Posted by Doreen Higgins on Feb 19, 2019
On February 13 we welcomed Dr. Richard Leighton, a retired cardiologist, former medical school dean and a professor of medicine at Mercer University School of Medicine, Savannah campus. Dr. Leighton is the editor and co-author of a book entitled “From Guam and Beyond. Stories from the Men of VW-1.” VW-1 stands for Airborne Early Warning Squadron One and Dr. Leighton who was the flight surgeon for that Navy squadron in the late 1950s, related some of those stories.
He began by urging Rotary members who had spent time in the military and had interesting experiences to write them down, connect with former military comrades in the process and get those stories published. He recounted how his book evolved from his attendance at one of his squadron’s reunion where he met squadron mates who had interesting unpublished stories.

Dr. Leighton described the training of flight surgeons, the education and procedures they went through and their flight training. The commissioning of his squadron arose out of the Navy’s experiences with the inadequacies of ship borne radar during World War II, with the loss of ships and lives to Japanese Kamikaze attacks and to Typhoon Cobra in 1944. To establish an airborne radar presence, they first converted B-17 bombers that flew in the Korean War. By the late 1950s they were flying Lockheed Super Constellations, 4-engine radar equipped planes with crews of 28 officers and men that could stay aloft for 22 hours, and sweep areas of the ocean greater than 100,000 square miles at intervals of six times per minute.

His squadron, first based in Hawaii, then in Guam flew barriers, playing war games with the 7th Fleet and they did typhoon tracking. VW-1 had detachments in Japan, Okinawa, the Philippines and later in Vietnam. Similar squadrons flew barriers over a 10 year period as part of the DEW (Distance Early Warning) line that stretched from Midway in the Pacific across Northern Canada to the Azores in the Atlantic.

Answering a question, John told us that tuition is currently about $38,000. We thanked John for his presentation and Stories from his book included the 27 year stay in Guam’s jungle of the Japanese holdout, Private Yokoi who, when finally captured returned to Japan, announcing, “I am ashamed to have returned alive;” but he became a commentator on radio and TV, teaching survival skills and how to live thriftily. He also described the plight of his overall commander, Admiral Erdman who, in retirement, jeopardized a distinguished Navy career by smuggling liquor aboard an aircraft carrier. Dr. Leighton described other islands near Guam like Palau where they created story boards and Ulithi, home of long range canoe builders.

He concluded by quoting two of his book’s co-authors: “We served with the very best people” and “We formed a bond, a camaraderie, a sense of belonging that will last a lifetime.”
Below is a photo of Richard Leighton next to Cliff Lindholm.