as it was Monsoon (rainy) season, which affected close air support and assorted missions. I believe that we also were experiencing 'water hours' because of the increased usage of fresh water for the twin steam catapults on the bow of the Essex class carrier. It took about 700 gallons of fresh water per launch. A 'cold Cat' is when you do not have enough steam pressure to gain enough speed to become airborne. The bridle was a steel braided, 1.5 inch diameter cable, attached to hooks on the underside of the Guppy (EA-1), propeller driven aircraft. Which was a modified A-1 Sky Raider, with an interior electronics operator (with a small port hole door and bloated electronics belly, resembling a Guppy fish). Noting that the 'Operator' in this enclosed compartment, would be 'sucking saltwater' if they went in the drink. If the bridle snapped or became disengaged during a launch, it could be considered a Cold Cat launch. Usually a Spad could become airborne on a deck launch, with enough wind across the deck. But the Guppy had a lot more weight and required a Cat Shot.

I saw the Lieutenants picture (above on the website and remember his face and vaguely speaking with him about the Guppy and possibly getting a ride aboard, if conditions warranted. This was sometime around the John Wayne visit, which was on June 17 and 18th, 1966. The "Duke" was a big imposing man and it was a thrill for everyone to meet this legendary PATRIOT. I'm sure the Duke probably came around the Lieutenant's Ready Room and talked with them.

We had E1 "Willy Fudd's" operating aboard in VAW-11, which was the fore runner of the modern AWACS. We also had a DET of Guppys out of Cubi, and on Yankee Station, they operated between the ship and NAS Da Nang. I remember specifically getting a camouflage Ausie hat from one of the Techs in VAW13, who purchased them in Da Nang and sold them to the troops aboard ship. They hauled them inside the electronics bay. Sold for five or six bucks.

I liked working the "Roof" as we got paid $40 bucks a month, Flight Deck/Hazardous Duty pay!

When you made only $165 a month regular pay, 40 bucks was a lot of money in Subic! In 1966, you could buy a new Mustang for 2 Grand?
Me, Smitty, Mike Murphy, Jimmie Mac and Bruce King were working the roof for GM Division, providing Sidewinders to the F-8 Crusaders, Bull Pup and the new Shrike missiles to the A-4 Sky Hawks.

The AWACS and Tankers usually launched before the fighters and bombers. So the Guppy was lined up on Cat#1 and going through it's run-ups. I remember distinctly, the blue flames from the axial Chevy engines, lapping over the upper surface of the wings (which by this time were extended) and the roar of engine as the Cat Officer in his yellow helmet and floatation vest, knelt and tapped the deck (signaling the Cat operator to launch) then the hissing Thud of the catapult dragging the Guppy down the deck (which is a normal sound) then there was a sickening bang and the Guppy was pulled (tires smoking) slightly sideways to the left. The canopy was still open, as the racing engine struggled to lift the Guppy into flight, as it retch the bow, the aircraft dipped from sight and crewmen rushed toward the bow. The Lieutenant (I'm sure) was focused and fighting to get her airborne, because of the trapped operator inside the fuselage. She was leveling off, just feet above the surface of the water and he was pulling her to the right (out of the ships way and doing 35 knots) when a landing gear tipped a wave and the Guppy cartwheeled (end over front) and sank right in front of the Hancock, which passed over the Guppy. Men stood in stunned silence along the bow, it happened so quickly (as things do on the flight deck) that none of us, felt a thing, just numbness and sadness. The Post-Tramadic Shock of these incidents, affected most of us who witnessed this accident and ones much worse, for the rest of our lives. Certainly I did.

But their is a sense of pride, in having briefly known these selfless heroes, who pioneered this type of aircraft. That todays Aviators would be able to fly safer and more effectively. The word HERO is thrown about, like so many nickels today, where everybody is some kind of hero.
But John, you can truly be proud of the effort and courage that your Uncle demonstrated on the wave tossed South China Sea, just as the pioneers of Naval Aviation did against the Japs just twenty years before, on the Fighting Hanna and other carriers in the same region.
I still remember and hold our shipmates, safe from liberals in Washington and Hollywood, within this living heart and monument. God bless his memory and all of the HEROES that are still fighting the Good Fight.

AOCS Dan Blevins (USN RET)

PS - After John Wayne ended his USO trip, he went back and made the movie The Green Berets!

Note by Jake: Lt John R. Mc Donough was attached to VAW-13 Det 1 stationed at Cubi Point NAS, P.I. and did short deployments aboard local Carriers. This data was ascertained from doing a search on our MIA's Page and the Carrier Order of Battle Website. A copy of this Carrier Order of Battle can be found in our Download site. Reference to VAW-13 Det 1 can be found in Footnote #1 at bottom of document.

Other References to this casualty are located on this site at:

This Website's USS Hancock Post Recommissioning Casualties Page
This Website's USS Hancock Air Group/Pilots Casualties Page
The LT_John_R_McDonough Casualty Threaded Email Page

Submitted 8/26/07
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