They were “the best orders anybody ever received,” attested Captain Jimmy Thach commanding officer of the USS Sicily (CVE-118): “Render all possible support to ground forces. Direct air support or interdiction at your discretion.” It was the desperately dark summer of 1950, American and South Korean defenders of South Korea were squeezed into the Pusan Perimeter by the North Koreans. Captain Thach’s escort carrier had aboard a squadron of Marine F4U Corsair fighter/bombers, VMF-214, the Black Sheep, whose main purpose was to provide close air support to the Marines of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade.
Thach, his Sailors and the Marines of the Black Sheep squadron made an impressive team. They flew their first strikes on 3 August off Korea’s south coast where the threat was greatest, a couple of days later Thach took the Sicily, up the west coast of Korea and the Black Sheep struck North Korean targets around Inchon and Seoul. By 8 August however, they were back in position off the south coast of Korea, ready to provide close air support to the Marine infantry of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade who closed with the enemy that day for the first time of the war. Thach parked the Sicily close to shore, the best place to be; there were no land bases available in Korea for air operations.
From that day until the Marines were pulled out of the Pusan Perimeter the Sicily-based Black Sheep were ever ready and overhead with effective CAS for the Marine grunts. When fighting was intense, such as around Pohang, Thach parked his carrier within twenty miles of the coast, putting targets just 12 minutes away, the Marine pilots could carry another bomb or napalm tank instead of a fuel tank.
The CAS provided by the Navy/Marine Corps team stood in direct contrast to the chaotic command and control situation that prevailed earlier. Captain Thach, aboard the Sicily, listened to the air strikes on the radio: “It was a beautiful thing,” he recalled, “like going from confusing darkness into bright daylight…. You should have seen those pilots when they came back. He’d sigh a big sigh of relief and say, ‘Now we’re doing what we’re supposed to do in the right way.’”