Warrior Flight Team would like to pay tribute to an American hero who was recently lost. LCDR Paul "Swampy" Marsh, USN, passed away Dec 5th at the age of 89. He left behind a legacy of selfless service to our nation.
LCDR Marsh was born in Topeka, KS and raised in Brainerd, Minn. He grew up on a farm learning, at an early age, the hard work required for success in life. He enlisted in the US Navy in Oct 1943 with selection to the V-12 and V-5 Naval Aviation Cadet (NAVCAD) training. His dream of flying fighter aircraft became a reality when he was selected to fly the most advanced, and capable aircraft in the US Navy - the FG1 Corsair. His first operational squadron was VF-16A flying the FG1 and F4U-4 Corsair in the same air wing as the future President George Bush.
At the end of World War II, LCDR Marsh entered the US Navy Reserves where he flew F8F Bearcats with VF-152 and F6F Hellcats with VF-879 at NAS Alameda. He was later recalled to active duty in the summer of 1950 and assigned back to the F4U-B and F4U-4 Corsairs. He flew continuous combat tours in Korea while deployed aboard CV-47 USS Philippine Sea with VF-113 and then with VF-821 deployed aboard CV-37 USS Princeton. During his first combat cruise his air wing conducted numerous strikes in relief of allied forces and US Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, Hagaru-Ri, and Hungnam. LCDR Marsh had only a brief pause in combat operations to transition to the Grumman F9F Panther (the first jet-powered aircraft from that company and one of the Navy’s most successful planes). He later went on to fly the Panther on his final combat tour in the skies over Korea while deployed aboard the USS Essex CV-9 with VF-821. VF-821 was re-designated VF-143 “Griffons” just prior to return to the states.
Marsh flew F2HPs Photo Banshees and F9F8P Cougars while forward deployed aboard the USS Hornet CV-12 and USS Ticonderoga CV-14 with VFP-61 Det M “Last Of The Banjo’s”
In the 1960s, LCDR Marsh flew with VX-4, the US Navy’s test and evaluation squadron, flying the F2H Banshee and A-4 Skyhawk. During this assignment, he was responsible for the initial operational testing of the Navy’s Automatic Carrier Landing System (ACLS). This system has gone on to successfully guide countless aviators to safe recoveries onboard carriers under all conditions. Final testing and certification of the ACLS was conducted at NAS Pax River with Marsh as the chief test pilot in June 1969.
LCDR Marsh’s final assignment was with VF-126 “Bandits” flying A-4B, C, D, F and TA-4J Skyhawks. This squadron, which served as an instrument training squadron and later as an adversary tactics unit, was dedicated to teaching the next generation of naval aviators the art of dog fighting on an informal basis for naval aviators returning from deployments in Vietnam. On March 3, 1969 this training was formalized with the establishment of Naval Fighter Weapons School (TOP GUN) with the “Bandits” providing adversarial support. As was his nature LCDR Marsh flew two BFM training missions on March 3 1969 rather then attend the commissioning ceremony.
LCDR Marsh completed his flying career with more than 4500 hours in fighter aircraft ranging from radial engines to the most advanced jet fighters while logging 322 carrier landings on 15 different aircraft carriers the majority of which were “27 Charlie” straight deck carriers.
He earned numerous awards to include 5 Air Medals, Commendation Medal with Combat V & 3 stars, Korea Defense Medal 3 stars, Navy Unit Commendation USS Philippine Sea, WW II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Naval Reserve Medal, China Service Medal, Japanese Occupation Medal.
Marsh and the other members of his Air Wing are immortalized in the movie "Bridges Over Toko-Ri" as they, deployed aboard the USS Princeton and USS Essex brought the bridges down in multiple high-risk strikes. Despite a decision by producers to use a different type of aircraft than those used by Marsh and his fellow aviators on the actual mission, the movie accurately chronicled the unprecedented task undertaken to strike the key line of communications. Coincidentally, the aircraft used in the movie, the F9F Panther, was the same jet Marsh was flying at the time of filming. As a result, he and his squadron were asked to fly needed aerial scenes. Marsh’s flying skills can be seen throughout the movie. His logbook entries also include flights with some of the legends of aviation including none other then Neil Armstrong the first human to set foot on the moon.
Upon retirement from the Navy, Marsh went to work with McDonnell Douglas and was reunited with the A-4 Skyhawk community as the company’s representative to TOP GUN’s VF-126 “Bandits” at NAS Miramar, VF-43 “Challengers” the East Coast Adversarial Squadron based at NAS Oceana and three years in Kuwait as an advisor to the Royal Kuwaiti Air Force until his second retirement in 1993. Lcdr Marsh was with the “Bandits” at NAS Miramar during the filming of the movie TOP GUN in 1985.
His later years were spent with his beloved wife and soul mate Jeanne, playing golf and rescuing animals wherever they found them.
It goes without saying that our nation has lost a hero, a patriot, and a wonderful example of selfless service. Warrior Aviation has felt his influence throughout its formation and his absence will leave an empty space that cannot be filled. Our organization’s flagship aircraft, Vandy 1, carries not only the colors of Marsh’s squadron, VX-4, but also bears his name on the canopy rail. Because of this, LCDR Paul “Swampy” Marsh will continue to roam the skies in spirit.
Fair wind and following seas, Swampy. We have the watch.