Courtney B. Payne Remembers

An officer of the active 'Purple Fox" squadron recently wrote Courtney asking, "Why the squadron was 'The Way It Is', and what was the mystic behind the unit. "   Courtney's reply follows:

The Purple Foxes

TIME LINE:  August 1968 - December 1969


In late summer 1968 HMM-364 was in a state of transition.  Personnel who had come over with the original unit had completed their tours and were on their way back to the states.  One immediate problem was replacement pilots, crew chiefs, gunners and maintenance personnel.  As pilots came in country they were pressed in to the units as needed without so much as a look at their MOSs.  Those selected for the CH-46D squadrons, in addition to CH-46A/D pilots, were UH-1E and CH-53A/D pilots.  This took time to sort out as "FRAGS" (missions) never stopped coming.  The grunts (III MAF Headquarters) could have cared less WHY our squadron was struggling but, the new guys from the Commanding Officer down to the individual Marine were having a tough time.


HMM-364 was assigned twenty two CH-46D aircraft when I joined the squadron.  At the time 14 - 16 on board was normal.  It as common place to actually beg a pilot walking to his hooch after a debriefing to ground run one of the aircraft.  After a 10 hour re-supply or an all night An Hoa med-evac NO ONE was in the mood to do a ground run or a maintenance test flight.  A few of the guys would say, "OK I'll do it but, just this once."  (These few did it time after time, God Bless them).  Having too many aircraft did have some advantages.  We would swap parts to whatever aircraft was going up at the time. The Navy Supply System was somewhere else that summer of 1968.  The AMO was Major Owen C. Baker, a professional, and a keystone of the squadron.  Courtney Payne was the Maintenance Control Officer.


On 4 February 1969 enter Lt. Col. Gene Brady, as the new C.O. of HMM-364.  A former enlisted man, a former fixed wing tail hooker, arrived with enthusiasm, a truck load of common sense, personal excellence, and a fantastic sense of humor.  He was an outstanding Marine who had a deep respect for his men and the job they were doing.  No one realized at the time the profound impact this man would have on the unit and the individual lives of his men.  No one will ever know, but, it was (and is) strongly suspected Gene Brady was hand picked to get this squadron up and going.  It was common place for him to be in the maintenance shack at 0130, talking to a crew chief on the flight line at 0200 and flying an early resupply or medevac the next morning.


The unit moved from MAG-36 at Phu Bai to MAG-16 at Marble Mountain just before Christmas 1968.  Just prior to the move south HMM-364 participated in Operation Meade River, a sweeping vertical envelopment operation.  After the move south HMM-364 joined other units in support of Operation Dewey Canyon.  This was followed by another operation called Taylor Common.  While these and other operations to come were important, the resupply, medevac, and movement of troops continued to be the helicopter war for the medium lift community.  The pressure on commanders for availability of aircraft every day was unbelievable!!  On several occasions the Deputy Wing Commander for Helicopters (yes, one for fixed wing and one for helicopters) would come into Maintenance Control and we would go through every aircraft and why it was down.  Each night Lt. Col. Brady would go over the availability for the next day.  I will never understand how our people did it, but somehow the aircraft came up during the night.  The Grunts at that time had an insatiable appetite for aircraft (I am sure nothing has changed).


Medium helicopter units all suffered losses during this time period.  When the Purple Foxes lost a crew or an individual, all would certainly grieve, usually in the club at Phu Bai or Marble Mountain, they would drink into he night talking about the lost crew and what had happened to them.  The next day, it was business as usual.  Of course it was hard to lose a friend and squadron mate, but no one dwelled on it.  If the Flight Surgeon, C.O., Ops. Officer, AMO or anyone else sensed it was getting to someone to the point they might put their aircraft and crew in jeopardy, then steps would be taken to rectify the threat.  The squadron closed ranks tighter, the adversity of the loss was the cement which bound the squadron ever closer.  The C.O. enjoyed a loyalty and a following bordering on worship.  He would deny this, but, during that spring, it was a fact.


Hmm-364, once the personnel shortfall was settled and staffed with people who would be there a while, started to develop a distinct pride and personality (which is normal within a well led unit).  The Flight Surgeon and the C.O. had an insight into everyone!  If a person was a little withdrawn, seems the rest would extend themselves.  The kidding was unmerciful, but never went beyond the bounds where it would hurt someone.  The C.O. could be found anywhere and everywhere.  He had a special relationship with the crew chiefs and gunners.  He would make sure his jeep was available every night so maintenance could go steal what ever was needed.  Office Hours for troopers were seldom held.  He let the Staff NCOs do their job - he would skin them if they did not!  Lt. Col. Brady was the perfect commanding officer for this unit at this critical time.  Never heavy-handed, he led by example, when a crew was lost, he hurt as much as any other member of the unit.  He was much loved then as he is much loved today thirty years later.


Strobe lights in jockey shorts while dancing on stage for the Navy Nurses from the hospital ships Repose and Sanctuary were typical of Purple Fox behavior.  "Screw You Grunt" marked on the bottom of a CH-46 with white chalk during a resupply of C-Rats and water (porn magazines being part of the resupply provided by the Marines of HMM-364), prompted an Assistant Division Commander to come in one afternoon in a huey, look up the C.O., and thank the Purple Foxes on behalf of his division.

The C.O. had a pet goose who would crap on anyone he was handed to.  The C.O. delighted in letting wing headquarters people (and others considered "useless") hold his goose!  Our gunners loved sticking flowers in the muzzle of their .50 cal guns.  We also caught them inserting hand grenades into small jars (like baby food jars) so when they took fire they could toss out their nasty little bombs.

Members of other squadrons who had friends that were Purple Foxes used  to like to sit with the Foxes at the club simply because it was fun and something unexpected was about to happen, if nothing else, someone would do a few verses of the Phu Bai song.  The C.O. was always in hot water because of the conduct of his officers.  During this period, it seems all was finally forgiven as our C.O. was promoted to Colonel and was the recipient of a well deserved Navy Cross.


For the present day HMM-364, the spirit and mystique of thirty years go should be your now.  The members of the current command can be very proud of he people who went before you.  Our Marines flew as scared and concerned as one might expect (an An Hoa medevac to the Arizona Territory could be a horrifying experience) but, fly they did, every day and night ........., some how always pulling the rabbit out of the hat.  They were, and still are, a band of brothers.

As you asked, just some thoughts from one of the Foxes ......

/s/Courtney B. Payne
Major   USMC (Ret.)

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