Marine Corps Base Quantico, VA --
The National Security Act of 1947, signed by President Harry S. Truman on July 26, 1947, is one of the most important documents in the history of the United States military and the security of our nation. This Act created the National Military Establishment (later renamed the Department of Defense) and gave it civilian leadership in the form of the first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal (confirmed later that year).
The Act established the U.S. Air Force as a separate branch of the military and created our peacetime intelligence operation in forming the National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency.
For those that had earned the title Marines, it gave a clear-cut directive and provided the general functions of the U.S. Marine Corps, thus assuring its future as an independent service under the Department of the Navy.
Although it is only 213 words, Section 206 (c) of this law also changed the future of Marine Corps aviation and Marine Corps Base Quantico (MCB Quantico). The first line of the law stated "The United States Marine Corps, within the Department of the Navy, shall include land combat and service forces and such aviation as may be organic therein." This directive to have organic aviation would take a great leap forward less than six months later on Dec. 1, 1947 when MCB Quantico was made the home of the first Marine Corps rotary wing aviation unit, the newly commissioned Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1).
While aviation was not new to the Marine Corps, helicopters were in their infancy and had many doubters in the military ranks. Col. Edward C. Dyer, the first commanding officer for HMX-1, recalled many years later the words of his contemporaries prior to the units’ formation, stating “(There) was sincere belief that a helicopter was nothing but an aeronautical monstrosity, just a collection of nuts and bolts that would probably never amount to anything!”
However, the dawn of a different military technology, the atomic weapon, proved to be the catalyst for experimentation with this new machine. It was believed by many that the current method for amphibious landings, such as those used in Operation Overlord in Normandy and on the island of Okinawa, would no longer be a viable tactical maneuver due to the ability of enemy armies to destroy large forces with the use of a single weapon.
The mission given to HMX-1 on Dec. 3, 1947 by then-Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC) Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift was aimed at solving the problem. The mission was to, “Develop techniques and tactics in connection with the movement of assault troops by helicopter in amphibious operation; evaluate a small helicopter as a replacement for the present OY type aircraft to be used for gunfire spotting, observation and liaison missions in connection with amphibious assault.”
While it would be a two month wait for the first aircrafts to arrive, the original 10 Marines—seven officers and three enlisted—attacked the mission and stood up the unit which would later become the most elite rotary wing unit in the United States military. Legend has it that none of the original 10 Marines had even flown in a helicopter prior to 1947, although this cannot be proven.
Spearheaded by Dyer, HMX-1 developed tactics and doctrine that made history just over one year later in May 1948.
During Operation PACKARD II, HMX-1 accomplished the first ship-to-shore helicopter lift in military history and set the tone for future changes in Marine Corps amphibious assault tactics. During the east coast exercise, 66 Marines were taken from the U.S.S. Palau, three at a time, and dropped on Onslow Beach, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Tactics developed during the exercise would be a precursor for all future rotary wing aviation doctrine in the Marine Corps.
HMX-1 continues to this day to develop doctrine and provide test and evaluation of rotary wing assets and equipment for the Marine Corps. However, the dependability and adaptability that is engrained in Marine Corps ethos gave the squadron another mission in the fall of 1957.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower was vacationing in Newport, Rhode Island when he required a rapid return to the capital on short notice. President Eisenhower was given two choices, two hours by motorcade around the Narragansett Bay or seven minutes by a helicopter provided by HMX-1. Needless to say, his trip to the capital was on the rotors of an HMX-1 UH-34. President Eisenhower realized the usefulness of helicopter travel and called on HMX-1 many times during the remainder of his presidency.
From that point forward, HMX-1 has provided helicopter transportation to the president, vice president, cabinet members, foreign dignitaries and many others, although this mission was not exclusive until 1976 when the U.S. Army disbanded the Army Executive Flight Detachment and left sole responsibility to HMX-1. HMX-1 has had the honor of carrying 12 presidents, Pope John Paul II and many other national figures and world leaders.
Today, Marine One is one of the primary modes of transportation for executives desiring to leave the White House and the “white tops” are easily one of the most recognizable aircrafts in the world. In addition, the ability to evacuate the president and members of the cabinet quickly, and with less security risks than ground travel, have made HMX-1 one of the most valuable security assets available in the protection of our countries’ leaders.
Marines assigned to HMX-1 have made major contributions in wartime and peacetime theaters around the world. It does not matter to the Marines at HMX-1 if they are testing and developing the ability to shoot a pilot controlled rocket from the side of a helicopter in 1950, training pilots for combat missions in Korea and Vietnam or testing cutting edge technology such as new night-vision goggles and heads up displays—HMX-1 has always answered the call.
The history of Marines at Quantico is filled with innovation, ingenuity, and determination for success. HMX-1 is one of the key cogs in the wheel of future endeavors that will carry Marines at Quantico through another 100 years as the “Crossroads of the Marine Corps.”
From the original Commanding Officer, Colonel Dyer to the current Commanding Officer, Colonel Brian E. Bufton to a future commanding officer yet to be born, the “nighthawks” of HMX-1 have fulfilled and will continue to fulfill their mission with the highest degree of dedication and ability the Marine Corps has to offer.