MCARA Units > VMCJ-2 (1955-1975)
Marine Composite Reconnaissance Squadron Two (VMCJ-2) History
This too brief overview of the history of VMCJ-2 needs to be replaced in time with a detailed history or link that does justice to one of the Marine Corps’ most distinctive squadrons and the MCARA members that served with it! See the link to VMAQ-2 for more info as VMCJ-2 is its legacy squadron.
VMCJ-2 was commissioned at MCAS Cherry Point, NC on 12 December, 1955 and has claim to being the first VMCJ squadron as VMCJ-3 was not stood up until later that day at MCAS El Toro. It was the result of the merger of VMJ-2 and VMC-2 bringing together the photo reconnaissance and electronic warfare squadrons that had been operating as part of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing since the Korean War. At standup the squadron began operating the F9F-6P Cougar photo reconnaissance and AD-5N ECM aircraft with tail code CY. The propeller driven AD-5Ns were phased out with the introduction of the F3D-2Q Skyknight jet aircraft for EW operations beginning in 1957, and the EA-6A Intruder followed in 1965. In 1960 the F9Fs were replaced by the F8U-1P Crusaders, which in turn were phased out in 1965 with the introduction of the RF-4B Phantom II. (The Crusaders and Skyknights were designated RF-8A and EF-10Bs in October 1962)
VMCJ-2 is perhaps best known by its famous logo the flop-eared Playboy Bunny which is the grist of many a story, at least a couple appearing on this website’s Sea Stories. Perhaps by good fate, the squadron was decommissioned in 1975 with the bunny alive and well during a time when political correctness was not yet in vogue. Old squadron mates now have reason to rejoice as in 2007 a brave and innovative CO of VMAQ-2 resurrected the bunny in the likeness of CY or is it the other way around?
VMCJ-2 made its mark on history by becoming the first Marine unit to be awarded a Navy Unit Commendation in peace time for its electronic and photo reconnaissance missions tracking the buildup of Soviet supplied military capabilities in communist Cuba from September 1960 through the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis in December 1962. The squadron began to fly Elint “training” missions around Cuba in 1960 no doubt influenced by the success of the Sharkfin missions around the periphery of our adversaries in the Pacific initiated by VMCJ-3 in 1958 and continued by VMCJ-1. These unofficial missions staged out of Key West, Guantanamo Bay and other Caribbean airfields were later sanctioned and controlled under the Peacetime Aerial Reconnaissance Program by CINCLANT. The initial intercepts were mainly of air traffic control radars but as the Soviets steadily increased the flow of military radars to Castro’s government in 1961 VMCJ-2’s F3D-2Q aircrews began to intercept them. One of the first intercepts was of a Soviet Token GCI radar by Sgt. Sam Figueroa, and later Fire Can and Whiff AAA fire control radars were intercepted as Castro began to build an integrated air defense network.
The squadron began its photo reconnaissance missions over Cuba in late December 1960 when Colonel (then Captain) Ben Skinner, later a VMCJ-2 CO, led a section of F8U-1Ps down to NAS Leeward Pt. to obtain coverage of some suspected military facilities along the Southwest coast and to begin mapping the confines of the Guantanamo Bay naval base. A second photo detachment was sent down early in 1961 to follow up before the failed Bay of Pigs invasion later that Spring. As the tensions with Castro’s Cuba steadily increased the squadron began to provide photo coverage of the naval base environs on a quarterly basis at same time the Cuban Electronic Order of Battle was being updated by the F3D-2Q aircrews.
In late August 1962 a CIA U-2 photographed several Soviet frontline Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems sites under construction and about the same time two VMCJ-2 F3D-2Qs reported intercepting a Fansong target tracking radar associated with the SA-2 confirming the SAMS were going operational. The intelligence community began to suspect the SAMS were being emplaced to defend something of great importance, but it was not until 14 October that another U-2 discovered the first Soviet medium range ballistic missile site under construction. Faced with an ominous threat under a 100 miles from the U. S. mainland, the national command authority tasked the Navy to conduct low level reconnaissance of the suspected sites and obtain high definition photos under Operation Blue Moon. VFP-62, the Navy RF-8A squadron based in Jacksonville, Florida did not have enough aircraft to meet the demanding Blue Moon schedule so VMCJ-2 was asked to loan them 4 aircraft. The 2nd MAW commander advised that they would get the aircraft along with Marine pilots to fly them! Four of the squadrons RF-8As were quickly updated with panoramic cameras that had image motion compensation required for the low level, high speed missions that were to be flown over Cuba. On 21 October Captains E.J. Love, Richard Conway, John Hudson and Fred Carolan flew into NAS Cecil to have their camera systems checked out, then joined VFP-62 already at Key West on 22 October. The Blue Moon missions were initiated the next morning by the Navy and the Marine pilots joined in on 25 October. The low level photos of the Soviet nuclear missile sites obtained by the Navy/Marine Corps team were soon being shown to the leaders of Western governments and then to the world as our UN ambassador went on TV the evening of 25 October to confront the Soviets with them. All four of the VMCJ-2 pilots were awarded DFCs and authorized to wear the Navy Unit Commendation ribbon presented to VFP-62 by President Kennedy in recognition of their invaluable contribution to the successful resolution of this confrontation of super powers as the Soviets agreed to remove their missiles.
The remainder of the squadron led by Lt. Col. Walt Domina was also deployed to Key West to support the planned invasion of Cuba. An RF-8A detachment was sent to support the defense of Guantanamo and the EF-10Bs flew daily missions from Key West to keep tabs on Cuban air defenses. The squadron’s ECMOs led by CWO-3 Marty Lachow were heavily involved in contingency planning to support anticipated air strikes against the missile sites. Less than 3 years later some of these same ECMOs deployed with VMCJ-1 to Vietnam and applied their lessons learned against Cuba as the EF-10Bs began to provide ECM support for air strikes against North Vietnam targets.
In late November 1965, VMCJ-2 received the first EA-6A Intruder while under the command of Lt. Col Tom Murphree. With the rapidly escalating North Vietnamese air defenses this new EW aircraft was anxiously awaited by VMCJ-1 still flying the outdated EF-10Bs. However, the initial EW systems delivered with the new aircraft proved unsuitable for the mission without some major modifications. Given the urgency, the decision was made to make the modifications by a contractor team on-site at VMCJ-2. The success of this effort was due to the dedicated support of VMCJ-2 personnel who worked tirelessly to get the aircraft ready for deployment to Vietnam. During this same time the squadron received the first of its RF-4Bs and for several months the squadron was flying four different aircraft. In October, 1966 VMCJ-2 sent six EA-6As with full maintenance capability to Danang, Vietnam under Major Merrit Dinnage as a VMCJ-1 replacement cadre. The squadron would continue to provide replacement aircrews and updated aircraft to VMCJ-1 in Vietnam and later Japan until the squadrons were stood down in 1975.
In 1971 the squadron deployed the first EA-6A detachment aboard the USS Forrestal with Major Dick Conway as OIC for a Mediterranean cruise that lasted 10 months with cross decking to the USS Saratoga and USS America. In April 1972 the squadron diverted a EA-6A detachment led by Major Fred Ogline that was scheduled to deploy on the USS Saratoga to the Mediterranean to WESTPAC to join VMCJ-1 at NAS Cubi Pt. The VMCJ-2 detachment operated in concert with VMCJ-1 to support strikes against North Vietnam under Operation Linebacker that ended with the release of the U.S. POWs early in 1973.
In the post Vietnam era, the squadron’s EA-6As became active participants in annual NATO exercises beginning with a mini-cruise on the USS America in the Fall of 1974 to the UK under Major Royal Moore. It continued to serve as a training base for RF-4B and EA-6A aircrews and maintenance personnel deploying to VMCJ-1 until the squadron was decommissioned on 1 August, 1975. Lt. Col. (later Maj Gen) Royal Moore was the last CO of VMCJ-2 and the first CO of its successor squadron VMAQ-2.
(Write up by Col. H. Wayne Whitten USMC (ret) February 2009.)