F-4 PHANTOM II
Captain Danny Michaels, USN (Ret), a second-generation Greek, was born in Charlotte, North Carolina to James (Jimmy) and Eleni Michaels (Michalopoulos). His parents immigrated from Thrace in the 1920s, initially settling in New York City. Jimmy and his brother, Charlie, had a fruit stand for a period of time. Charlie then moved to Charlotte and suggested his brother and Eleni join them to open a restaurant. They did and opened La Belle’s, a diner and candy kitchen located in the heart of downtown Charlotte. As a young boy, Danny, AKA Dough Boy, worked in the kitchen making 40 pies a day. CAPT Michaels attended North Carolina State University for a year until be received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, from which he graduated with the Class of 1956. He attended flight training at NAS Pensacola, Florida flying the T-34A Mentor and T-28B Trojan before being selected to fly fighters and moving on to jet training in the T-33 Shooting Star and F9-F8T Cougar at NAAS Chase Field, Beeville, Texas. Upon earning his Naval Aviator’s wings, he was selected to remain as an instructor (known as a “Plowback”) in ATU-213 in Beeville, instructing in the F9-F8T. In May 1959, he transferred to the F-3H-2 Demon Replacement Air Group (RAG), the VF-101 Grim Reapers at NAS Key West, Florida. After training, he reported to his first fleet squadron, the VF-14 Tophatters, stationed at NAS Cecil Field, Florida. While with the Tophatters, he completed his first deployment to the Mediterranean aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42) and CVG-1. It was during this deployment that he met his wife, Evdoxia (Effie), while on leave visiting his grandparents in Thessaloniki. Within a year, they became engaged and Effie moved to Charlotte, living with her future in-laws until she and Danny married in 1961 at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. They remained married until Danny’s passing in July 2013. As Danny told the story:
"They came to the ready room and asked who wanted to fly the new F-4B Phantom II, so I raised my hand."
The F-3 was known to be underpowered. It was also prone to engine seizures. This is why pilots often kept their canopies open on the catapult and during landings on the carrier, as it made it easier to climb out of the aircraft after it hit the water. So it was an easy choice. After transitioning to the Phantom in December 1961, Danny joined the VF-74 Bedevilers, the first east coast F-4B squadron, assigned to CAG-8 aboard USS Forrestal (CV-59). The squadron completed its first Phantom deployment in 1962. At the time, the U.S. Air Force had ordered their first batch of F-4Cs but needed some assistance training their pilots. They turned to the Navy for instructor pilots and in August 1963, then newly promoted LCDR Michaels became the first Navy F-4 pilot to serve on exchange duty with the Air Force, namely the 4453rdTactical Training Wing based at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida. After a year at MacDill, the Wing transferred to Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona, and Danny, Effie, and newborn Jimmy made the move and remained there until October 1965. During his tour, he achieved 1000 flight hours in the Phantom. Apparently, too much time in the cockpit took LCDR Michaels and family to the Washington, DC area in November 1965 for Danny’s first staff tour as Assistant Sea-Duty Grade Assignment Officer at the Bureau of Naval Personnel. This is where their youngest son, George, was born. Nineteen months later and with the situation in Southeast Asia heating up, Danny transferred back to operational duty as Operations Officer with the VF-102 Diamondbacks flying the F-4B off USS America (CV-66), completing a Vietnam Combat deployment in 1968. LCDR Michaels transferred from VF-102 in July 1969 and attended the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, VA. Upon completion, he reported to USS Independence (CV-62) as Assistant Air Boss (AKA Mini Boss) for their 1970 Mediterranean deployment. During this time, he was promoted to CDR and selected for fighter squadron command. Before transferring to his squadron, he spent 14 months as Executive Officer (XO) of the F-4 RAG, the VF-101 Grim Reapers at NAS Oceana. VF-101 trained newly-winged pilots and Radar Officers to fly the F-4J Phantom.
Above: Danny Michaels in an official Navy portrait, while he was the commander of the NAS Oceana in 1978-80. In our days Naval Air Station Oceana is the Navy’s East Coast Master Jet Base, home to F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets. The primary mission of the Naval Air Station Oceana is as a Shore-Based Readiness Integrator, providing the facilities, equipment and personnel to support shored-based readiness, total force readiness and maintain operational access of Oceana-based forces. During Danny's time as the CO of NAS Oceana the ramps were phoul oph Phantoms..if you know what i mean. (George Michaels)
Middle: Danny inside the cockpit of his beloved Phantom while he was the commander of the VF-103 'Sluggers' (George Michaels)
Below Left: Inflight photo of Danny Michaels piloting VF-103 CO F-4J Phantom II, during his second Vietnam tour of duty flying off the deck of USS Saratoga (CV 60. During this tour, the Greek American pilot was awarded a DFC for a successful strike against a heavily defended target. During that time he was VF-103 Executive Officer. (US Navy)
Below Right: Joe Findley and Danny Michaels pose in the cockpit of a 'Slugger' Phantom. Joe was his RIO and both there were good friends. Joe stated that during their service together, he saw Michaels mentor dozens of his subordinates to stellar careers. "He expected a lot from them, but he treated them all as his own sons," Findley said. Joe retired as a CAPT and lives in the DC area. (George Michaels)
Danny Michaels frequently flew the VF-103 CO fighter, Clubleaf 200 as shown above, during his second Vietnam tour. Once SARATOGA moved north to "Yankee Station", the squadron was soon ranging the length and width of North Viet Nam. VF-103 and AIRWINGTHREE were soon striking every conceivable target. Supply depots, anti-aircraft artillery sites, surface to air (SAM) missile sites, and interdiction points were just a few of the many enemy supplies and defenses destroyed. Over Haiphong, VF-103 led an AIRWINGTHREE Alpha strike, which produced one of the most devastating bombing raids of the war. In addition, Sluggers provided combat support to AIRWINGTHREE by flying MIGCAPS, BARCAPS, Photo Reconnaissance Escort and standing Ready Alert. It was while manning one of these 5-minute alerts on the night of 10 August 1972 that VF-103's LCDR. Gene Tucker and his RIO (Radar Intercept Officer), LTJG. Bruce Edens bagged a MIG-21 with a Sparrow missile. It was the first and only night MIG kill of the Viet Nam war. The squadron's participation in the Viet Nam conflict ended on 8 January 1973, when it left "Yankee Station" for the last time. VF-103 and CVW-3 had a total of 173 days in combat. The squadron lost three aircraft during that time, with the first on 11 July 1972 when AC 212 (BuNo.155803) crewed by LT. Robert Randall & LT. Frederick "Bat" Masterson was shot down by a MIG-17 while flying MIGCAP for an airstrike on Hai Duong. Initially, Randall lost his AWG-10 radar & shortly thereafter, his UHF radio. Two Mig's started chasing the F-4 & after doing three reversals, Randall & Masterson took 37mm hits on their aircraft's hydraulics. They ejected from their nearly inverted aircraft, with Masterson critically injured from his violent exit from Clubleaf 212. (Artwork by Tom Cooper, further info from http://www.vf-103.com)
In June 1972, CDR Michaels transferred to the Sluggers of VF-103 as their new XO while deployed to Southeast Asia. From Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf, the Sluggers conducted strikes on supply depots, anti-aircraft artillery sites, surface to air (SAM) missile sites, and interdiction points. On July 4th, 1972, CDR Michaels led a CVW-3 Alpha strike which proved to be one of the most devastating bombing raids of the deployment, which earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
"For heroism, while participating in aerial flight as a pilot of a jet aircraft while serving as Executive Officer of Fighter Squadron ONE HUNDRED THREE embarked in USS SARATOGA (CV 60). On 4 July 1972, Commander MICHAELS led a coordinated air wing attack against a major transshipment complex in Southeast Asia. He skillfully directed his forces to the optimum position from which to strike the target. Despite a surface-to-air missile and intense anti-aircraft fire, he personally led a strike element in a daring dive-bombing run which placed all of the element’s ordnance directly on target. Post-strike photography revealed that fifteen warehouses were totally destroyed, one was severely damaged, and a petroleum storage area, which burned for several hours with smoke rising to eight thousand feet, was completely destroyed. Commander MICHAELS’ courageous leadership and aerial skill reflected great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
The Sluggers also provided combat support by flying MIGCAPS, BARCAPS, Photo Reconnaissance Escort and standing Ready Alert. He assumed command of the Sluggers in July 1973. After completion of his squadron command tour in July 1974, he reported, once again, to the Bureau of naval personnel as Aviation Commander Assignments Officer. During this time, he was promoted to Captain and assumed duties as the Executive Assistant to the Assistance Chief of Naval Personnel for officer Development and Distribution. In August of 1977, he also completed a year of studies at the National Defense University. It was during this time that he was selected for major shore command. On 1 September 1978, CAPT Michaels assumed command of NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach. He led 11,000 employees and oversaw the management of over 6000 acres which was the largest Master Jet Base in the Navy. He significantly improved the relationship with the city, by showing it’s leaders first hand what the base’s mission was all about. They flew out to the USS Eisenhower (CVN-69) to observe flight operations and even arranged for a right seat ride in an A-6 Intruder, with Danny in the lead in a Phantom, flying around the base and surrounding city areas to show him the danger of encroaching development. While at Oceana, he also flew as a part-time instructor with the F-4 RAG, the Aces of VF-171. In recognition of his efforts, he was selected by the city in 1980 to serve as King Neptune VII, presiding over Virginia Beach’s annual festival, which still occurs today. He has the only active-duty military officer to ever be selected for this honor. In September 1980, CAPT Michaels began his final tour as Chief of Staff, Cruiser Destroyer Group 8. During this time, he deployed to the Mediterranean aboard the Group’s flagship, the nuclear-powered cruiser USS Virginia (CGN-38). CAPT Michaels retired in September 1982 with 26 years of service. During his career, he accumulated over 5000 flight hours, 3500 of them in the Phantom, and hundreds of carrier landings.
After retiring, he became very involved in the city and community. He was Chairman of the Virginia Beach Crime Solvers Board of Directors and Chairman of the Virginia Beach United Way Advisory Board. He served on the boards of the Virginia Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Beach Mayor's Base Economic Study and Transportation Committees, and the Virginia Beach Schools Curriculum Task Force. He was also a member of the Virginia Beach Rotary Club, serving as president 1994-95 and was named a Paul Harris Fellow. Capt. Michaels was an active member of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Norfolk, where he served on the Parish Council, was a member of the Order of AHEPA, and chaired and emceed the March 25th Greek Independence Day celebration for 13 years. He was honored as a Father of the Year just this Father's Day. He was a true leader, selflessly devoted to his family, the Navy, and the community. His gentle smile and encouraging demeanor inspired confidence in everyone he knew and met.
While McDonnell was tooling up for modifications to the TAC version of the Phantom, the Air Force "borrowed" 27 F-4B's from the Navy and began training. Colonel Hogue delivered the first F-4B to MacDill AFB, Fla., February 11, 1963. In the meantime, 13 instructor pilots had been trained by the Navy at Oceana NAS. These returned to MacDill to train other instructors in the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Squadron, which had been set up to conduct F4 training. However, the Navy helped the USAF training by exchanging pilots who were ordered to serve with the 4453rd, the first of them was the Greek American, Danny Michaels. The three photos above show Danny while flying with the USAF in McDill AFB. Note the Tactical Air Force patch on his chest, attached to his flying suit and the completion of 1000 flying hours while flying USAF F-4s. Although a USN designed plane, the new F-4C Phantom II impressed USAF officers. One of the first 4453rd pilots to be checked out by Colonel Hogue was its commander, Col. Frank K. Everest, who called the Phantom a fighter pilot's dream. "Our pilots should take to the F- 4C with pleasure. It's an easier plane to fly than some fighters and its equipment is less complicated." (Copyright George Michaels, further info via USAF)
A U.S. Navy McDonnell F-4J-35-MC Phantom II (BuNo 155826) from Fighter Squadron 103 (VF-103) "Sluggers" in flight. VF-103 was assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing 3 (CVW-3) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CVA-60) for a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea from 17 June to 11 November 1970. Data 1970 (U.S. Navy photo K 78654 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command Autore USN)
Danny Michaels lost his chance to bag a MiG by bad luck! Taken from F-4 page in FB and Federico Fontana post:
"Later in 1972, USS Saratoga was redeployed to Vietnam as part of the US effort to stop the communist invasion of SV. During the Linebacker air campaign, VF-103 officers, LCDR R.E. Tucker and LTJG Bruce Edens (RIO) downed a MIG-21 with an AIM-7E-2 Sparrow on August 10th, 1972 flying in F-4J BuNo 157299 (Clubleaf 206). It was the first and only night kill of the war; according to LCDR Tucker (later CAPT) it was not even their turn on alert 5 as he traded places with the squadron XO CDR Danny Michaels."
His son George Michaels (USN ret.) wrote to us:
"They were launched from an alert. Dad told me that he was scheduled to stand that alert but had an XO's meeting, so he swapped with Gene Tucker. It would have been him if it wasn’t for the meeting."
Danny pose in front of a US Navy F-4B, painted in USAF colors while he was in an exchange duty in McDill AFB, helping and overseen the training of Air Force crews in the mighty Phantom II. (George Michaels)
With his wife Evdoxia (Effie), at their first house in Virginia Beach. (George Michaels)
As King Neptune VII in 1980 with the Neptune princesses. According to his son, George Michaels: "Each year since 1973, the city of Va Beach selects someone who has done a lot for the city. Dad significantly improved the relationship between the Navy/Oceana and the city of Va Beach. He's the only Navy officer to ever be selected and he was still active duty. Now they usually select some rich guy or a real estate developer." (George Michaels)
Danny and Effie in happy moments. As written by his son George: "Dad is wearing his Aviation Green Uniform (best looking Navy uniform ever, which I inherited from him and wore on occasion) at my Yiayia and Papou’s house in Charlotte." (George Michaels)
Danny Michaels, command pins, at-sea, and shore command. which he wore in his uniform. (George Michaels)
Danny Michaels, VF-103 Slugger XO, pose for the USS Saratoga cruise book, after their deployment in Vietnam, which was the second tour for the Greek American pilot in the war zone. He previously flew a tour as a member of VF-102 Diamonbacks, flying off USS America. (George Michaels)
Danny Michaels awards including the DFC, the AM and the Legion of Merit which he received for his successful career in the US Navy during war and peace. (George Michaels)
Danny Michaels 1000 flight hours certificate on USAF F-4C Phantom II! (George Michaels)
1. Dimitrios Vassilopoulos personal correspondence with Danny Michaels son, George Michaels.
2. Combat Aircraft 125, US Navy F-4 Phantom II Units of the Vietnam War 1969-73, Peter E. Davies, Osprey Publishing, isbn: 978-1472823601
3. The Virginian Pilot by Lia Russel
5. Air Force Order of Battle - Air Force Historical Research Agency. U.S. Air Force. Maxwell AFB, AL.