by Robert Whaley
Thank you for permitting us to share with you a short presentation on the
history of one of Marine Aviation's oldest Squadrons, VMO-6. Our purpose is to
have a short retirement for the Squadron since there was nothing formal
conducted when its colors were stuck on 1 January 1977 at MCAS Futenma Okinawa.
We wanted to share this because the Cherry Sixer's were so instrumental in
working with so many of you in your careers in Korea and Vietnam, whether in the
form of providing zippo recons, gunship escorts, aerial recon, medivacs or TACA.
VMO-6 antecedents reach back to 1920 at Quantico, VA. And through a succession
of unit redesinations finally settled on Marine Observation Squadron 6
(originally designated VO-6M) in 1927. In early 1928 the squadron embarked
aboard USS Saratoga bound for Nicaragua to fight the Sandanista guerrillas. The
squadron was flying the Curtis F8-C1 Falcon. The mission included visual recon,
aerial photo, infantry liaison, emergency resupply and light attack which
included strafing and bombing in advance of friendly patrols, an example of
close air support which was developing in Nicaragua. In addition to the Cutis
Falcon, the squadron also flew the Atlantic TA-1, a version of the old Ford
Tri-motor which was used as transport and aerial supply. In 1928 the squadron
was relocated back to Quantico where, in addition to other missions, it
conducted flight demonstrations for the field officers' class now known as The
Basic School at Marine Corps Schools.
The 1930's found the squadron employing a varied aircraft inventory, including
the Vought 02U-1 and the Curtis F8C-5 Helldiver. A little known fact is that the
squadron and pilots were so impressive they became involved in a series of USMC
public relations events at various air races and airport openings which were
numerous at the time. Calling themselves the "Helldivers", their daring
maneuvers impressed spectators so favorably that by 1932 they were representing
the USMC at major events such as the Canadian Air Pageant and the US National
Air Races in Cleveland. However, just as times have been opportune for the
squadron, it was also external circumstances which ended the first chapter in
its history. The USMC had the mission of defending advanced bases and the CMC
recommended a light bombing squadron be incorporated into the 1934 Naval
Operations Organization with no increase in total Marine squadrons. This
required the disestablishment of an observation squadron and at midnight on 30
June 1933 VMO-6 was disbanded.
The squadron was reactivated on 20 November 1944 at Quantico, Virginia and six
days later with its OY-1 aircraft, was transferred to Camp Pendleton, California
where it commenced training for future Pacific combat operations with the 6th
Marine Division which was also formed at that time.
In January 1945, the squadron departed for Guadalcanal at which time it was
assigned to the 15th Marines, the artillery regiment of the 6th Marine Division.
Upon completion of training, the squadron was staged for its participation in
the operation to seize Okinawa. Shortly after D-Day, 1 April 1945, VMO-6 moved
ashore and commenced operations from Yomitan Airstrip which had been captured
from the Japanese. During the ensuing battle for the island, VMO-6 flew its OY-1
aircraft on a variety of missions, including artillery spotting, message
pickups, photo reconnaissance and medical evacuations in litter equipped
OY-ones. In July 1945, the squadron departed for Guam where it remained until
the termination of hostilities. In Oct. 1945, VMO-6 was deployed to Tientsin,
North China to participate in the occupation. The squadron terminated its China
service in January 1947 when the communist Chinese forces pushed their way south
to Tientsin. The next stop was the United States where VMO-6 took up residency
at the Chappo Flats Airstrip at Camp Pendleton. Quiet years of training and
improvements on tactics followed until North Korea's invasion of South Korea.
Again the call came for VMO-6 to depart its peacetime home and move into combat.
HO3S-1 helicopters and pilots from HMX-1 at Quantico, Virginia joined the
squadron and VMO-6 departed the United States in July 1950 as the first combat
helicopter unit in the Marine Corps. The squadron arrived in Kobe, Japan with
its complement of four (4) HO3S-1's and Eight (8) OY-1's. After a short stop at
Itami AFB, Japan, it was on to Pusan, Korea. Almost immediately the squadron
began making a name for itself. The command and control capability of the
helicopters was tested and proved to be a resounding success. The OY-1's were
flown as convoy escorts for the 1st Marine Brigade in addition to observation
and reconnaissance missions. In August 1950, the squadron carried its first med
evac and the lifesaving missions became a day to day part of life for VMO-6
pilots and crewmen. The first night med evac of the war was flown by Captain
(now Maj.Gen.) Victor A. Armstrong, Retired.
As the tempo of the war increased, the squadron continued its unrelenting day
and night combat flights involving med evac, artillery spotting and
reconnaissance; and the tide of the battle began to ebb back in the Marines'
favor. During the 30-month span of the Korean conflict, the squadron flew 7,067
wounded Marines to safety. The sight of a VMO-6 helicopter landing at a field
hospital became a common sight around the battle area.
After the cessation of hostilities and a short post-conflict tour, the squadron
returned to the United States in May 1955 and its first home at Camp Pendleton.
The following years were peaceful, involving training until the Cuban Crisis of
October 1962, when a flight echelon of VMO-6's O1 Bird Dogs and Hok's took part
in operations with the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade deploying to the
Caribbean in support of the American blockade of Cuba. In 1964 a new aircraft
entered the VMO-6 inventory, It was the UH-1E Bell Iroquois. Vmo-6 continued its
training and maneuvers in support of the 1st Marine Division as well as training
pilots, crewmen, mechanics, aerial observers, and all others required to fill
out a fighting squadron. They were ready to go when and where they were needed;
and in 1965 they were needed. In August 1965 VMO-6 departed with MAG-36 aboard
USS Princeton bound for Vietnam.
On September 1st 1965 the squadron off loaded and began operating from Ky Ha
Airstrip at Chu Lai. The squadron's history then became a matter of names and
operations Quang Ngai, Double Eagle, Blue Marlin, Duc Pho. The list becomes
endless, each with its own special meaning to each Kondiker, the squadrons call
sign. Early in October of 1967 the squadron moved to Hue Phu Bai as the Marines'
focus shifted to Northern I Corps and the DMZ. A month later another move took
the cherry six emblem further north to Quang Tri Air Base and another call sign
Seaworthy. In October 1968 the first contingent of six (6) OV-10A Broncos joined
the Hueys and O1 Bird Dogs of VMO-6. They immediately proved their worth,
leaping into the fray within 18 hours of joining the squadron at Quang Tri. And
the list of places committed to memory by hard and often times painful
experiences grew; Khe Sanh, Con Thien, Gio Linh, The Rockpile, Vandergrift, the
Ben Hai, Lz Argon. The name Seaworthy became synonymous with such operations as
Dewey Canyon, Maine Craig, Apache Snow, Scotland II, Montana Mauler, and Idaho
Canyon. In September 1969 VMO-6 departed South Vietnam for its new home at MCAS
Futenma, Okinawa. There, VMO-6 sustained its reputation for excellence,
continuing to perform its mission in a manner traditional of past illustrious
combat and peace time exploits, for any given time, Broncos, their air crews and
squadron personnel could be found throughout the Far East in such locales as
Cubi Point, Philippines; Atsugi, Japan; Taegu, Korea; and the Republic of China.
With them, in the shadows of over 45 years of service to their Corps and
Country, followed a heritage that every man who has ever served with VMO-6 can
be well proud.
And so the a squadron was deactivated. As the VMO-6 book was closed, an aura of
mixed emotions were felt. The most overriding was one of sadness, for although a
squadron can always be reactivated, the end of an illustrious 45 year era
occurred as the squadron became a part of history, a history that helped make
our Corps great and our county free. However, there is also an underlying
feeling of hope a hope that our nation may remain at peace so that VMO-6 may
remain at rest, a rest she well earned, in peace as well as conflict. VMO-6 may
become deactivated, but those many thousands of Marines and Navy Doctors and
Corpsmen who have steadfastly served in her ranks will not forget. Nor will the
history books forget the legend VMO-6 has etched in the annals of Marine
Aviation in furthering its dedicated support of Marine ground forces in the
cause of peace and freedom throughout the world during those years.
Cherry Sixers, you can hold your heads high for you have served with one of the
Corps' oldest and finest. Congratulations Marines, for those of you who served
in VMO-6 those many years ago. You are a part of the Old Corps!