Forty years ago this April in a small
country in Southeast Asia that most of us had never heard of, an event
occurred that would, to one degree or another, shape the course of the
lives of every one of us.
In the early morning of 15 April 1962,
unnoticed by the rest of a sleeping world, an Amphibious Ready Group
comprised of the LPH USS Princeton and a few destroyers began launching
the 24 HUS helicopters and 3 O1B aircraft of Marine Medium Helicopter
Squadron–362 to a small WWII Japanese airstrip near a village named Soc
Trang in the Republic of Vietnam.
The 250 Marines of the squadron were led
by WW II and Korea veteran Lt Col Archie Clapp. They, along with a small
Task Unit Headquarters and 250 man MABs Detachment, were the first Marine
units to deploy to Vietnam, beginning a deployment that would over the
next ten years involve nearly every helicopter squadron in the Marine
Corps – and every one of us.
Fortieth anniversaries of any significant
historic event are usually cause for the award of honors, tearful
remembrance, and overlong speeches. The award of honors is why we’re here
this afternoon; remembrance is our constant companion; but if you want a
long speech you’ll have to go elsewhere.
We honor Archie’s Angels, as 362 was then
known, not only because they were the first, but more importantly because
of the standard of excellence and courage they established and passed on
to the squadrons that followed them in country.
In addition to being the first to fight,
they are credited with a score of other firsts: First to employ surprise,
deception, and diverse helicopter tactics, First Eagle Flight or quick
reaction force, First night helicopter assault, First helicopter recovery
plan, First to employ TAFDs for forward area refueling, First to see the
need for fire retardant flight gear, First to identify a requirement for
armed escort helicopters and for a Helicopter Coordinator Airborne.
So many firsts that, as one Marine Corps
history publication notes, “they identified almost every area which would
eventually require further development in helicopters.”
Marines like Jim Perryman, Denny
Anderson, Len Alteno, Frank Quadrini, Curt Ryan, Jim Shelton, and Bob
Cramer carried this knowledge and the same high standards to
other squadrons, and the Marines
they mentored carried them to still others.
The result: a sustained record of
operational excellence and personal courage that characterized Marine
helicopter operations throughout the Vietnam War.
The heroic deeds these operations
inspired, and their cost in lives, evoke memories that will live within
every one of us as long as we draw breath. Those memories are a large part
of why we are all here in Pensacola. There is not one of us who doesn’t
hear the faint echoes of an emergency medevac into a hot zone, the
recovery of a wingmen down in Indian country, and the emergency extract of
a besieged Recon team. And we still see the faces of those we left behind.
The tradition established at that small
WWII Japanese airstrip continues down to this day, and I’m proud to report
that the same standards were reflected in the Marine helicopter
community’s performance in Afghanistan.
It is only fitting that we, their
successors, honor the 40th anniversary of their deployment by offering the
Marines of Archie’s Angels a small token of our respect for their
contribution to the proud history of our Corps.
It is also fitting that former Commanding
Officer of the squadron, Col. Archie Clapp, be the first to be honored.
SNCOs may be the backbone of the Corps,
but as all career Marines know it is the Commanding Officer who sets the
example that ultimately determines whether a squadron is great or merely a
gaggle of guys, a pile of 4.8 boxes, and 24 hunks of aluminum. And as his
Marines, a surprising number of whom went on to make the Marine Corps a
career, will be quick to tell you, Archie Clapp’s leadership made them a
The best evidence of that is the 33
Archie’s Angels who are with us today – 24 of whom are retired from the
Archie’s Angels: As your name is called,
I ask each of you to step up on the stage to receive an engraved plaque
honoring the events of 15 April 1962 and your role in establishing forever
the proud combat record of Marine helicopter aviation.