Marines Restore ‘Lady Ace,' Keep History Alive
(May 5, 2010)
|MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. (MCN- 4/30/2010) — 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
|“Lady Ace 09,” a CH-46E “Sea Knight” helicopter at the Flying Leatherneck 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.
The Sea Knight, currently housed at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum,
is “Lady Ace 09,” a Vietnam-era chopper that has a history as rich as the
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. In October 1966, the “White Knights” headed to the Republic of
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.
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-165
Marine Col. 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 a
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.
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
Leatherneck Aviation Museum.
Now, 35 years after the evacuation and six years since her San Diego
arrival, four non commissioned officers took the responsibility of giving
the helicopter her “true colors.”
Sergeants Joseph Dickens III, Andrew Kelly, Justin Boone and Jason Penrod
spent more than a week and a half painting and remarking the helicopter,
based off of a photograph taken during the evacuation.
“That was its moment in history,” said George Welsh, archivist at the Flying
Leatherneck Aviation Museum. “We want to bring it back to that moment, no
matter what it looked like.”
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.”
Although 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. “You have to be historically accurate or the next
generation will get the wrong message.”
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.
Article and photo by USMC Cpl Aubry L. Buzek
Marine Corps Air Station Miramar
Marine Corps News
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