Photo Information

U.S. Marines with Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River and Vietnam War veterans, who served with Hotel Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines, pose for a photo at the New River Aviation Memorial during a tour on MCAS New River, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, April 26, 2024. The tour included a visit to the New River Aviation Memorial, the Marine Heavy Helicopter Training Squadron 302 hanger and Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron 204. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alyssa J. DeCrane)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Alyssa DeCrane

Vietnam War Veterans Tour MCAS New River

17 May 2024 | Lance Cpl. Alyssa DeCrane Marine Corps Air Station New River

Vietnam War veterans from Hotel Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines (H/3/12) toured Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River during a recent visit to Jacksonville, North Carolina. The group, who tries to meet up at least once per year, included 11 veterans and their unit commanding officer during the war.

During the tour the veterans visited the New River Aviation Memorial where they were able to view the aircraft platforms they once flew on during the war.

“The aircraft they saw at the Aviation Memorial Garden were the same ones which perfomed CASEVAC [casualty evacuation], re-supply, transport, and close air support missions for them while fighting on the ground,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Garth W. Burnett, commanding officer, MCAS New River.

They also visited the Marine Heavy Helicopter Training Squadron 302 hangar, where they were provided an opportunity to interact with Marine Corps pilots and crew members. The tour also included a visit to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron 204 which allowed the veterans to access the tilt-rotor aircraft and the MV-22 Osprey.

“Some of us, myself included, flew a lot in helicopters on various missions,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Barry Westfall, commanding officer, H/3/12, 3rd Marine Division and a veteran of the Vietnam War. “[These missions included] inserting force recon teams into the jungle, extracting them, either because it was time to get them out or, sometimes they had made contact, so we had to go in and take them out.”

The howitzer battery, equipped with five long-range guns, fought in Vietnam from May 1966 to June 1967. During this time, H/3/12, which later earned the moniker “The Long Arm of the Magnificent Bastards,” was equipped with the mission to move and shoot in support of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines (2/4), 1st Marine Division, also known as “The Magnificent Bastards.”

This courageous partnership of Marines was the first in the war to move as far north in Vietnam to fight just below the demilitarized zone (DMZ). A multitude of North Vietnamese fighters were pouring through the DMZ southward on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. H/3/12 established a position on top of a plateau and provided artillery support to the infantry Marines of 2/4 in the fields and jungle.

H/3/12 also played a major role in Operation Hastings from July 7 to Aug. 2, 1966, which was the single largest Marine Corps operation at that point in the war.

Following this period, Marines with H/3/12 and 2/4 were recognized with multiple awards including the Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, and Purple Hearts for their actions during the Vietnam War. Additionally, one Marine was awarded a Bronze Star, and another Marine, who is now deceased, was awarded a Silver Star.

“They try to get together every year as their numbers dwindle to remember the past and help secure the future,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Jerry Yanello, former commanding officer of MCAS New River.

The tour brought back memories for the veterans as they were exposed to the various aircraft they had used while in Vietnam. It also introduced new perspectives for the Marines, both active duty and veterans, who shared their stories and knowledge with each other.

“The significant thing for me and for my former comrades to be here is to take a look at what is going on in the Marine Corps today,” said Westfall. He goes on to express the admiration he and his fellow veterans have for modern day Marines. “We are blown away with how exceptional the Marine Corps is today compared to the way it was when we were in. And we loved it when we were in but, we are so impressed with the young Marines, the equipment, everything the Marine Corps is today.”

Marines assigned to MCAS New River welcome veterans and enjoy the opportunity to interact with them and exchange stories of the past and present. “It was a privilege to showcase MCAS New River to all of the veterans and loved ones in the tour,” said Burnett. “Probably equally important though, is the exposure of these veterans and heroes to our young Marines, Sailors, civilians, and families who currently serve on New River. Showcasing and honoring those who have gone before us and sacrificed so much to ensure that we could be here today, doing what we do, is truly a win-win situation.

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