Parris Island Close Air Support


While a Recruit Company Commander at Parris Island, I flew with the tactical squadrons at nearby Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, SC.  The Crusader squadrons kept me combat ready during 1965 and 1966 prior to my Vietnam orders.  Colonel Priest of VMF(AW)333 permitted me to fly his Shamrock F8D Crusaders.  While the Death Angels of 235 were still at the Air Station Colonel Gag Gibson kept me current with Crusader flight time.  When not deployed, Squadrons 451 and 251 gave me post-maintenance test hops, gunnery banner tows and cross country navigation flights.  I was allowed to ferry an F8E 148684 to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on July 2, 1965 and ferry F8E 148054 back to Beaufort the following day.  I brought back five gallons of rum hidden in my 20mm gun bays for the senior grunts at Parris Island who allowed me to leave the US for the weekend.    I was grateful to those generous Commanding Officers.

Company Chief Drill Instructor Nolan Henry asked me to fly simulated close air support for Series Commander LT Terrill's four recruit platoons during their overnight field training bivouac at Elliot's Beach.  After dark I launched in the Crusader from MCAS Beaufort and anchored overhead Elliot's Beach at Parris Island.  Top Henry had obtained a radioman with a PRC-10 who contacted me on a discrete frequency.  Soon Henry had me making runs over the beach rousting the recruits from their two man tents and into defensive positions.  I hit the afterburner right overhead the recruits each time I thundered over the camp.  The 'boom" and the afterburner flames added some degree of realism to the simulated close air support which lasted over an hour.  Following the surprise introduction to CAS, the recruits returned to their fart sacks.

During my 65-66 tour at Parris Island the Rifle Range was supplied with unsatisfactory Lake City ammo for the M-14's.  The good ammo was sent to the Fleet Marines and to Vietnam.  The marksmanship training for recruits was considered to be the lowest priority for military use of the bad ammo.  How bad was the ammo, you might ask?.  The ammo was so bad that many of the rounds would not penetrate the target at 500 yards.  They would stick in the target face or bounce off and drop down into the butts.  The platoons were only qualifying 60 percent of the recruits.  It was a nightmare for the Recruit Regiment.  We were constantly barraged by REMF's from DOD to CMC and on down the pecking order.  A Canadian ammunition company produced flawless 7.62 ammo.  We finally convinced the Corps to allow recruits to fire the FMC, or whatever the Canadian name was, on Friday/record day which sometimes brought the re-qualification rate up above 80 percent.

One of my Series (four platoons) was scheduled to shoot for record with the good ammo on a Friday and I wanted them to score well during qualification.  I called up the Air Station at Beaufort and requested a Friday Crusader flight for 8 AM, about when the first platoon would be on the 200 yard line.  I was flying with 333, 251, 235 and 451 on an as available basis.  VMF(AW)235 scheduled me with Ron Foreman at the time I requested.  Ron was a super F-8 pilot who later flew a combat tour at Da Nang before leaving the Marine Corps.  Ron recently retired from the State Department following a security tour for our Embassy in Havana. 

During briefing, I asked Ron to fly South down the Broad River.  I told him when abeam of Parris Island Rifle Ranges I would break off for a few minutes to check on my troops .  We launched and proceeded southeast toward PI.  About 8:10am, Ron watched me kiss off, break ninety degrees left and dive for the deck.  I lined up on the four ranges and flew close to and in front of the 200 yard line at about 10 feet off the deck at 600 knots.  I rapped the burner when over B Range as I looked over at my senior Series Commander, 1/LT Put Preston, standing in his 12 foot tower looking down at me.  I am sure there were a few "Maggie's Drawers" (miss flags) because of jerked triggers at that moment but they were insignificant compared to the final scores posted.  The troops fired over 90 percent qualification that day, a first in many months of bad ammo.  I like to attribute the high scores to the leadership of Put Preston but also to that high speed, troop motivating, low Crusader pass across the firing lines. I was convinced it sometimes took ingenuity and extreme measures to inspire troops to higher performance.

As luck would have it, the Depot Commanding General, MGen. James M. Masters, had watched the qualification firing commence on time and had just driven away from the range firing line. As I pulled up in afterburner from my low pass, my Crusader passed directly over the General's olive drab staff car with the fluttering little two-star red flag.  The car was departing on the range access road toward the Third Recruit Battalion. 

When I arrived back at K Company, there was a message on my desk from the Weapons Battalion Executive Officer, Lt Col Fred Anthony directing me to call him.  I quickly returned his call.  Fred, also a Naval Aviator on exchange duty, told me I should not be so daring unless I was looking for trouble.  Fred related how he was standing at attention on the steps of the Weapons Battalion Headquarters Building rendering a hand salute during the morning flag raising ceremony when out of the corner of his vision he saw a Crusader jet break from a flight and dive for the rifle ranges. Fred said "Just as colors ended I watched your F-8 level off in front of and on altitude with the shooters on the 200 yard line. Then I saw the afterburner light off over B Range. It looked like you could be hit by an M-14 round.  You better not do that again."  

"Aye, Aye Sir." I responded. 

 I was a trifle nervous the rest of the day and even on the following Monday expecting hack time or possibly an Article 32 investigation. But, there were no further repercussions from my gross flat hat pass across the firing lines..  Good thing the scores were high!


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