Gary Meyers, BS '68
The aircraft carrierUSS Midway, at one time the largest ship in the world, was in service long enough to see action in both the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. Now docked in San Diego, the 64,000-ton behemoth is a museum and memorial where tourists can walk its corridors and deck and see aircraft on display.
The museum includes an audio tour, where visitors can press a button and hear the voices of the men and women who sailed on the ship and flew the planes that are now exhibitions. Press the button beside the A-3D Skywarrior, and a narrator will recount a harrowing tale of saving a fellow pilot in the skies over Vietnam. An A-7 Corsair II had been shot and was leaking fuel—a “wet wing” as it is known—and the Skywarrior had to rendezvous with it and attach a refueling hose in midair, then fuel the plane during the journey to Da Nang to help it make an emergency landing.
While the Corsair pilot’s identity is anonymous, the Skywarrior pilot’s voice belongs to Gary Meyers, BS ’68, a graduate of the University of Oregon’s College of Arts and Sciences. The son of a World War II fighter pilot, Meyers attended the UO—the same university his parents attended—with an eye on one day working in the medical industry.
“I was interested in science, and the UO has good sciences and at that time was connected to a medical school,” he said.
During his years at the UO, Meyers took classes taught by visiting professor and celebrated late astronomer Carl Sagan, and was a member of the Chi Phi fraternity. While Meyers studied in Eugene a war raged in Vietnam though, so medical school was ultimately put on hold. Within thirty days of receiving his biology degree, he found himself at the United States Navy’s Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Newport, Rhode Island.
After completing OCS and getting his commission, Meyers headed south to Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola to become a pilot, following in his father’s footsteps.
“At NAS Pensacola we learned the science of flight,” Meyers said. “They weed people out—only one out of every fifteen people make it through.”
Meyers covered a lot of territory during his training, studying electronic intelligence in Georgia, navigation in Texas, and the ins and outs of bombing in California; and receiving specialist training on the A-3 in Washington.
“I asked to get that airplane,” he said. “I thought, ‘Let’s make a splash.’ When I walked into the hangar and saw the plane, I thought, ‘What have I done?’”
The Douglas A-3D Skywarrior, Meyers’ jet of choice, was the largest jet ever to operate on aircraft carriers. Nicknamed “the Whale,” the Skywarrior held three crew members, weighed 84,000 pounds fully laden—including 12,000 pounds of bombs, additional fuel, or camera equipment—had a wingspan of 71 feet, and had a maximum speed of just 650 miles per hour; for comparison the F-4 Phantom, also heavily used in Vietnam, was 30,000 pounds lighter and flew 800 miles per hour faster. To save on weight, “the Whale” was built without ejector seats, leading some crew members to joke that the jet’s original “A-3D” designation stood for “All Three Dead.”
A versatile jet, the Skywarrior was capable of nuclear and conventional bombing, refueling, electronic warfare and intelligence, and photo reconnaissance. In the year Meyers spent in Vietnam, deployed on the USS Kitty Hawk in the Gulf of Tonkin with the VAQ-133 squadron, he flew more than 150 missions—including the time he guided the A-7 Corsair II to Da Nang after it had been shot.
Upon his return to civilian life in 1971, Meyers finally achieved his original goal of working in the medical field. He spent 43 years working primarily as an international marketer for multinational medical products corporations, 18 of which were spent in Australia, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, UAE, and Japan. He traveled extensively throughout the Far East, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Latin America; at times averaging as many as 200,000 miles per year.
The USS Midway was decommissioned in 1992, and twelve years later opened as a museum in San Diego. Meyers helped the museum locate a Skywarrior at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base’s “boneyard,” a 4,000-acre area outside Tucson, Arizona, where out-of-service aircraft are stored. The Navy restored the jet and transported it to the Midway, then asked Meyers to lend his voice to the display.
“When you tour the carrier there’s an audio system, and if you push a button someone describes what it is you’re seeing,” he said. “They asked me to do the Skywarrior, and I did.”
Meyers retired in 2014, and now enjoys a slightly more relaxed pace of life, spending time with children Kira and Tristan, and brother Jeff. He is involved with several aviation associations, including the A-3 Skywarrior Association, Edwards AFB Test Flight Historical Foundation, and USS Kitty Hawk Veterans Association; and enjoys cruising in his classic 1955 Ford Thunderbird, while also participating as a director in the Classic Thunderbird Club International.