Thursday, February 22, 2024

Avenue of Heroes: Captain Leonard ‘Len’ Kaine


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Captain Leonard ‘Len’ Kaine, Top Gun, Banner Location: Fourth & H Avenue, Coronado, CA

Captain Leonard ‘Len’ Kaine, Top Gun
By Toni McGowan, Edited by D. Auten

Captain Leonard “Len” Kaine is a “real deal” Navy Top Gun Fighter Pilot.  He began life as an unassuming coal miner’s kid with a public high school education. But with high motivation and dedication, he was able to serve his nation with distinction earning two Combat Distinguished Flying Crosses, Seven Combat Air Medals, two Navy Commendation Medals with Combat V (Valor); Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, National Defense Medal with one Bronze Star, Vietnam Service Medal with three Bronze Stars; a Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device and a ‘Command at Sea’ Star.


Len never set out for a naval career. Joining the Navy was a way to get the education his family couldn’t ever afford. He had it all figured out though. If you joined before age 18 you could get out at 21 with access to an education through the GI Bill. His plan was to attend Penn State and then work for IBM.

Two days before his 18th birthday, Len enlisted, and was given a series of tests. He nailed the exams. In a matter of months he was whisked off to flight training at NAS Pensacola FL as a Naval Aviation Cadet. Upon completion, and still a teen, he was commissioned as an Ensign—just like President George Bush Sr.

After receiving his Naval Aviator Wings, Len was ordered to NAS Oceana and then assigned to Fighter Squadron 61 flying the F3 Demon. Two years later, Len was the only Aviator in the squadron chosen to upgrade to the F8 Crusader—the first Navy fighter to exceed 1000 MPH!

In 1959, he finished in the top 10% of all F8 Crusader graduates and was sent to VF-84 at NAS Oceana. In that same year his air to air gunnery skills earned him the title as both the East Coast “Top Gun” pilot and the All Navy F8 “Top Gun”pilot.

For five months in 1960, VF-84 was deployed to Rota Spain. During that time Len was the Skipper’s wingman performing the Blue Angel air show through Spain, southern France and northern Italy and for the Sixth Fleet Flagship in the Mediterranean.

Beginning in April 1961, Len was assigned a three-year tour as an F8 Fighter Pilot Instructor in Jacksonville, Florida. Being conversant in French, he was also selected as an instructor for the first four French Naval Aviators to be trained in the F8. While there, he also set a modern day Navy flight record in air combat training by flying six different aircraft types in two days.

In June 1964, Len was a Navigator of USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) as part of the first Nuclear Powered Task Force to circumnavigate the globe. He narrated Fire-Power Flight Demonstrations for the Heads of 22 counties in French, Spanish and English.

In August 1966, Len completed F4 Phantom training in VF-121 at NAS Miramar with the highest grades ever assigned, “according to its CO, CDR Scott Lamoreaux.”
As the conflict with Vietnam escalated in 1966, Len flew in VF 92 with Air Wing 9 back aboard “The Big E”. She was the first nuclear-powered carrier to engage in air combat over North Vietnam. Len served as the ‘Fighter Tactics Training Officer’ and ushered in the modernized, three dimensional “Thatch Weave”originally developed during WWII by Commander ‘Jimmy Thatch’. As life often shows Len, it is a small world. One day in Coronado, while taking his trash out to the back alley, he met his neighbor, Commander Jimmy Thatch.

Kaine flew a total of 103 combat missions during 132 days in combat. Because of his special attributes in teaching and training other pilots, VF 92 was one of a handful of squadrons that did not lose a single plane in combat. Len received the highest number of VF-92 combat nominations.

Another “Attaboy” was when USAF Colonel Robin Olds and his vice commander, Colonel Daniel ‘Chappie’ James, made a trip to the “Big E” for a combat briefing with Air Wing Aviators. Len was asked to join them during a special, semi-private fighter tactics discussion in VF-92’s Ready Room. It was a fine meeting with Robin Olds, who had been a Triple Ace in WWII. He integrated these Navy tactics into his USAF combat program.

Following his second combat deployment to North Vietnam, Len left active duty. In October of 1967, Len joined the Reserves as combat tactics instructor of VA-772’s A4s at NAS Los Alamitos, CA. Other assignments and accomplishments include:

  • Mar 1969 XO & CO of VF-22L1, the first F4s at Los Alamitos.
  • Nov 1970 CO of RTU-301 F8s NAS Miramar.
  • Jan 1972 CO VF-301 F8s Miramar … During this assignment VF-301 won every award available as the… Top Navy Crusader Fighter Squadron.
  • Jul 1973 CAG CVW-321 Miramar.
  • Jan 1975 Reserve Staff NAS North Island.
  • Apr 1977 Youngest Naval officer promoted to Captain.
  • Jan 1980 – Retired in Coronado with 432 Carrier Landings and over 4000 military flight hours.

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