SAN DIEGO --
This article is part one of a continuing series chronicling the transition of the medium helicopter squadron to a tilt rotor squadron.
Members of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161 and veterans who served during its 58 year history, broke bread together at the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina, June 5 for the Phrog Sundown Reunion Dinner.
The sounds of Marines clinking glasses in toasts and laughing with one another filled the hotel as they shared stories and reminisced about their experiences with the squadron. The dinner marked the last time the veterans and Marines would celebrate together as a Medium Helicopter Squadron.
“Our squadron will be flying the MV-22 Osprey next year and we will change over to a Marine Medium Tilt-rotor Squadron later this year,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Euler, the commanding officer of the squadron. “We were deployed during our squadron’s birthday, so to have the opportunity to celebrate the legacy at home and with the veterans is what makes tonight so special.”
Throughout the evening the squadron members and their families viewed news clippings and photos chronicling the history of HMM-161. During the celebration, the guest of honor, Brig. Gen. Raymond C. Fox, the commanding general of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and CH-46E pilot, spoke about the success of the squadron and how proud he was of all the hard work of the Marines and sailors.
For one former pilot, this celebration was more than just a reunion.
“I left the squadron on a stretcher 40 years ago tonight,” said Ret. Lt. Col. James Loop, a former pilot with the squadron who served from 1968 to 1969. “I became the medevac when I got shot while flying through the A Shau Valley in Vietnam.”
The veterans shared their stories with the squadron Marines and reflected on its illustrious history.
“I spoke to the veterans; it was a good opportunity to share our deployment experiences with each other,” said Lance Cpl. Eric Roberts, a network technician with the squadron. “We had a lot of things in common and some differences. Just like how shooting the breeze and just talking to our fellow Marines got us through deployment and kept morale high, it was the same for them in Vietnam. Then on the other hand they flew above jungles while we flew above a desert.”
Near the end of the celebration the Marines and their families viewed a video history of the squadron, from its beginnings as a Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron flying the HRS-1 “Chickasaw” in the Korean War to the CH-46E “Sea Knight” currently flown in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The squadron, also known as the “Greyhawks,” returned in April after deploying with the CH-46E for the last time. The Greyhawks will make the transition to Marine Medium Tilt-rotor Squadron 161 during the change of command later this year.
“I was astounded coming to the open house, seeing the good quality of Marines and the aircraft,” said Loop. “They were gracious and helpful. It was a phenomenal experience. The transition is long overdue. Maintenance and crew chiefs get all the credit for being great stewards of the helicopters and keeping the aircraft repaired.”