By LT Trent M. Pietsch
VP-4 Public Affairs Officer
In 1965 Patrol Squadron FOUR (VP-4) deployed to Iwakuni, Japan sporting a black Griffin patch but returned home with their current namesake the “Skinny Dragons.” Since that deployment, VP-4 has been carrying this unintentional nickname for 50 years.
A former VP-4 Skipper from 1966-1967, CAPT Charles (Chuck) Walker, USN, Ret. and a fellow officer who he flew with, CAPT Jerry Crumly, USN, Ret. were part of that 1965 deployment. Recently they reached out to their former squadron in regards to the current squadron patch. The history of the squadron patch is detailed both on the VP-4 command website and on placards hung in squadron spaces in Kaneohe Bay, HI. These placards only cover some of the history behind the evolution of VP-4’s squadron patch and the nickname “Skinny Dragons.”
By 1963-64, the decision was made to bring squadrons based overseas back to the United States because the Department of the Navy knew they would all eventually transition from P-5M/P-2V to P-3A’s so seaplanes went to San Diego and land based planes (VP-4) went to Barbers Point, Hawaii. A light blue patch with a skinny black Griffin had recently won a vote by squadron members to replace the previous patch of Poseidon riding a “Truculent Turtle,” as this patch was deemed not appropriate for P-3As. The skinny black Griffin, featured in front of a white four was homage to the patch before the Truculent Turtle patch which featured an orange Griffin. Although as with any vote there was dissention and some squadron members referred to the skinny black figure as an “intestinal virus.”
In March 1965 VP-4 deployed to Iwakuni sporting their black Griffin patch. On arrival, 5 crews were sent to Sangley, Phillipines for briefings to go to Saigon, Vietnam as a detachment, and 7 crews remained in Iwakuni.
CAPT Walker described how a waitress named Samiko changed the history of VP-4 forever. From the fateful conversation which led to the confusion: “As I remember we had the logo/patch on display but pretty and popular waitress Samiko asked a pilot what the black image on the patch was (it was intended to be a Griffin). Samiko said in reply, ‘Huh, don’t look like Griffin to me, look more like Skinny Dragon.’ The story circulated and before it could be corrected to be a Griffin, every one called it a Dragon. As you know Dragons are very popular in Japan.”
CAPT Walker’s son, now 64 years old, designed a patch during that deployment which contained all of the previous four squadron patches on a four leaf clover. This patch is extremely rare and contains the first two squadron patches. These patches aren’t maintained in any history of VP-4. Clockwise the patches are a four leaf clover (~1928-~1935), number four with orange Griffin (~1935-1947), Truculent Turtle with Poseidon (1947-1964), and four with black Griffin/Dragon (1964-1993).
CAPT Walker served as CO in VP-4 from December 1966-November 1967. He became a Captain 1969 when he reported to Naval War College. He now lives in Jacksonville, Florida and is an active member of the VP-4 Association and Maritime Patrol Association. CAPT Crumly flew as CAPT Walker’s copilot when they were in VP-4 together. CAPT Crumly retired following PG school and tours in VP-56, overseas joint staff, and a command in the Naval Air Training Command.