What did you do at HMX-1?

2009/03/07 - HISTORICAL / STORIES

Wally, here is a little more on “Army One”. They remained in the WH [White House] program until the late 1970’s. I have attached something I wrote when asked: “What did you do at HMX?” on the squadron’s 60th anniversary.

Previously the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps shared the responsibilities of presidential helicopter transportation by alternating between using Army One and Marine one, however in 1976 the Marines took complete control of this duty with Marine One.

I served with HMX from March, 1961 until August, 1964. I was a Captain at that time, along with about 30 other Captains. I worked in the S-4 shop, but my primary duty was as Squadron Pilot. I stood the OPAL duty at Anacostia, made Presidential trips, and performed numerous missions in support of HMX’s varied assignments. I was in the first VH-3A conversion class, and picked up one of the first ones, 150612, at Sikorsky on 11 May 1962.

Probably my most infamous event, and one I am not proud of, was overspeeding the engine of a VH-34D on startup during an OPAL at Anacostia on the morning after President Kennedy’s Cuban Missile address. The drill was that the copilot, me, would start the engine from the left seat using the pilot’s throttle on his collective, while he strapped in. It was a clumsy and difficult operation, and that time I screwed it up.

Years later, sometime in late 1976, I may have been able to atone for my sins. At that time, I was a LtCol assigned as Helicopter Plans And Programs Coordinator (AAP-24) in Division of Aviation, HQMC. Included in my duties was HMX POC. One day that summer, my boss sent me up to the office of the CMC, General Louis Wilson, to assist him in his decision as to whether the Marines wanted to fight the Army for sole responsibility for the White House mission. The White House had determined only one service, Marines or Army, would be assigned. Previously, both had shared it. Both services had to defend their position. After my briefing, General Wilson decided it would be the Marines job, and it was my job to make that happen. With typical Marine speed, I assembled my paper, got it chopped thru HQMC, and presented it to an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Transportation. I remember that he was a train man because of much railroad memorabilia in his office. I suppose it was logical that he make the decision, and he did.

The Marines had landed first with the most, and he wrote the Army out. Several days later, an Army 2 star was roaming the halls of HQMC looking for my scalp, but several Marine Generals were covering my six. And that maybe one of the reasons HMX has the job today.

I flew my last USMC flight in an HMX CH-53D, 157754, on 17 Feb 1976.

John Van Nortwick
Lt Col, USMC (ret)

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