During the middle of November 1963 the USNS BRETON, a very small and old WW II vintage "jeep" carrier, heads west from Long Beach across the great Pacific Ocean. On board are 200 enlisted men, nine officers, 24 aircraft, 23 vehicles and  other equipment necessary to operate and support a Marine Helicopter Squadron.  The rest of the squadron's personnel were flown to Okinawa.  The trip took about 25 days.  It is rumored that some of HMM-364's Marines never found their "sea legs" and were sea sick the entire trip.  There were some rough days however when all personnel stood in line at the "head" (Navy terminology for toilet) to take turns being sick.  Reports from the galley indicated they ran out of soda crackers due to the Marines enormous consumption of same to keep their stomach's happy.

The twenty four aircraft were coated in thick latex to keep the corrosion caused by salt spray to a minimum.  They had to be inspected daily for cracks in the membrane and resealed on occasion.  All the planes couldn't fit on the hanger deck, so these had to be lashed down on the tail of the flight deck.  Included in the aircraft inventory were four F-104s destined for the Chinese National Air Force on Taiwan. The only problem with the equipment on the flight deck was that it had to be inspected 24 hours a day for security to assure all tie down chains were securely holding the helos, and other equipment, to the pitching deck.

All, officers and enlisted, can remember being assigned to "aircraft security watch" any time the squadron was embarked aboard Navy ships.  There were some pretty rough times  patrolling this area due to both high seas and pitch black nights. Marines assigned to the watch would call in after making each round to let the Corporal of the Guard know they had not fallen overboard.  It's any ones guess as to ever being found if you fell over board and did not report to the Corporal of the Guard.

The USNS BRETON stopped at the International Dateline and all embarked Pollywogs (Marines as well as some Navy personnel) were inducted into the Domain of the Golden Dragon.  (Anyone who could prove a prior crossing of the International Dateline were exempt from this humiliating experience). Clich here for photographs of the ritual

Home and family lie behind; ahead is Okinawa, Viet Nam, The Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong and twelve months of hard working, hard fighting and hard playing in the Marine tradition.

After twenty five days of pitching and rolling through heavy seas, the beautiful green Ryukus Islands are sighted.  The Breton docks at Naha, Okinawa and we are met by the officers of HMM-364 who flew across the Pacific in commercial or Military Air Transport Service aircraft.

Upon reaching Naha, the helicopters were off loaded by crane and towed to Marine Corps Air Station, Futema via the public roads.  It was quite a parade with just enough of the white latex cocoons pulled back from the cockpit doors and windows to allow the crew chief inside to ride the brakes.  All of the equipment and aircraft, which came over on the USNS Breton,  will be left in Okinawa.  The squadron personnel will travel on to Vietnam to assume operational control of assets which are already on location.

Information and photos provided by:
Warren R. Smith , former Cpl. USMC
'63 - '64 Cruise Book


LAST UPDATED: August, 16, 2011