VF-151 Vigilantes F-4B Phantom II


VF-151 VigilantesVF-151, nicknamed the Vigilantes, was a Fighter Squadron of the U.S. Navy. VF-151 was one of only two F-4 fighter squadrons to transition to the F/A-18 Hornet and be designated a Strike Fighter Squadron. The squadron was re-designated Strike Fighter Squadron 151 (VFA-151) on June 1, 1986.

From 1965 to 1973 the Vigilantes participated in every major operation of the Vietnam War. The Vigilantes, along with companion squadron VF-161 Chargers, made 7 deployments and spent 927-days on the line — including the longest deployment of the Vietnam War (331 days on Coral Sea) and the longest line period of the Vietnam War (208 days on Midway).

VF-151 fly F-4B aircraft on a 3rd Vietnam Combat Cruise

VF-151 NL 104 leaves the angle deck CATThe squadron made its third deployment of the war aboard USS Coral Sea from July 1967 to April 1968.

October 24, 1967: POW MIA FlagCDR C.R. Gillespie, the squadron's commanding officer, and POW MIA Flag LTJG R.C. Clark, his RIO, were shot down by a surface-to-air missile over North Vietnam. CDR Gillespie became a POW and was not released until May 1973; Memorial FlagLTJG Clark died in captivity.

November 19, 1967: Two Vigilante aircraft were assigned to protect a strike group being launched from the USS INTREPID. While over the target they were attacked by enemy MIG aircraft. Both aircraft were shot down. The VF-151 Vigilante aircrews:

All four crewmen were initially placed in Missing in Action casualty status. Radio Hanoi broadcasts and other information led the Navy to believe that all four crewmen had survived their shootdown and were captured by the North Vietnamese. The Vietnamese released the identification cards of Estes, Stier and Teague. The status of the four was changed to Prisoner of War. In the spring of 1973, 591 Americans were released in Operation Homecoming from prisons in and around Hanoi. Stier and Clower were among those released. During the years of their captivity, Stier had been advanced in rank to Lieutenant and Clower to the rank of Commander. Estes and Teague had also been advanced in rank; Estes to Lieutenant Commander and Teague to Lieutenant. Estes and Teague were not returned in 1973. They were among a group of hundreds of Americans who were known or suspected to be held prisoner who were not released at the end of the war. In this case, the Vietnamese acknowledged the capture of Stier and Clower and denied knowledge of Estes and Teague, even though an AP wire photo originated by the Vietnam News Agency (North Vietnam) clearly showed their ID cards with the caption that they were "captured in Haiphong." In late September 1977, the remains of Memorial Flag James E. Teague and Memorial Flag Walter O. Estes II were returned by the Vietnamese to U.S. control. For 10-years, dead or alive, they had been held prisoner.

Armed Forces Expeditionary Ribbon Armed Forces Expeditionary Operations

During late February 1968 there was snow and ice on deck while conducting Operation Formation Star cold weather training in the Sea of Japan. This operation prepared men and machines for duty in March 1968 while USS Coral Sea (CVA-43), with VF-151 Vigilantes embarked, operated on station off the coast of Korea following the capture of USS Pueblo (AGER-2) in January by North Korea.

Vigilantes deploy on thier 4th Vietnam Combat Cruise

The squadron deployed again in September 1968 with Carrier Air Wing 15 (CVW-15) aboard Coral Sea again following a short turn-around period. The squadron had no aircraft or aviator losses this cruise.

VF-151 & CVA-43 deploy on thier 5th Combat Cruise

In September 1969 when the USS Coral Sea and CVW-15 left for another Vietnam Combat Cruise, I was left ashore TAD (Temporary Assigned Duty) at NAS Alameda, CA, to be processed out to the Naval Reserve from active duty due to my enlistment expiration coming up in October. During this cruise aboard Coral Sea the squadron flew more than 2,100 combat sorties, more than any other Navy squadron in FY 1970.