On 28 June 1991, the Golden Pelicans of U.S. Navy Patrol Squadron Forty-Four became only an entry in naval aviation's storied past, ceasing operational service.   Disestablished at NAS Brunswick, Maine, the squadron would not post additional chapters to its distinguished service record as an ASW squadron.  Over a period of fifty-two years of service, including World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, patrols during the Bay of Pigs, surveillance operations during the Cuban missile crisis, and hotspots all over the world, the squadron established the bench marks for excellence in patrol aviation.  Garnering seven Battle "E's", three of them consecutively in 1956-1958 and several Captain Arnold Jay Isbell Trophies for Continuing Excellence in ASW operations, the Pelicans established themselves as the premier ASW squadron on the east coast. In its recent history, it received five Meritorious Unit Citations.  During WWII, it was a VP 44 plane piloted by Ensign Jewell (Jack) Harmon Reid that sent a report of the sighting of the main body of the Japanese fleet as it headed toward Midway.  Frequently identified as the "single most important patrol plane contribution," that action helped to shift the tide in U.S operations in the Pacific.  And during its proud history, the squadron was recognized for many Meritorious Unit Citations and special recognition from the Fleet Air Wings to which the unit was assigned.

  Some day in the future, the warriors will gather to tell of its beginnings, and of its glorious deeds, to toast their fallen comrades, and to seek the renewed comradeship of a time when they joined arms in a common cause, when loyalty to one's country was unquestioned.

Summaries do not satisfy the need for full understanding of what took place during the squadron history.  To fully appreciate the achievements, one should turn to the following: 

James Mills Blue Catalinas of World War II, published by Sunflower University Press, Manhattan, Kansas.
Nevil Frankel's outstanding website dedicated to all VP squadrons, www.vpnavy.com, and
The Dictionary of American Naval Aviation Squadrons.
This website: www.vp44goldenpelicans.com -- webmaster: Ray Beck

There are numerous books about the patrol arm of the U.S. Navy identified on Frankel's website, and they can be purchased over the net.

The first squadron designated VP-44 was born on 1 July 1939, when Patrol Squadron 20 was redesignated 44 under the operational control of Fleet Air Wing Four.   The squadron operated from Sitka, Alaska, with PBY Catalinas, twin-engine patrol seaplanes.   Its designation was short term for in November 1940 it was redesignated VP-61.   Just before World War II, a second VP-44 was born and assigned the newer PBY-5 aircraft.  The operational command was then Fleet Air Wing One.  It retained its designation until October 1944 when it became VPB 44.  Extensive operations with continuing engagements with the Japanese forces brought the Black Cat Operations world wide recognition and appreciation by our military leaders.  Not only did the planes and crews of 44 fly patrols, but also aggressively sought out, identified, and attacked both surface and submersibles.  Many crews distinguished themselves in air-to-air combat.  Their heroic deeds are carefully and thoroughly described in Mills' Blue Catalinas of World War II which states that following its two highly successful 15 month deployments in the Pacific, the squadron returned to San Diego where it was "temporarily decommissioned."  The war ended, and the squadron was not recommissioned. 

One of its predecessors in the lineage of VP 44, VP 204 was established at NAS Norfolk, VA. In 1942 as a seaplane squadron flying PBM-3C Mariners. The squadron moved to San Juan Puerto AC_Martin_PBM_6.jpg (40874 bytes)Rico, and operated extensively in the Caribbean, conducting surveillance flights and actively engaging in many attacks upon German U-boats operating in the area.  The Navy's third PATRON FOUR FOUR was named in the Caribbean area in 1948.  Although it operated primarily from Coco Solo, in the Canal Zone, detachments were sent to San Juan, Key West, the Galapagos Islands, and Trinidad to extend the squadron's patrol capabilities. 

In 1950, the squadron was moved to Norfolk, and shortly thereafter decommissioned. 

In 1951, a newer squadron was commissioned, with 9 PBM Martin Mariners, at Breezy Point, NAS Norfolk, Virginia. Its primary mission, all-weather ASW, the unit is employed in training for any potential threat which might exist from enemy subs.  Its secondary mission is aerial mine warfare, and it has been called upon to fill the role of an SAR squadron, aiding in the rescue of distressed merchantmen, downed aviators, and even monkeys.

LM5.jpg (59835 bytes)In 1952, VP-44 was the first squadron to receive the P5M-1 Marlin aircraft.  Crews and pilots were sent to Corpus Christi, Texas, for training and the squadron was soon on its way towards building a record studded with firsts.  Some two years later, the squadron deployed to the Eastern Atlantic-Med area.  The planes flew to Newfoundland, Greenland, Wales, and on to Taranto, Italy.  It was the first Trans-Atlantic flight for the Marlin.  In 1955, 44 was the first to receive a modified P5M, the "two-boat", with a streamlined hull and a T-tail.  The planes were berthed, refueled, and replenished by the tender USS Currituck, and three converted destroyers.

PATRON FORTY-FOUR became the first seaplane squadron to win the Battle Efficiency "E" for three consecutive years, commencing in1956.  In 1959, the squadron was awarded the Captain Jay Isbell Award for excellence in ASW, another first for an East Coast seaplane squadron.

In 1960, it again changed aircraft, shifting to the Lockheed P2V Neptune, a land based ASW LM4a.jpg (31366 bytes)aircraft with a crew of ten marking the beginning of a new era.  The transition began quickly for the diminishing numbers of "boat" pilots.  Crew members were delighted to find that the new planes required no beaching gear, and ramp duty was a relic of the past, except for the infrequent need during visits by the Bermuda based seaplanes.  And pilots had to learn to "get their gear down."

In 1962, the personnel of VP 44 were called upon to make the transition to yet another new aircraft, the P3V-1 Orion. The squadron also permanently moved duty stations from NAS Norfolk, Va. To NAS Patuxent River, Md.  Patron 44 received its first P3A in August of that year, and was declared operational in October, truly a rapid transition to a highly sophisticated ASW search and weapons system.  Very quickly the operational skills of the squadron were put to the test in the Cuban missile crisis.  First on the scene, and photographed extensively wasLM2Lajes1962.jpg (37238 bytes) LM-4, which became a poster plane for excellence in patrol and surveillance.  The efforts of the crew members and support personnel earned two Battle "E's" in a row, in 1963-64, and once again, the coveted Isbell Trophy for Continuing Excellence in ASW.    Because of its demonstrated proficiency in ASW work, the squadron was identified as the Task Group Delta Squadron, responsible for intensive program of equipment research and tactical procedure analysis. In 1968, the Pelicans snagged its sixth Battle "E."

The year 1970 brought another relocation, this time to NAS Brunswick, Maine.  The move did not impact the squadron's tradition of readiness and efficiency.  The P3A allowed flexibility and mobility unparalleled in Navy patrol and ASW operations.  The squadron deployed all over the globe:  Rota, Bermuda, Sigonella, Argentia, Keflavik, Lages, Okinawa, and Souda Bay, Crete.  Pilots and crews learned what it was to live out of a travelling kit, for they answered the bell and went to wherever they were needed. Additional recognition included five Meritorious Unit Citations, and one more Battle "E."  Those who flew for the Golden Pelicans of the last two decades completed the squadron history proudly and with honor.

The fourth and final VP 44 was decommissioned on 28 June 1991.  Ten years later, we celebrate all that went into making the Pelican history.  Let us celebrate that we were and are a part of U.S Navy Patrol Squadron Forty-Four.


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