Sea Griffins Tribute
HS-9 Squadron History · GM1 Jim Murphy ·
The Navy Hymn
Eternal Father, strong to save. Whose arm doth bind the restless wave; Who bidst the mighty ocean deep it's own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea.
Lord, guard and guide the men who fly, Through the great spaces in the sky; Be with them traversing the air, In darkening night, in sunlight fair;
Oh hear us when we life our prayer, for those in peril in the air.
Oh Trinity of love and power. Our Brethren shield in danger's hour; From rock and tempest, fire and foe, Protect them whereso'er they go
Thus ever let there rise to Thee, Glad praise from air and land and sea; Amen.
What is a Griffin?
Shortly after reporting for duty with HS-9 and observing T-shirts and flight suits and a large mural on the wall in the enlisted living quarters with the squadron insignia, the inevitable question came to mind. What is a Griffin? The answer was obviously drawn into the squadron insignia and another example is conspicuously illustrated here. For those who may have doubts, here is Webster's definition:
"A fabulous animal typically having head, forepart, and wings like those of an Eagle and body , hind legs and tail like those of a Lion".
While I am not familiar with the historical significance of this fabulous beast, I know that the HS-9 Sea Griffins were particularly swift as the airborne harbinger of death to hostile submariners and as the divine providence of saving grace for anyone desiring redemption from the tenacious grasp of the sea.
The HS-9 Sea Griffins
I can say that I was part of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Nine's colorful history.
During my brief tenure with the Sea Griffins the squadron flew the Sikorsky SH-3H Sea King helicopter. This versatile aircraft has many useful purposes such as rescue and assistance missions and the transfer of cargo and personnel. The aircraft also has an impressive array of sophisticated electronic submarine detection systems such as sonar, magnetic anomaly detection and sonobouy recievers. There was usually an aircrew of four, two pilots and two sonar operators . There were always a compliment of about ten ground crewmen for immediate support of the launches and recoveries.
My primary job was to operate and maintain the aircraft electronic systems and I worked with the ground crew as a flight line troubleshooter. During my era of service, HS-9 was attached to Carrier Air Wing 8 (CVW8) and most deployments were aboard the USS Nimitz (CVN-68).
The Sea Griffins may have been the only helicopter squadron in Air Wing 8, but we certainly were not the least. During carrier air wing flight operations the first aircraft airborne and the last aircraft recovered was an HS-9 helicopter. Sometimes we were the only squadron at flight quarters while the fixed wing guys were on the deck.
If you landed your plane in the drink or fell overboard, we would simply have your dripping wet, butt smiling on the flight deck knocking the water out of your ear in a matter of minutes. Free of charge! And, Sea Griffin flight crews had an award winning reputation for detecting and tracking submarines.
We were a small but hard working and reliable group, and we earned your respect!
There are countless names of those who served in this small but unique unit of the US Navy and my name is among them. And, I designed this page to chronicle my era of service in HS-9's colorful history.
1979 through 1980
In September, 1979 The USS Nimitz departed with Air Wing 8 for her third Mediterranean deployment and became one of Hollywood's largest movie props. During the early part of this deployment United Artists film crews were on board filming segments for the movie "The Final Countdown" starring Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, Katherine Ross and James Farentino.
The movie has a timeless quality and the plot centers around the USS Nimitz experiencing the effects of a time warp that takes her to December 6, 1941. The Nimitz then encounters elements of the Japanese fleet just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. But suddenly, as the Nimitz modern day Air Wing is gearing up to repel the Japanese, the time warp takes her back to the modern era. There is a curious unexplainable twist at the end of the movie.
HS-9 flew the film crews for the airborne shots and Sea Griffins personnel can be seen in the movie performing as movie extras in the function of their routine tasks at sea and in the air.
It was during this deployment that The HS-9 Sea Griffins were again directly involved with significant events in American history. Operation Evening Light was a support operation for the attempt to extract the American Embassy Hostages in Tehran, Iran ordered by President Jimmy Carter.
The Nimitz Battle group had been at sea since late December 1979. Steaming from the Mediterannean sea around the continent of Africa and crossing the equator twice to position itself near the Persian Gulf region at a position called "Gonzo Station". The name was coined by the crew in reference to Gonzo's nose, the Sesame Street character, to reflect the extended and never ending nature of the patrol. Then on the early evening of April 24, 1980, 8 RH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters with 8 brave crews were launched from the Nimitz flight deck destined for a rendevous in the Iranian desert and history.
HS-9's contribution to this operation was to fly the plane guard support during the carrier launch procedures and remain on alert throughout the night and the morning of the following day. The next day we heard the disappointing news over an aircraft HF radio tuned to the Voice of America.
The Gonzo Station patrol and journey back home was 144 consecutive days at sea, one of the longest durations at sea in recent US Navy history.
The creed understood by all who serve with the US Navy is: "Every Marine is a Rifleman and every Sailor is a Fireman." From boot camp training to fleet operations every sailor in the US Navy is trained and continuously drilled and tested on fire fighting.
For a few of us Sea Griffins, the real test came a few moments before midnight on the evening of April 25, 1981, 60 miles off the coast of Jacksonville. Florida, aboard the USS Nimitz. That evening an EA-6B Prowler crashed on the flight deck during recovery operations. The Prowler collided with a group of parked armed and fueled aircraft, then skidded to a flaming stop just yards from our position. In an instant we were transformed from the typical flight deck line crewmen into firemen. We immediately joined with other air wing and air division flight deck crews to organize and man fire hose teams just as we had been trained.
Our initial efforts had no immediate effect. To our horror the fire swiftly began it's own chain reaction of pure hell. Missiles spontaniously exploded knocking down two whole fire hose teams, fuel tanks became incendiary bombs, ejector seats blasted from the burning aircraft, a superheated machine gun opened fire and blasted rounds into our ranks. Our all ready and airborne Sea Griffin plane guard helicopter flew closely to the ship's forward port quarter at flight deck level, seeking for the opportunity to render rescue and assistance. For almost three nightmarish hours we continuously recovered, replaced, removed, reorganized and readjusted until we were successfull in our struggle to quell the hellish blaze.
When dawn broke there were 14 dead including the Prowler crew, 48 injured, 21 seriously. Miraculously, there were no injuries to HS-9 personnel although Sea Griffins flight deck crewmen were among the first firemen to respond and the last to be secured from the scene. The awful tragedy of death and destruction had occured only yards from the Sea Griffin line shop.
Then in August, just three months following the April tragedy, Air Wing 8 was aboard the USS Nimitz in the Mediterannean sea north of Libya near the Gulf of Sidra. The Libyan menace and chief loud mouth, Muammar Kaddafi, was stepping up his jawboning and fist shaking routine.
Kaddafi had decided that the Gulf of Sidra was his personal pond so he drew an imaginary line across the Mediterannean sea that stretched from Tripoli to Benghazzi declaring it Libyan territory. But, Kaddafi's bark didn't have much bite. While most nations recognize the 12 mile limit from their shores as their territory, Kaddafi was claiming many hundreds of square miles of open sea without a Navy.
President Ronald Reagan gave the US Navy authority to conduct missile firing excersizes in Kaddafi's pond. So, in the last week of August, 1981 the USS Nimitz and USS Forrestal battle groups were operating in the Gulf of Sidra when Kaddafi ordered both of his SU-22 attack jets to wreak havoc on the US fleet. However, their main obstruction was two F-14 Tomcats from Air Wing 8's famous Flying Aces squadron, VF-41 who promptly saw to their destruction after enduring an unprovoked head on missle attack.
Kaddafi's decision effectively eliminated problems for both of the party's involved. The battle groups needed realistic targets for a successful missile shooting exercise and Kaddafi obviously wanted to successfully dispose both of his SU-22's. The Famous Flying Aces of VF-41 were happy to oblige. Now, SU-22 in Arabic translates to: "falling, flaming concrete block".
The Sea Griffins contribution to the incident was the routine plane guard duty. The normal procedures mandated that if there were fixed wing aircrew in the air then there was a Sea Griffin aircrew in the air as well. But, the doomed trigger-happy towel head SU-22 pilots failed to indicate their interest in a Sea Griffin rescue.
Contact me about comments, criticisms of the items discussed in this page.
HUMOROUS NOTE OF INTEREST: "After my honorable disharge from active duty in the United States Navy in 1982 I applied for employment with the City of Cairo, Georgia Fire Department. I was told that I did not possess the qualifications to be a Fire.........Man despite my presenting a military training portfolio with Fire Fighting, Damage Control, and Emergency Medical certifications. The Grady County Courthouse located in Cairo, Georgia had just recently burned to the ground two years prior. The City of Cairo, Georgia Fire Department is located directly across the street from the Grady County Courthouse."