Whether maintaining it, flying it or dropping electrons from it, members of the Marine Corps Aviation Reconnaissance Association revere the original Grumman EA-6A Intruder electronic warfare airplane.
About 60 members gathered last week at Cherry Point for a reunion to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the EA-6A Electric Intruder’s first flight on April 26, 1963.
The group gathered at the corner of C Street and 6th Avenue where bureau number 147865, more commonly referred to as Methuselah, has come to rest on display.
"We all have fond memories of Methuselah," said John Suhy, 69, of Alexandria, Va., who flew in the plane. "Although the systems in it were sometime sketchy, it was a hand-built airplane. It was the number two A-6 that had ever been built and ever delivered to the fleet, so when that airplane was trimmed, it flew just perfectly. It was the one to take to the carrier when you were practicing landings."
Suhy said he enjoyed the opportunity to see old friends during the reunion.
"It’s great to get together with the people that we served with in Vietnam," he said. "These guys have all served in harm’s way with different conflicts over the years. It’s a community that has stuck together over all these years. We have a lot of heroes that we recognize, older fellows that may or may not be around anymore, but there are a lot of strong memories. If you were in (electronic warfare), you were in a VMCJ of one type of another or a VMAQ or a VMFP, so that’s our legacy."
K.D. Stuart, 78, came from Cleveland for the reunion.
"I never flew in Methuselah, but I think I dated her once," said Stuart, who was based at Cherry Point in 1955 and ’56.
Stuart flew as a radar operator in an AD-5 Skyraider in the early days of electronic warfare between the Korean War and Vietnam.
"If you’ve been here, then part of you is always here," he said. "Once you’re part of it, you’re always part of it."
John Olkowski, a 1966 graduate of Havelock High School who was born in the hospital at Cherry Point, flew EA-6As and EA-6Bs for the Marine Corps and also remembers flying in Methuselah.
"I think just about everybody who was around did at one time or another," he said.
Wayne Whitten said electronic warfare started as a small detachment at Cherry Point in 1950 but has grown ever since.
"The Marine Corps has built a legacy of prominence in electronic warfare not only for themselves but certainly for the country," he said.
Clarence "Catfish" Williams, 73, of Newport, said the aircraft on display was one of the earliest A-6As to be converted into the EA-6 for electronic warfare.
"It’s probably the oldest A-6 that’s still in existence," he said. "I know this is an old son of a gun right here."
Jack Deaton, 84, of Havelock, remembers the early days of electronic warfare squadrons at Cherry Point.
"When it started out, we were all enlisted and they just kept adding people," said Deaton, whose fingertips still burn from Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. "I’m the only one that survived this far. Everybody else is out of commission, died or somebody shot ‘em."
Some of the members are concerned that the electronic warfare legacy at Cherry Point will end when the last of the EA-6B Prowler squadrons are deactivated, which is scheduled for 2019.
"It’s going to be pretty lonely around here," said member Mark Bitterlich. "Cherry Point’s going to pretty much be a ghost town when we leave."
Whitten is working on an effort to convince the Marine Corps to extend the life of the EA-6B squadrons.
"I don’t think that it’s the right thing for this country or the Marine Corps to get out of the EW business," Whitten said, but he admits, "there’s no use in arguing with the Marine Corps."
"You don’t have anyone to go after to change their mind," Suhy said. "That time has long passed."
Electronic counter measures are still important and jamming is still important, Suhy said.
"The Marine Corps has just decided to do it a different way," he said.