Kingsport Times-News: Decorated WWII and Korean War Navy Aviator Capt. Herbert Ladley turns 100
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Decorated WWII and Korean War Navy Aviator Capt. Herbert Ladley turns 100

Contributed interview by RADM John H. McKinley, USNR (Ret.) • Jan 21, 2019 at 6:00 PM

Contributed interview by RADM John H. McKinley, USNR (Ret.)

KINGSPORT —  Captain Herbert Vern Ladley was born 17 Jan 1919 and raised in Seattle, Washington. In 1936 he was awarded a scholarship to Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, where he met his future wife Amy Jane Reichert. Later Herb transferred to University of Washington where he graduated in 1940 with a BA in Economics. He then entered the Naval Flight Training School in Jacksonville, Florida., receiving his wings and commission as an Ensign in Feb. 1942. Herb completed this flight training quicker than usual because he already had a pilot’s license. After flight school, he flew PBY’s (flying boat), he was a naval flight instructor, flew the F4F’s Wildcat, and then in 1943 was assigned to a fighter squadron flying the F6F’s Hellcat.

World War II

Early in the war, his Squadron trained for deployment to the Pacific Theater aboard USS Langley. During this training and while conducting an instrument training flight in a Navy SNJ two seat trainer, the engine caught fire, and Lt. Ladley and the pilot had to bail out.

In Dec. 1943, he deployed to the Pacific as part of the USS Langley air group. While in theater, he flew numerous combat missions attacking Iwo Jima, various atolls in the area and the Philippines Islands. During this deployment, Herb crash-landed his plane on Langley and careened into the ocean. He was picked up by a destroyer and was transferred back to Langley via high line. USS Langley returned to the continental United States in Oct 1944.

While back in the U.S. and stationed at Alameda, California, Herb flew to Los Angeles to meet his fiancé, who was living in LA with a roommate. They borrowed the roommate’s car to drive to Yuma, Arizona to get married. Gas was rationed, but Herb explained that they were driving to Yuma to get married and was able to persuade a gas station attendant to fill the gas tank without a ration card. In Yuma they drove around until they found a church in which they felt comfortable. There were two ladies inside who went to get the minister who married them with the ladies as witnesses. They returned to LA that night.

In May 1945, his squadron reformed and they deployed aboard USS Cabot from Hawaii to the Pacific Theater. While in theater the war was winding down, and he flew 5 combat missions over Wake Island, North Korea and Manchuria.

Getting home

At the end of the war, Herb’s aircraft carrier, USS Cabot, transferred to Okinawa. It was going to be a very long wait, maybe months, before the carrier returned to continental US. Fortunately, he met another officer, a lawyer and somewhat of a wheeler-dealer, with a similar problem who said he knew a navy coxswain whom he could bribe with a bottle of whiskey to take them in a motor whale boat to USS Amsterdam. Amsterdam was returning straight to the US. Herb had the whiskey, and his friend made the arrangements. 

While the cruiser, anchored in the bay, was preparing to get underway, the motor whale boat carrying Herb and his friend pulled alongside and hailed sailors on the cruiser deck. They lowered a Jacob’s ladder and a line for luggage, and Herb and his friend clambered aboard. Part of the whiskey deal was, as soon as they were on board the cruiser, the coxswain was to quickly depart Amsterdam and not return. Herb and his friend were met on deck by the ship’s Executive Officer who asked for their orders. Herb’s order’s stated to report to Okinawa not Amsterdam. Herb and friend then bluffed their way saying they had verbal orders to Amsterdam. This worked since the ship was getting underway for continental U.S. via Honolulu and had no convenient way to transfer them back to shore. 

 Since officer quarters were filled, they ended up living in the ship’s passageway on cots for a few days before being quartered in junior officer state rooms. It was an easy transit to Honolulu. Herb befriended the CO and dined with him occasionally trading war stories. While in Honolulu, Herb called Amy who was in Portland, Oregon with her parents, to tell her he would return aboard USS Amsterdam and would call when he arrived in the U.S. It turns out that Amsterdam was returning to Astoria, Oregon, and this news was published in the Portland, Oregon newspaper. After the ship arrived in Astoria, as Herb was getting ready to depart the ship, a messenger found Herb and said his wife was on the pier. Amy read the news concerning Amsterdam’s arrival and drove over to Astoria to meet Herb. So, for a bottle of whiskey, some bluffing and accommodations by the U. S. Navy, Herb was able to return to Amy relatively quickly, taking weeks rather than months.

In Oct 1945, Herb was released from active duty and returned to University of Washington to study accounting and finance. He passed the CPA exam, first attempt, and went to work for an accounting firm in Seattle. During this period and while in the reserves, he commanded a reserve squadron of F6F’s and was promoted to LCDR, Herb still missed the Navy and especially flying on active duty. After two years, Amy realized that Herb would be happier in the Navy flying so they returned to active duty in 1947. In 1946, their first child, Jane, was born in Seattle.

In 1947, he joined VF 16 flying F6F’s aboard the carrier USS Antietam and cruised the Pacific visiting Australia, the Philippines, Hong Kong and other Western Pacific ports.

After his Pacific Ocean deployment with VF-16 on the USS Antietam, Herb was sent to Washington, DC, assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) and placed in charge of a Joint Service Office gathering and analyzing intelligence on Soviet Russian air facilities.

Herb was then sent to Newport, Rhode Island to attend Navy Line School at the Naval War College. They had just unpacked in their apartment in Newport, when the Korean conflict broke out, and he was reassigned to Tactical Air Control Squadron 3 (TACRON 3) in San Diego. They then drove across country with Amy pregnant and one child. While Herb joined TACRON 3, Amy resettled their young family in Los Angeles.

KOREAN WAR -1950-1951

During the Korean War, the mission of TACRON 3 was to control carrier-based aircraft which provided close air support (CAS) for ground troops. The squadron deployed aboard USS Eldorado, the flagship. They steamed in the Yellow Sea and Pacific Ocean around the Korean peninsula, while providing air control support of naval air off U.S. carriers in the Pacific. As the war progressed, the flagship steamed up to the port of Inchon to provide closer support. Herb’s tour was about one year. In 1951, their second child, Amy, was born in Los Angeles and named for her mother. At this time, Herb was serving in Korea.

After this deployment to Korea, he returned to the U.S. in 1962 and was assigned to attend the Naval Line School in Monterey, California. The family lived for about one year in Pacific Grove, California. His third child, Herb, was born in 1962 at Fort Ord in Monterey. After completing Naval Line School, Herb was transferred to Washington, DC to attend George Washington University where he earned an MBA degree in Comptrollership. He was then sent to jet pilot training school in Kingsville, Texas.

In 1954, he assumed his 2nd command which was an F9F-5 (Panther) jet squadron. His squadron deployed aboard USS Lake Champlain which conducted training at Guantanamo Bay (GITMO), Cuba for deployment to 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. While at GITMO, his squadron achieved the highest fixed gunnery score in the fleet.

After the GITMO training, the carrier proceeded to the Mediterranean Sea. This was an enjoyable peace time tour filled with golf and site seeing. After finishing his command tour, his next duty was as Air Officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge.

Following his tour as Air Officer on Kearsarge, he was transferred to the Naval Air Station in San Diego, CA, where he served as Comptroller. His family lived in Chula Vista, CA.

In 1958, Herb again returned to Korea for a year, without family, as Comptroller for the Headquarters of the United Nations Command/US Forces Korea (UNC/USFK) living in Seoul, Korea.

For his next assignment, Herb was assigned to staff and developed the Office of Comptroller for the Naval Air Station, Glynco, Ga, near the city of Brunswick.

After this tour, he requested and was assigned duty with the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in Washington, DC

VIETNAM - Early 60’s

During The Vietnam war, Herb was Officer-in-Charge of a 60 member Alternate Joint Command Element assigned to the JCS. The Alternate Command Post was located in a secure mountain enclave in Maryland. The element was responsible for strategic communications for the President and senior officers to be used in case of an attack on the capitol. When not in Maryland, they were aboard USS Northampton, the communications flagship for the President, whether underway in the Atlantic or in port in Norfolk, Virginia.

After the JCS tour, he completed studies at Naval War College in Newport, RI. Herb’s last billet was Deputy Comptroller for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

In 1968, Herb retired from the Navy as a Captain. His awards included: Legion of Merit, 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 5 Air Medals, The Navy Commendation Medal with a combat V, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, Philippine Liberation Medal and various campaign medals and ribbons. He is a member of The Ancient and Secret Order of The Quiet Birdman. This organization of distinguished aviators was founded in 1921 by WW I veteran aviators. Notable members include, Charles Lindberg, Eddie Rickenbacker, Hap Arnold and Chuck Yeager.

POST NAVY

In 1970, Herb received a Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) from George Washington University. He taught accounting at the University of District of Columbia, and later became Chairman of the Accounting Department. Additionally, Herb was the financial advisor for the National League of Families of Prisoners of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) in SE Asia. Their offices were in Washington, DC.

KINGSPORT

Herb and Amy moved to Kingsport in 1998 to be near their son, Dr. Herb Ladley, one of the founders of Cardiovascular Associates. He and Amy became very active in the community. A few of his community activities include Member of the Veterans Memorial Board which oversaw and raised the funds for construction of the memorial; his family was a two star financial contributor to the memorial. Herb and his son sponsored the sentinel statue which was recently erected at the Veterans Memorial. He provides annual cash awards to exceptional NJROTC cadets at Sullivan North, Sullivan South, Sullivan East, Cherokee and Volunteer High Schools.

Amy and Herb have been married 71 years, have 3 children, 4 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. Amy passed away April 10, 2016.

KIWANIS

Herb joined Kiwanis in San Diego during the mid-50’s, and later affiliated with Kiwanis in Brunswick, GA. He rejoined Kiwanis Club of Kingsport in 2017.

Herb has participated in the following Kingsport Kiwanis programs: Reading at Roosevelt Elementary School, Golf Committee, Civic and Business Affairs, Budget Committee.

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