VA-56/USS Ranger CV-61 Vietnam 1969

The below videos were filmed by Larry Van Natta AE-2,
VA-56 1968-1971


  1. Author

    You had already left VA-56 and CDR Potasnick was the CO. On Christmas day, 1969 on my second strike launch I was wingman for the maintenance officer LCDR Bill Muller. I had already signed off the plane on the yellow sheet and was leaning over into the cockpit removing the ejection seat safety pins when Bill was pulling my pant cuff on one of my legs to get my attention. After climbing down he told me that the auto coupling to the ACLS was replaced and he wanted to check it out. He said he did his walk around and all was “OK” and bomb fuses were all set on 3 seconds. “Nugget” that I was, said something about the superstition concerning never to swap planes once the yellow sheet is signed off. He gave me one of his LOOKS and started climbing into my A-7. If memory serves me correctly the max cat shot for the A-7B was #36,500. After start up I was positioned on the #4 cat….the shortest track therefore resulting with the “biggest BANG”. My first launch that morning was also on the #4 track. On run up, etc…my “steed” was shacking like a mongoose in heat. About 3 seconds after saluting the catapult officer the MASTER CAUTION light came and I noticed the LOW FUEL PRESSURE on the panel by my right knee was on. Just as I pushed the transmit button to scream “secure #4 cat” …….I got the shot and I immediately heard the engine unwinding and plane decelerating. I AM ALIVE TODAY ONLY BECAUSE THIS SINNER WAS BEING WATCHED OVER BY GOD HIMSELF. I froze. All that training and lectures about making the decision to pull the handle was gone. I was on a parabola curve into the Tonkin Gulf. I remember looking right at the starboard side of the ship and some sailers in the lower hangar deck pointing at me and immediately saw the SHADOW of my plane in the water rising up to meet me. It brought me back to my senses and I pulled the alternate ejection handle. If the sun had not been in its position……….I don’t think I would have come to my senses. I have relived it many times. I still have my typed report.

    Because the BOB HOPE Xmas show was on the RANGER the previous night, there were some news reporters still on board taking pictures, etc. Knowing what might happen I sent a telegram to my Mom in Chicago telling her I had to eject (still have the gram). I was afraid she might read something about it in the papers or from TV coverage of the show. I think she told me later that she actually called you about it while you were at NAS LEMOORE. TOO long ago. In my book you are a true AMERICAN….wish I had flown with you more often. That’s it skipper. Take care and God bless. Rus

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