Local veteran, squadron to be part of Smithsonian ceremony

Historic military helicopter set to be retired

 

The CH-46 "PHROG" helicopter has served America's military with honor for more than 50 years. A local veteran will be part of the ceremony when it's returned next month near Washington, D.C.

On Aug. 1, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in collaboration with the U.S. Marine Corps and the National Museum of the Marine Corps, will present a retirement ceremony for the historic aircraft.

Local vet Mike Rollings of Dalton, along with several other veterans who were a part of squadrons who flew in and worked on the aircraft, will attend the final fly-in and retirement ceremony in Chantilly, Va.

The aircraft is being donated to the National Museum of the Marine Corps by the U.S. Marine Corps. It will be loaned to the National Air and Space Museum and remain on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center until an expansion of the national museum is completed in coming years.

The HMM-774 squadron is the last remaining CH-46 squadron and will conduct the last flight with 774 markings. Once retired and in the hands of the museum curators, the aircraft will be returned to Rollings' squadron's HMM-364 markings in preparation for its display. The HMM-364 squadron was also known as the "Purple Foxes"


"In 1966 was when I went to California to train with these helicopters, and in October 1967 is when we went overseas to Vietnam in these brand new helicopters," Rollings said. "I happened to leave on my 21st birthday. That probably wasn't the greatest way to spend your 21st birthday."

During the HMM-364's three tours in the Republic of Vietnam, the squadron's pilots and crewman flew almost 70,000 hours in combat and combat support missions. The squadron was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for for extraordinary heroism in action.

Rollings said that when he went to Vietnam, there were already CH-46 helicopters there, however, they were the A model. His squadron arrived in the newest, latest and greatest model of its time.

Currently, there is a CH-46A on display at the Smithsonian that was actually shot down at The Battle of Khe Sanh. This helicopter was flying in front of Rollings' aircraft.

"When that one got shot down, we flew over in our CH-46 and picked up and rescued that crew," he said. "Now, the two helicopters will be together again."

The ceremony will honor and pay tribute to those who served in, on and around the CH-46 during its many years of service, from Vietnam to Grenada, Desert Shield and Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, as well as countless other instances that include non-combatant evacuations, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and other operations.


The event will also highlight the "passing of the torch" of the USMC medium lift assault support mission to the MV-22 Osprey aircraft. A panel discussion will give the visitors the experience of hearing first-hand from current and former Marines who served with the CH-46. The Marine Barracks 8th and I band and color guard will also be at the ceremony.

"Crew chiefs, pilots, crew members and some of the corpsmen that flew with us will be there," Rollings said. "I'm looking forward to seeing some friends and be able to see it when it flies in. It's just hard to believe it's been that many years."

 

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