Main Battery, Away
Check out this series of great images from LIFE photographer Bill Ray in 1964, chronicling Douglas A-1J Skyraiders from Attack Squadron 196 (VA-196) “Main Battery” aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) gearing up for a strike in Vietnam.
VA-196 was part of Carrier Air Wing 19 (CVW-19), tail code NM, aboard the “Bonnie Dick” for the carrier’s West Pac deployment to Vietnam from 28 January to 21 November 1964.
Commissioned in late 1944, Bonnie Dick was the first ship in the modern Navy to commemorate the name of John Paul Jones’ famous Revolutionary War frigate– and she got in enough licks in during WWII to earn one battlestar.
She was much more active in Korea, carrying the F9F Panthers and AD-4 Skyraiders of first Carrier Air Group 102 (CVG-102) then CVG-7.
Stretched and given the SCB-125 overhaul in the mid-1950s, BHR was in the thick of the air war off Vietnam from 1964 onward.
Completing her sixth and last deployment to Yankee Station on 12 November 1970 (again with CVW-5), she was decommissioned the next year and, after spending 21 years on red lead row as a source for potential spare parts for the similarly laid-up but slightly younger USS Oriskany (which the Navy saw as a mobilization asset through the Reagan years), she was scrapped in 1992.
As for CVW19, it was disestablished in 1977, having conducted nine Vietnam tours from the decks of Essex-class flattops (BHR, Oriskany, Ticonderoga).
The end of VA-196 came on 21 March 1997, after more than 48 years of service, with the squadron switching to A-6 Intruders in 1966, an aircraft they put to good use not only over Indochina but also in the Persian Gulf, but that is another story.