EARLY CAROLINA MARINE HELOS AND HEROES

Carolina Marines can rightfully take credit for playing a major role in developing several of the major warfare innovations of the 20th century, along with meriting credit for numerous “firsts”, within the Marine Corps, and having a close association with many of the notable figures populating Marine Corps history. Two of the latter, one also a major innovator in his own right, deserve and appropriately receive special recognition here in the bases and stations of the Carolina Marines.

 

LtCol Armond H. Delalio, USMC, joined the Marine Corps as an aviation cadet and was commissioned in 1940. June 1942 found him (then Capt) as a SB2U-3 Vindicator dive-bomber pilot in Marine Aircraft Group (MAG)-22’s Scout-Bombing Squadron (VMSB)-241 assigned to Midway Island’s Shore-Based Air on the eve of one of the most decisive battles of WW II, the Battle of Midway. During the 4th and 5th of June, Delalio distinguished himself by conducting perilously low-level attacks on a Japanese aircraft carrier and battleship in the face of intensive antiaircraft fire and fighter opposition with his own aircraft heavily damaged and himself wounded. For these actions he was awarded the Navy Cross. [1]

 

Following the war, he took an interest in the revolutionary new rotary-wing aircraft, the helicopter, and was assigned to the Coast Guard Air Station at Floyd Bennet Field, NY, the Coast Guard at that time having been given the responsibility of helicopter training for all the military services. [2] Delalio then became, and is formally recognized as, the Corps’ first helicopter pilot. [3] When the Navy subsequently stood up their Naval Experimental Helicopter Squadron (VX)-3 at Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, NJ, in 1946, he was transferred there as the operations officer. And, when the Marine Corps subsequently commissioned its first helicopter squadron at Quantico, Marine Helicopter Squadron (HMX)-1, in December 1947, (then) Maj Delalio was the obvious choice as operations officer. As a result, in his role in these three squadron, all the early Marine Corps helicopter pilots were ably trained under his supervision.

 

As the operations officer, also, he was critically involved in the planning and coordination of the first tactical employment of helicopters in the precedent-setting training exercises at Camp Lejeune with the 2nd Marine Division, Packard II and III (1949), which first demonstrated the helicopters’ ability to significantly enhance battlefield mobility. [4] Regrettably, this pioneering aviator, who had served with distinction in the development of the Marine aviation helicopter program, was killed in 1952 while testing an experimental helicopter takeoff system. To recognize in part and commemorate his invaluable service to his country and the Corps, the newly built elementary school aboard (then) Marine Corps Air Facility, New River, Jacksonville, was dedicated in his name and honor in 1965, and rededicated 18 October 2018 when the old school as replaced.

 

Gen Keith B. McCutcheon, USMC, a distinguished Marine of remarkable, in fact, unique achievement, especially in the field of Close Air Support (CAS) and helicopter operations, is rightfully considered to be the “father of Marine Corps helicopter aviation.” [5] He graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1937. Eschewing an Army commission from the ROTC program, he became instead a Marine 2ndLt, attended flight training at Pensacola in 1940, and served with commendation as a naval aviator in the Pacific War.

 

In December 1944, (then) LtCol McCutcheon was the operations officer for MAG-24, which in conjunction with MAG-32, was tasked with providing CAS for the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division’s drive on Manila. Recognizing the deficiencies in the Army’s current inefficient practices, he undertook a thorough study of the subject, developed new doctrine and tactics, and initiated a massive indoctrination program for area air and ground units to inculcate his innovative and radically new system for the effective provision of CAS. It was soon recognized that McCutcheon’s innovations, evidenced in the timely capture of Manila, were resulting in substantially improved CAS. [6] His system was eventually and universally adopted. Because of its clearly evident and decisive impact on ground combat, his system is considered one of the five major tactical innovations of the 20th century. It is also, inarguably, a Marine Corps innovation, along with the Amphibious Assault and the Airmobile (or Heliborne) Assault. [7] For his pioneering work with CAS in the Philippines, McCutcheon was awarded the Army Silver Star and his first Legion of Merit.

 

Justifiably recognized as a brilliant and professionally enterprising officer, he was dispatched for aeronautical engineering studies and garnered a MS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and then assigned to the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics to work with their nascent guided missile program, which was also under development at Camp Lejeune’s neighboring Camp Davis.  (Then) Col McCutcheon, in July 1950, was placed in command of the Corps’ developmental helicopter squadron HMX-1, from which Delalio had been detached one year prior, and continued to expand upon the basic helicopter concept of transporting troops and supplies into a practical doctrine and served as the focal point for the Corps’ helicopter program. As was the case with the Amphibious Assault of WW II, the Marine Corps had begun with a concept and was developing it into a decisive doctrine of systems and tactics. [8] With his helicopter expertise in demand, he was posted to Korea in December 1951 to be the third commanding officer of Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron (HMR)-161 where he would continue to expand the boundaries of helicopter aviation.

 

One of the first of innumerable accolades that would be “firsts” for Marine helicopters following the Corps’ conception of the major tactical innovation, the Airmobile Assault, HMR-161 was the first helicopter transport squadron organized, that in January 1951, and the first squadron used in combat. [9]

 

However, the honor of being the first helicopters employed in combat-and they were Marine helicopters-goes to Marine Observation Squadron (VMO)-6, which was hurriedly dispatched to Korea with the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in July 1950. Within this composite squadron was a section of venerable HO3S-1s, the only helicopters then available, which had been transferred from HMX-1, and were the very same helicopters used earlier in the pioneering exercises at Camp Lejeune with Maj Delalio. The timely arrival of the brigade is generally considered to have been the decisive factor in the UN’s victory in the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter during September, and VMO-6 played no small role, from then until the armistice establishing precedents in the employment of helicopters for resupply, liaison, command and control, reconnaissance, artillery spotting, search and rescue, casualty evacuation, and a litany of other pioneering missions. [10] HMR-161’s arrival in September 1951, equipped with the, then, world’s most capable transport helicopter, the HRS-1 (H-19), allowed the Marine Corps to greatly expand upon the role payed by the HO3S-1 and immediately began to conduct precedent setting lifts of Marines and material over increasingly long distances in marginal weather, at night, over marginal terrain, and occasionally under fire. By the armistice, HRS-1 was executing relief of line operations with units up to regimental strength. [11] Always leading from the front, McCutcheon flew 80 combat missions while commanding HMR-161 and was awarded his second Legion of Merit.

 

Col McCutcheon continued his distinguished service in the Marine Corps until his untimely death from illness in 1971, having been selected for but unable to assume the post of Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, and was awarded his fourth star in retirement, the Corps’ first four-star aviator. Like his mentor, Gen Roy Geiger, he had successfully commanded both aviation and ground units, to include the 1st Marine Brigade, the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and the III Marine Amphibious Force. His ties to the Carolina Marines were solidified by his commanding MAG-26 at Marine Corps Air Facility, New River, Jacksonville, from 23 August 1957 to June 1959. To honor and commemorate one of the driving forces behind the Marine Corps’ development of the helicopter in vertical envelopment, the airfield at (then) Marine Corps Air Station (Helicopter), New River, was dedicated as McCutcheon Field on 8 Jun 1972. [12]

 

CITATIONS

  1. “Citation for Capt. Delalio.”
  2. Brown, p. 19.

3.Ibid., p. 25.

  1. Rawlins, pp. 25-26.
  2. Brown, p. 2.
  3. Chapin, pp. 24-27.
  4. MCWP 3-23.1, Forward. Clancy, pp. xiv-xv.
  5. Condon, p. 23.
  6. Brown, pp. 41, 44.
  7. Alexander, p. 17. Brown, pp. 11-12.
  8. Parker, p. 4. Brown, p. 54.
  9. “Dedication, McCutcheon Field.”

 

REFERENCES

Joseph H. Alexander, Col, USMC (Ret). Battle of the Barricades: U.S. Marines in the Recapture of Seoul-Marines in the Korea War Commemorative Series. Marine Corps Historical Center, 2000.

“Close Air Support: The Pioneering Years”. Navy History Magazine, Nov12.

Ronald L. Brown, LtCol, USMC (Ret). Whirly Birds: U.S. Marine Helicopters in Korea-Marines in the Korean War Commemorative Series. Marine Corps Historical Center, 2003.

John C. Chapin, Capt, USMC (Ret). And a Few Marines: Marines in the Liberation of the Philippines-Marines in WW ll Commemorative Series. Marine Corps Historical Center, 1997.

”Citation for Capt Armond H. Delalio -Newsletter No. 185.” Navy Department Bureau of Aeronautics, 1Jan43.

Tom Clancy. Marine: A Guided Tour of a Marine Expeditionary Unit. Berkley Books, 1996.

John P. Condon, MajGen, USMC (Ret). U.S. Marine Corps Aviation-75th Year of Naval Aviation Commemorative Collection, Vol.5. Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air Warfare), 1985.

“Dedication, McCutcheon Field, MCAS (H), New River, NC.” Leatherneck, Sep72.

Lynn J. Kimball, LtCol, USMC (Ret). “The Coast Guard, Camp Lejeune and Vertical Envelopment.”

Unpublished Manuscript, 12Jun09.

“Keith B. McCutcheon, Gen, USMC.” Who’s Who in Marine Corps History. History Division, USMC, 2011.

“Col McCutcheon New CO of MAG-26.” Globe, 23Aug57.

Lynn Montross. Cavalry of the Sky. Harper and Brothers, 1954.

Gary W. Parker, LtCol, USMC. A History of Marine Helicopter Squadron 161. History and Museum Division, HQMC,1978.

Jeannette Pippin. “New Delalio Elementary School Dedicated.” The Daily News, 19Oct18.

Eugene w. Rawlins, LtCol, USMC. Marines and Helicopters 1946-1962. HQMC, History and Museums Division, 1976.

U.S. Marine Corps. Close Air Support, MCWP 3-23.1. HQMC, 1998.

 

 

Posted on: January 28th, 2021
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