Vietnam

Flying Leathernecks of the Vietnam War

The common image of the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam is a scene with Leathernecks on the ground, holding off—and beating back—a larger enemy force. But Marines in Southeast Asia who fought their country’s battles did so, as the Corps’ hymn states, not only “on land and sea” but also “in the air.”

Marine aviators in Vietnam continued a legacy that stretches back to the birth of aerial combat. During World War I, Marine 2nd Lt. Ralph Talbot and Gunnery Sgt. Robert G. Robinson, returning from a bombing mission over Flanders in a Liberty D.H. 4 biplane, fought their way through a dozen German Fokker D.VII fighters on Oct. 14, 1918, and were both rewarded with the Medal of Honor. Less successful was 2nd Lt. Charles F. Nash, who flew Spad XIII fighters while on detached duty with the U.S. Army Air Service’s 93rd Aero Squadron until he was shot down and taken prisoner by Leutnant Fritz Gewert of Jagdstaffel 19 on Sept. 13, 1918.

The next world war was the one where Marine fighter pilots really showed their stuff and set an example for those aviators who would follow. From their heroic defense of Wake Island through the Solomon Islands campaign and their participation in the Battle of Okinawa from both land bases and aircraft carriers, Marine dogfighters in World War II distinguished themselves against Japanese forces

Joseph J. Foss, the Marine ace-of-aces with 26 victories, received the Medal of Honor, as did aces (with shoot-downs ranging from nine to 25) Robert M. Hanson, Gregory Boyington, Kenneth A. Walsh, John Lucian Smith, James E. Swett,

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