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A Marine Skyhawk Pilot's Vietnam Nightmare!

Waring Hills May 16, 2009
Lieutenant Colonel John Souders USMC (Ret.) next to the A-4 Skyhawk.

Lieutenant Colonel John Souders USMC (Ret.) next to the A-4 Skyhawk.

Just I was getting ready to give a program on the A-4 Skyhawk yesterday, one of our visitors boldly asked me how much I wanted to know about the A-4.  I quickly took him up on his offer after I learned he was a Vietnam Marine Corps pilot who flew with VMA-311 based at Chu Lai from 1968 to 1969. Lt. Colonel John Souders flew 360 missions in Nam and finished his Marine career with over 1100 hours in the A-4, 850 hours in the F-8 and 100 in the F-4.

VMA-311 squadron patch

VMA-311 squadron patch

I asked him for his best story (as I do with all our veteran guests) and here is his tale:

I was standing hot pad alert in 1968 at Chu Lai. We had four sections of Skyhawks ready for action, some with snake and nape (snakeye bombs and napalm), some with forward firing rockets and guns, and a couple of slick snakes. As I was one of the last pilots to arrive at the hot pad ready room, the few beds found there were filled and so I had to make due with a bench to rest upon.

While awakening a call to action, the Klaxon sounded loudly and we sprinted to our jets. After our scramble, we were given a vector north  and the target must have been close, less that 100 miles, as we were suddenly there and cleared in hot by the FAC (forward Air Controller).  As I rolled in, suddenly the sky was dark with enemy fire, my A-4 began to roll and smoke filled the cockpit, I reached up for the face curtin and pulled, my body felt the impact of the air from my high speed ejection and all of a sudden… I found myself rolling hard on the deck of our hot pad ready room floor, screaming “EJECT!” as my buddies looked at me with glee in their eyes…

Thanks for your story and your service Colonel! Semper Fi!

VMA 311 Skyhawk seen from an USAF Skyraider (another Douglas aircraft).

VMA 311 Skyhawk seen from an USAF Skyraider (another Douglas aircraft).

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11 thoughts on “A Marine Skyhawk Pilot's Vietnam Nightmare!

  1. Daniel Mott says:

    The A-4’s of VMA-311 from February 1968 to June of 1970 were meticulously cared for by the check crew boys. Disassembled, fresh powerplants installed and reassembled in less time than it took to shave! Metal shop, Avionics, the “seat” shop and the demanding fellows at maintenance control all performed with the synchronicity of a Swiss watch. I still remember the smallest of details of the A-4, the the many fine pilots that flight tested them for us. They really were the best!

    D. Mott
    USMC 66-70
    VMA-311 68-70

    1. Bob Wheaton says:

      Hey Danny… Swiss watch, eh?

      How ’bout that box of parts left over in Check Crew that we couldn’t figuare out where they went? Or so we told the test pilots. Then sent them off on the test hop with our covers over our hearts. 🙂

      (SGT) Bob Wheaton Chu Lai 69-70

    2. Chuck Hiett, Jr says:

      My Father (now a spry 85) was one on the C.O.’s of 311 in 1968. One of the few things he likes to talk about was how pissed off he was back then. He felt his maintenance people worked in deplorable conditions doing the impossible without enough spare parts,huffers or shade.
      Thanks for keeping my Dad safe.

      1. Ed Horan says:


        I remember your Father, he was my CO when I was there in 68/69. I was an Ordnanceman. If memory serves me correctly, he was also the first Marine Pilot to fly with the Blue Angles. Anyway, we knew when he made a good flight and hit the enemy’s targets as he would taxi into the Squadron area with his canopy up and his helmet on backwards. He would also tap the brakes to make the nose of the Jet bounce up and down.

        Semper Fi, Ed Horan Chu-Lai 68/69

      2. Daniel Mott says:

        Hi Chuck!

        I well remember your dad as CO of our squadron at Chu Lai. His safety and the safety of all his pilots always was at the forefront of our efforts. While he may not remember me in particular, my recollections of those days and the utterly fantastic A4 Skyhawks still are among my finest memories.

        Wish the Colonel well for me!

        D. Mott
        USMC 1966-70
        Tomcat 2/68-6/70

  2. John Souders says:

    I hate to reply to something about me but Col. Hiett made the lieutenants feel so cool when we flew with him. He would bring us in very tight then broadcast over the air, “That is the Blue Angel position” and never look over again. Great leader. 311 was his second command. I believe that he also had VMA-324 on a Med cruise when he was still a major. It says a lot about his leadership as it is quite unusual for a Marine to get a second squadron command.

    1. Michael Linehan says:

      Sir : My Husband was air traffic controller in chu Lai in 1965 & 66 He would like to talk to you via phone about your father, pleas call him at (918) 630-0083 asap

  3. Sean Mullen says:

    Were any of you in Chu Lai in 1966. My dad, Bill “Moon” Mullen was stationed there up until his plane went down April 29, 1966. Just wondering if any of you knew him. Best, Sean Mullen

  4. Herman Busse says:

    I was on hill 85 in Operation Utah on March 4 1966 . I remember a A4 coming in at a little over the tree tops and dropping napalm maybe 200 feet in front of our position . As he went by I could see him turn his head in our direction and wave to us .It was such a wonderful sight to him turn and wave like he understood the very bad position we were in .We needed all the help we could get that day and he helped save a lot of great men . I was hit shortly after and evacuated to the USS Repose . I wish I could meet that pilot and also the helicopter pilots who landed that night under heavy fire to haul our wounded out of there . They were true heroes who had the guts to go into a hot LZ knowing every gook out there was shooting at them . Semper Fi .

  5. Jonshiff9@gmail.com is looking for A-4 pilot Gaylord Parrot

  6. jonshiff9@gmail.com is trying to locate A-4 pilot friend Gaylord Parrot. He believed he heard him on the radio while at Cam Lo

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