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Retired Naval Aviators Feel Taint of Tailhook

April 24, 1993

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ The waiting has been the worst part of the Navy’s Tailhook sexual harassment scandal, say retired naval aviators at a weekend reunion.

Most of them are Tailhook Association members and have suffered from the scandal’s taint along with active-duty counterparts. The release Friday of an investigative report about a year after the scandal first broke revived their anguish and anger.

″It’s a damn shame that it hasn’t been investigated more expeditiously,″ said retired Capt. Chick Smith of La Jolla, Calif. ″It’s been allowed to fester, and it’s been detrimental to the Navy during that period.″

Smith, who shot down 11 enemy planes in World War II, and retired Vice Adm. Pierre Charbonnet, a fighter pilot in World War II who later served in Vietnam, are members of the Early and Pioneer Naval Aviators Association.

The group met Friday and Saturday at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, where many first learned to fly.

″It’s really had an absolutely horrible affect on morale,″ Charbonnet, from Pensacola, said of the investigative lag in the Tailhook scandal.

Most members of the early aviators group are over 60. To become members, they distinguished themselves in combat or other ways. Some are astronauts and aviation record-setters. All are proud of their careers and the Navy, but Tailhook cast a pall over that.

″When you recall all the stormy, rainy nights, foggy days that you’ve launched and all that sort of thing, you get just damned mad at the few people who would absolutely cast a shadow on your whole life,″ said retired Capt. Don Issitt of Pensacola, a fighter pilot in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

The investigative report portrayed the 1991 Las Vegas convention of the Tailhook Association, an organization of active and retired Navy and Marine aviators, as a three-day bacchanal marred by drunkenness and scores of sexual assaults. The name Tailhook comes from a hook attached to a plane to snag a braking cable during carrier landings.

Derek Vander Schaff, the Pentagon deputy inspector general, concluded that 83 women, many of them naval officers, and seven men were assaulted. At least 140 Navy and Marine Corps officers face possible discipline.

Smith, Charbonnet and Issitt did not attend the 1991 Tailhook convention.

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