Monday, September 05, 2011

Ocala Navy veteran recovers Jacksonville time capsule

Greg Engler, of Ocala, recently unearthed a time capsule buried in a mock funeral 43 years ago at Cecil Field in Jacksonville by pilots and sailors who played a key role in the hair-trigger days of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

The capsule actually is an aluminum camera transport case that likely contained one of the cameras used by the Navy's VFP-62 Light Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, which conducted evidence-gathering flights over Cuba from Oct. 23, 1962, to Nov. 15, 1962.

The squadron held the "funeral" in January 1968 to mark the decommissioning, or what former squadron member Ken Jack termed the "dis-establishment" of their outfit, once about 500 members and 35 aircraft strong. The commanding officer in 1968, Capt. Morris "Mo" Hayes, wrote in an email that the event was part of a "huge party in a surge of sentimentality."

"We decided to collect some mementos such as photos, athletic trophies and items relating to historic squadron events, such as our participation in the Cuban Missile Crisis ... then agreed to return to dig it up 10 years later," Hayes said. "Many of us went off to Vietnam. We sort of forgot to return to Jacksonville."

"It had become an obsession to find the case," said Engler, 69, who, along with his wife of 45 years, Jeannie, scoured Google Earth maps for about a year before searching the Jacksonville site with a metal detector in November 2010.

Engler also enlisted the aid of Jimmy Koening with the Historical Recovery Association of North Florida in Jacksonville, who provided a deep-sensing metal detector to scour the decommissioned field site.

Page 2 of 4

A bent pine tree from an early photo gave Engler and his team the vital clue to find the burial site. On May 14, the case was found about three feet down, near the former location of the officers' recreational building.

When the corrosion-encrusted case was opened, Engler found mostly water-ruined handwritten notes, possibly from a diary; typewritten operational manuals and logs; a baseball trophy and a faded campaign-type lapel pin. Photographs showed officers in uniform and men neatly dressed in suits and ties, and ladies wearing the then-popular look of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, including bouffant hairstyles.

"They were so young, but in charge," Jeannie Engler said of the naval personnel and their spouses.

* * *

Greg Engler joined the Navy in 1962 and served with VFP-62 from 1963 to 1966. He said most of the flights over Cuba to take more than 168,000 photos of the military buildup were made from Key West Naval Air Station by VFP-62 personnel from Cecil Field.

Jack, 70, from Coudersport, Pa., was a VFP-62 squadron photographer in 1962, and worked to develop the improved KA-45 aerial photography camera using a "five-by-five" negative, double the standard size of the time.

The camera provided high-resolution pictures and made VFP-62 the pick to gather the evidence necessary for the administration of President John F. Kennedy to act after high level U-2 flights raised questions. There were no satellites then to do the job.

Jack worked with the late Capt. William B. Ecker, squadron commander in 1962, to write a book with the working title "Operation Blue Moon: JFK's Missile Hunters," slated to be released in 2012, concurrent with the 50th anniversary of the operation.

* * *

Twelve VFP-62 pilots and four Marine pilots from VMCJ-2 were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their part in the operation, which provided Kennedy with the photographic evidence needed to confront and eventually eliminate the Cuban-based nuclear threat, Jack said.

Kennedy visited Boca Chica Naval Air Station in Key West on Nov. 26, 1962, according to Jack, to present VPF-62 the Navy Unit Commendation for the photo reconnaissance, which the president noted in a letter to Ecker, "contributed directly to the security of the United States in the most important and significant way."

For additional information about VFP-62, visit The group is planning a reunion in Jacksonville later this month.

After leaving the service, Engler, an aviation electronics specialist, worked at Martin Marietta Corporation (now Lockheed-Martin) in Orlando, then Ocala, from 1968 through 1999.

Sean P Eagan

Former Chairman American Cold War Veterans
Life Member Veterans of Foreign Wars
716 720-4000

No comments:

Post a Comment

Do you have something to say?