Sun Down

Prose & Photography: Mike Henry

March 8, 2019 marked the end of an era for the United States Marine Corps, with the sundown of the VMAQ-2 Death Jesters, the EA-6B Prowler, and the dedicated, manned, Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare mission that traces its lineage back to 1952.

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 The sundown itself was held on a gray, breezy day at MCAS Cherry Point in Havelock, North Carolina, near the Outer Banks and a short distance from the famed Kill Devil Hills where the Wright Brothers made the first powered flight by mankind. There was pomp and circumstance, but ultimately it was a funeral; with the Prowler family coming from far and wide to pay their last respects to an incredible aircraft, squadron and mission with a touching eulogy delivered by Lt. Gen. (ret) William Beydler, the former Commander of Marine Corps Forces Central Command.

The bus trip from the main gate to the squadron hangar was short, but the anticipation factor shot up immediately seeing the two tails of the last flying Prowlers peeking over the fence as we pulled into the parking area. Once the final check-in had taken place, we were escorted to the flight line. VMAQ-2 maintainers quickly got the two jets started and off into the gray Carolina sky. In a touching moment, the last Prowler was launched with a carrier type send off, save the steam and catapult; the shooter crouched and pointing the way. Once the aircraft cleared the taxiway the Marines of the VMAQ-2 hurried back to change into their brown service uniforms for the remainder of the ceremony.

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 Pomp and circumstance was delivered in spades by the the US Marine Corps band. There is no way to be anything but impressed by the precision of the band. Their level of professionalism and precision is awe inspiring and the perfect manner to bring everyone to attention. As Lt. Gen (ret.) Beydler stated in his remarks, the best pilots and flight officers and maintainers were generally pulled from other programs to make up the Prowler community, and it was patently obvious in the pride displayed standing at attention and during the parade. There was no shortage of attention and focus during the entire ceremony.

 After the initial parade and review there was a fly-by, another parade of sorts, consisting of the Prowlers, Harrier, Legacy Hornet and F-35B, representing the past, present and future of the manned Marine jet aviation community.

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 Lt. Gen. (ret.) Beydler asked the obvious question at the beginning of his eulogy of the Prowler and the Q-2: Why is a Hornet guy here in front of the Prowler community? The answer was equally obvious; supreme respect for the mission and men and women of the Prowler community and the VMAQ-2 in particular, which he noted that everyone he came in contact with was smart, tactical and supremely confident. As a pilot and especially later as a Commander, he saw first hand “that you don’t do much in Marine Aviation without a Prowler.”  With respect to the VMAQ-2 he stated emphatically that “if Q-2 said it, you could believe it, they could really do it and they would do it.”

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 With the flags now draped in black, the emotion turned from celebratory to funereal with the last break over MCAS Cherry Point by the Prowlers. Looking at the crowd as the jets cleared the hangar you could see the emotion and pride of the men and women who had been a part of the program over the years. As the Prowlers recovered and taxied back to the crowd, the men and women of Q-2 broke down and moved the staging area as fast as they put it up, and then it was back to business as usual in getting the jets in place and the crews out of the aircraft. There were smiles, handshakes and champagne showers followed by hugs, backslaps and maybe a tear or two as the sun set in the mid-afternoon on the VMAQ-2, the EA-6B Prowler and the last manned Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare squadron; Forever Can Do Easy.