HMM-165 The Aerial Hero Of Saigon cover

HMM-165 The Aerial Hero Of Saigon

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A CH-46E "Sea Knight" helicopter sits in a lot among many other historical aircraft; reserve squadron markings tell of its last home, but no physical markings represent its true history. Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 changed that.
The Sea Knight, currently housed at the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum, is "Lady Ace 09," BuNo 154803) a Vietnam-era chopper that has a history as rich as the squadron itself.
In the early hours of April 30, 1975, Lady Ace 09, piloted by HMM-I65 Marine Capt. Gerry Berry, descended onto the landing pad of the embassy to extract one of the last remaining evacuees. At 4:58 a.m., the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, Graham A. Martin boarded this helicopter with the U.S. flag.
Article by Cpl Aubry L. Buzek





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HMM-165 The Aerial Hero Of Saigon

Legendary Lady Ace 09

A CH-46E "Sea Knight" helicopter sits in a lot among many other historical aircraft; reserve squadron markings tell of its last home, but no physical markings represent its true history.

Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 changed that.

The Sea Knight, currently housed at the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum, is "Lady Ace 09," BuNo 154803) a Vietnam-era chopper that has a history as rich as the squadron itself.

In July 1965, the squadron formed when the Marine Corps transitioned from the UH-34D helicopter, made by Sikorsky, to the CH-46A "Sea Knight." made by Boeing Vertol. In October 1966, the "White Knights" headed to the Republic of Vietnam.

Attention!

Attention!

Photo by Cpl Aubry L. Buzek

L to R: Sgts. Joseph Dickens, Andrew Kelly, Justin Boone and Jason Penrod salute the commanding officer of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 during a ceremony at the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum on April 30.

The ceremony was an unveiling of the newly restored "Lady Ace 09," which was the CH-46E helicopter used to evacuate the American ambassador during the fall of Saigon April 30, 1975.

Final Days

Lady Ace 09 came off of the production line in 1968 and was assigned with three different squadrons before joining HMM-165 in Vietnam in July 1973.

During the final days of the Vietnam War, as the North Vietnamese Army advanced on Saigon, the Ford administration began planning an evacuation of all American personnel and as many south Vietnamese refugees as they could. The evacuation would become "Operation Frequent Wind." On April 29, 1975, an American radio station began playing Irving Berlin's "White Christmas;" which was the signal for American personnel to move to evacuation points in the city.

Time To Go...

Throughout the day and into the night, 80 circulating helicopters evacuated more than 978 Americans and 1100 Vietnamese refugees from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.

In the early hours of April 30, Lady Ace 09, piloted by HMM-I65 Marine Capt. Gerry Berry, descended onto the landing pad of the embassy to extract one of the last remaining evacuees. At 4:58 a.m., the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, Graham A. Martin boarded the helicopter with the U.S. flag.

Less than eight hours later, the NVA raised the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam flag over the Presidential Palace, signifying the end of the Vietnam War.

Fall of Saigon in 1975

Fall of Saigon in 1975

"Saigon-hubert-van-es" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Landing Zone

After the war, Lady Ace 09 continued serving with the White Knights until the helicopter was transferred to HMM-774, Marine Aircraft Group 49, 4th Marine Air Wing.

In 2004, Lady Ace 09 came to her final home, the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum.

35 years after the evacuation and six years since her San Diego arrival, Lieutenant Col. Todd J. Oneto, commanding officer of HMM-165 (REIN), noticed the aircraft and its markings in the museum and decided that the aircraft needed to be restored to its Vietnam-era appearance to commemorate the historic mission.

Restoration Begins

Four HMM- I 65 (REIN) "airframers" were commissioned to repaint and restore the aircraft to its current condition. All paint and markings are exactly the way the aircraft flew in 1975.

Sergeants Joseph Dickens III, Andrew Kelly, Justin Boone and Jason Penrod (Photo on Note 2) spent more than a week and a half painting and remarking the helicopter, based on a photograph taken during the evacuation.

"That was its moment in history," said George Welsh, archivist at the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum. "We want to bring it back to that moment, no matter what it looked like."

Lady Ace after restoration

Lady Ace after restoration

Photo by Cpl Aubry L. Buzek

"Lady Ace 09," a CH-46E "Sea Knight" helicopter at the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum, was repainted and remarked in March by Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 airframes Marines.

The restoration updated the helicopter to look as it did during the evacuation of the Vietnam ambassador during the fall of Saigon.

Historical Accuracy

According to Welsh, staying true to the original look of the helicopter was one of the most important considerations when restoring the aircraft.

"You have to be historically accurate or the next generation will get the wrong message," said Welsh. "It's very important to maintain examples for that younger generation."

Even though the museum restores historical aircraft all the time, Welsh said it was a good thing that the squadron took control of the job.

"They are more familiar with the airframe," said Welsh. "They're experts ... This is their history, this is your history as a Marine."

Unveiling

The Marines spent many hours restoring the helicopter back to its appearance on that historic day in Vietnam, the true achievement is what they provided to future generations, not the paint.

"This aircraft was used in a particularly significant moment in our nation's history," said Welsh.

The final look of the aircraft was unveiled at a dedication ceremony at the museum here, April 30, where Marines dressed in Vietnam-era uniforms re-enacted the legendary moment for crowds of Marines and veterans.

Remember

Remember

Photo by Cpl Aubry L. Buzek

Lt. Col. Todd J. Oneto, the commanding officer of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165, and retired Col. Gerry Berry, a former "Lady Ace" pilot watch as the newly restored "Lady Ace 09" is unveiled at a ceremony at the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum here April 30. Berry flew the same helicopter during the fall of Saigon, when he evacuated the American ambassador 35 years ago.

Come See For Yourself

After being unveiled, Lady Ace 09 goes back on display in the museum, surrounded by more than 30 other historic Marine Corps aircraft.

Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 (REIN), part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, will complete its final deployment with the CH-46E airframe. Upon its return, LtCol Oneto will personally oversee the squadron's transition to a Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron with the MV-22 Osprey airframe.