Poppa Fox

I have written on several occasions about the Purple Foxes. It is a Marine Corps helicopter squadron formerly known as HMM-364, now redesignated VMM-364 to reflect transition to the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. The squadron’s first aircraft was the Sikorsky H-34 helicopter, and its first designation was HML-364, which stands for Light Marine Helicopter. The Purple Foxes were deployed several times to South Vietnam, remaining there until 1966 when the squadron was ordered back to MCAS El Toro to transition from the H-34 to the CH-46 Sea Knight. In October 1967, HMM-364 returned to Vietnam and participated in combat operations at Phu Bai and Marble Mountain. Toward the end of the Vietnam War, the Purple Foxes participated in the evacuation of Saigon. During the war, HMM-364 flew 70,000 hours in combat and combat support missions. HMM-364 was decommissioned on March 22, 1971.

The Purple Foxes were reactivated on September 28, 1984. Between then and now, HMM/VMM-364 has participated in numerous non-combat and combat missions, from Desert Shield and Desert Storm to Iraqi Freedom.

Poppa Fox is how the Marines of HMM-364 referred to their commanding officer. In 1969, the squadron commander was Eugene Brady who served in the Marine Corps from 1946 to 1980. While commanding HMM-364, Colonel Brady was awarded the Navy Cross:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to

Lieutenant Colonel Eugene R. Brady, United States Marine Corps

for extraordinary heroism and intrepidity in action while serving as Commanding Officer of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) — 364, Marine Aircraft Group SIXTEEN (MAG-16), First Marine Aircraft Wing, in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On 15 May 1969, Lieutenant Colonel Brady launched as Aircraft Commander of a transport helicopter assigned the mission of medically evacuating several seriously wounded Marines from an area northwest of An Hoa in Quang Nam Province. Arriving over the designated location, he was advised by the ground commander that the vastly outnumbered unit was surrounded by the enemy, some as close as thirty meters to the Marines’ positions. Fully aware of the dangers involved, and despite rapidly approaching darkness and deteriorating weather conditions, Lieutenant Colonel Brady elected to complete his mission. As he commenced a high-speed, low-altitude approach to the confined zone, he came under a heavy volume of hostile automatic weapons fire which damaged his aircraft but did not deter him from landing. During the considerable period of time required to embark the casualties, the landing zone was subjected to intense enemy mortar fire, several rounds of which landed perilously close to the transport, rendering additional damage to the helicopter. However, Lieutenant Colonel Brady displayed exceptional composure as he calmly relayed hostile firing positions to fixed-wing aircraft overhead and steadfastly remained in his dangerously exposed position until all the wounded men were safely aboard. Demonstrating superb airmanship, he then executed a series of evasive maneuvers as he lifted from the fire-swept zone, and subsequently delivered the casualties to the nearest medical facility. His heroic and determined actions inspired all who observed him and were instrumental in saving the lives of eight fellow Marines. By his courage, superior aeronautical ability, and unfaltering devotion to duty in the face of grave personal danger, Lieutenant Colonel Brady upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.

When Colonel Brady passed away in 2011, his squadron mates penned the following poem and dedicated it to him. I am reprinting it here with the greatest respect for its authors and the Marines of VMM-364.

Flying West
Dedicated to Colonel Eugene “Papa Fox” Brady

Colonel Eugene R. Brady, USMC (Deceased)
Colonel Eugene R. Brady, USMC (Deceased)

I hope there’s a place, way up in the sky,
Where pilots can go when they have to die –
A place where a guy can go and buy a cold beer,
For a friend and a comrade, whose memory is dear;
A place where no doctor or lawyer can treat,
Nor a management type would ere be caught dead;
Just a quaint little place, kinda dark and full of smoke,
Where they like to sing loud, and love a good joke;
The kind of place where a lady could go,
And feel safe and protected, by the men she would know.

There must be a place where old pilots go,
When their paining is finished, and their airspeed gets low,
Where the whiskey is old, and the women are young,
And the songs about flying and dying are sung,
Where you’d see all the fellows who’d flown west before …
And they’d call out your name as you came through the door;
Who would buy you a drink if your thirst should be bad,
And relate to the others, “He was quite a good lad.”

And then through the mist, you’d spot an old guy.
You had not seen for years, though he taught you to fly.
He’d nod his old head, and grin ear to ear,
And say, “Welcome, my son, I’m pleased that you’re here.”
“For this is the place where true flyers come,
When the journey is over, and the war has been won.
They’ve come here to at last be safe and alone
From the government clerk and the management lone,
Politicians and lawyers, the feds and the noise,
Where the hours are happy, and these good ol’ boys
Can relax with a cool one, and a well-deserved rest,
This is Heaven my son—you’ve passed your last test.”

Hell in a Helmet

Hell in a Helmet
Hell in a Helmet

This is what the Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines call themselves. There is a reason for this; the battalion has participated in some of the most horrific battles in our nation’s history since World War I. Since its initial activation in 1917, 2/9 distinguished itself during the Battle for Guam and Iwo Jima during World War II; in the defense of Khe Sanh in the I Corps region of Vietnam, the ill-fated attempt to rescue the crew of the SS Mayaguez, and Operation Desert Storm. The battalion also played a role in the evacuation of civilians caught between opposing forces in the Chinese Civil War, Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, and various other non-combat operations relating to providing relief to victims of natural disasters.

The second battalion was deactivated on 2 September 1994 to make room for one of three new light armor reconnaissance battalions, reactivated again in 2007 to serve within the 6th Marines as an anti-Terror Battalion, and again deactivated in 2015 as part of President Obama’s post war victory lap.

During the Vietnam War, 2/9 operated under the Third Marine Division. In early July 1965, 2/9 was ordered to Vietnam from its training base on Okinawa and soon after their arrival began rigorous combat operations at Da Nang, Hue, Phu Bai, Dong Ha, Camp Carroll, Cam Lo, Con Thien, Than Cam Son, Quang Tri, Cua Viet, and the Vandergrift Combat Base. Its most vicious engagement was the Battle for Khe Sanh, which was actually a series of engagements that today’s historians call “the hill fights.” The convention for naming hills involves labeling them according to their elevation in meters. Throughout these campaigns, the Marines of 2/9 (and other participating battalions) held firm in spite of an overwhelming enemy force of two North Vietnamese Army (NVA) infantry divisions.

In the early spring of 1967, 2/9 was operating in an area south of the old imperial city of Hue (pronounced way), when the Marines suddenly became aware of a growing enemy presence around the Khe Sanh Combat Base. Intelligence officers believed there were two NVA regiments operating in the area. No one believed this; it had become a standard conclusion each and every time someone found an NVA element. This time, however, the reports and suspicions were true. Company E (Echo 2/9) was sent to Khe Sanh to reinforce the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. The operational areas included Hill 881 North, Hill 881 South, and Hill 861.

Combat Patrol 1967
Combat Patrol 1967

Combat patrol leaders reported considerable radio traffic in Vietnamese; there were NVA all over the place and the 40 Marines on one combat patrol became very nervous. Suddenly, Hill 861 erupted into a bloody crescendo of rifle fire and grenade explosions. The patrol leader called for artillery and close air support. It wasn’t long after that the entire side of Hill 861 was aflame in napalm. Marine medevac helicopters started coming in to evacuate the wounded; the dead would have to wait. Medevac flights were escorted by gunships. One helicopter was bringing in reinforcements from Bravo 1/9, but it was shot out of the air and seen tumbling down the side of the mountain coming to rest 700 meters below. And then just as suddenly, the enemy disappeared —it was as if they all vanished into thin air.

It took the rest of the night to evacuate the wounded; the dead were removed during the next morning. The Marines sent out more patrols, combing the area between 881S and 881N … but there was no sign of NVA. The Marines had lost 19 dead, 59 wounded; NVA contact had rendered Echo Company ineffective.

In early May, Con Thien situated south of the DMZ came under heavy attack; enemy activity in the “Leatherneck Square” area intensified and while clearing Route 561 between Con Thien and Cam Lo, 1/9 made contact with a large NVA force. MACV authorized the Marines to conduct operations within the DMZ; it would be a combined Marine Corps and RVN Army (ARVN) force. The operation was code named Hickory/Lam Son 54.

The hill fights, which ended on 11 May 1967, produced 155 Marine killed in action and 425 wounded. NVA losses were 940 confirmed killed in action.

Getting the wounded to the Landing Zone (LZ)
Getting the wounded to the Landing Zone (LZ)

Operation Hickory launched on the morning of May 18, 1967. 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines and 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines were supported by tanks as they moved forward into Con Thien. 2/26 made contact with an estimated two battalions of NVA regulars who had positioned themselves in well defended bunkers and trenches. Marines began receiving murderous automatic weapons and mortar fire from the right flank. Casualties were immediate and heavy. 2/9 moved up to reinforce the right flank, immediately engaging the enemy. As night fell, the Marines pulled back to evacuate the dead and wounded. Air strikes were called in during hours of darkness; with daylight came Marine artillery fires. Both Marine battalions went into the attack at 0700. 2/26 was stopped in its tracks within minutes due to withering fire to the front and right. 2/9 moved forward against light resistance and was able to relieve the pressure on 2/26. Within four hours, the Marines had successfully overrun the enemy bunker complex and continued the advance.

Mid-afternoon of the same day, Hotel 2/9 operating on the eastern-most flank of the advance came under heavy enemy fire near the intersection of Route 606 and 561. Several Marines in the point squad were down; one Marine gallantly ran out to carry them to the safety of Marine lives, but he too was hit three times and later succumbed to his wounds. Corporal Robert Gillingham was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions.

Tanks moved up to join the attack, but the NVA efficiently employed RPGs against them. The gunner and tank commander of the first tank were mortally wounded. A second tank was also destroyed. Hotel 2/9 aggressively moved forward so that all the dead and wounded could be evacuated, and as he withdrew he called in for supporting fires. Seven Marines were killed, 10 more wounded.

The war continued: Operation Kingfisher in July lasting until October. Out of five battalions participating (3/3, 2/4, 3/4, 2/9, and 3/9) Marine casualties included 340 killed; 3,000 wounded. NVA losses were 1,117 killed, 2,000 wounded. In the late fall, Operation Kentucky, Operation Scotland, the Second Battle of Khe Sanh, The Rockpile, and Vandergrift.

From January to mid-March 1969, 2/9 participated in Operation Dewey Canyon —a sweep of the A Shau Valley and the last major offensive by the Marine Corps in Vietnam. Second Battalion, Ninth Marines … Hell in a Helmet and a band of extraordinary brothers.

Sergeant William R. Button, USMC

At the time of this action, William Robert Button was a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his role in tracking down and killing the Haitian nationalist leader Charlemagne Peralte during the night of October 31—November 1, 1919. Sergeant (later Brigadier General) Herman H. Hanneken was also awarded the Medal of Honor for this action. William Button was promoted to sergeant before passing away from malaria at the age of 25 years.

William Button was born on December 3, 1895 at Saint Louis, Missouri. He was dispatched to Haiti not long after joining the Corps and while in Haiti he commanded a group of Gendarmerie near Grande Riviere when they engaged a group of Haitians opposed to US occupation. By the end of this fighting, Charlemagne Peralte had been killed and 1,200 of his followers killed, captured, or disbursed.

In recognition of risking his life in battle, he along with Sergeant Hanneken was cited for bravery, and recommended for the United States’ highest decoration for bravery, the Medal of Honor. The Secretary of the Navy approved the award on June 10, 1920, and it was presented to Button by the Major General Commandant of the Marine Corps, John A. Lejeune at a ceremony in Washington DC on July 1, 1920. After the ceremony Sergeant Button took a short leave to visit his family before returning to Haiti.

Sergeant Button died of pernicious malaria on April 15, 1921 at the Department Hospital, Cap-Haitien, Haiti … he was just 25 years of age.

Medal of HonorThe President of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to


For service as set forth in the following Citation:

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in actual conflict with the enemy near GRANDE RIVIERE, Republic of Haiti, on the night of October 31 – November 1, 1919, resulting in the death of Charlemagne Peralte, the supreme bandit chief in the Republic of Haiti, and the killing and capture and dispersal of about twelve hundred (1200) of his outlaw followers. Corporal William R. Button not only distinguished himself by his excellent judgment and leadership, but unhesitatingly exposed himself to great personal danger, when the slightest error would have forfeited not only his life but the lives of the detachments of Gendarmerie under his command. The successful termination of his mission will undoubtedly prove of untold value to the Republic of Haiti.

Finally Home

John Charlton Holladay
John Charlton Holladay

Seventy-three years after he was killed in action, Marine Raider Sergeant John C. Holladay was returned home and buried with full military honors at the National Cemetery in Florence, South Carolina.

Members of the new 1st Marine Raider Battalion rendered a final salute to Sergeant Holladay in recognition of his sacrifice for the United States of America while a member of Company B, 1st Marine Raider Battalion in 1943.

On July 20, 1943, the 1st Raider Battalion, 1st Raider Regiment was tasked with assaulting through enemy positions at Bairoko Harbor on New Georgia Island as part of Operation Cartwheel, which was part of a Marine Corps-Army offensive to shut down Japanese operations in the South Pacific. After fighting two successful defensive lines, then-31 year old Holladay was serving as a platoon sergeant and was in the process of rallying his Marines for a third attack when he was hit by a sniper. According to his platoon leader, Holladay had been shot directly through the heart and died soon after.

Thirty three other Marines and soldiers lost their lives during this operation; in the days that followed, patrols returned to recover and bury the dead … but Holladay’s remains were unaccounted for.

In 1947, a graves registration company returned to conduct an intensive yet unsuccessful search for Holladay’s remains. In 1949, the American Graves Registration Service declared Holladay’s remains “un-recoverable.” Then in 2012, local workers on New Georgia unearthed foxholes, military gear, and human remains while clearing land for logging. When finally notified of this discovery, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency dispatched a task force to Bairoko to investigate the find. After extensive interviews and extensive scientific methodologies, DPAA conclusively identified these remains as those of belonging to Sergeant Holladay. He was brought home, finally, to his beloved country.

Sergeant Holladay graduated from high school in 1930 … he was 18 years of age; he worked as a florist, but had a passion for forestry. In 1941, Holladay and a friend set off in a rowboat for a month of fishing, hunting, and living off the land. They did not know that the United States has been attacked by the Empire of Japan. When they came out of the wild some 30 days later, they realized that the America was at war with Japan. Holladay went directly to a Marine Corps recruiter and enlisted in the Marines.

On 9 January 1942, Holladay stepped on the yellow footprints at Parris Island, South Carolina; a few weeks after that, Holladay became a United States Marine. He was 29 years old. He learned that Major General Merritt Edson was looking for volunteers for duty as raiders. Holladay stepped forward; he quietly disappeared into the forests of Quantico, Virginia to begin specialized training. He became part of Edson’s Raiders.

In August 1942, Edson’s Raiders opened the Guadalcanal Campaign with a landing on the small island of Tulagi. Once captured, they were dispatched to defend Henderson Field on Guadalcanal Island from an Imperial Japanese Army offensive. Over the next year, Holladay fought across the Solomon Islands until he met the sniper’s bullet on New Georgia Island. He died on that spot, but he was never forgotten by the American people.

Sgt. John Holladay returned home on April 4, his birthday. He would have been 104 years of age.


In May 1966, a small North Vietnamese reconnaissance force made their way across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) into Quang Tri Province. The unit’s mission was to begin preparations for a massive invasion by regular forces of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Preparations included organizing local sympathizers to help with a very large logistics support mission.

The Commanding General of he NVA 324B Division was Nguyen Vang. General Vang began his infiltration during the last week of May but soon learned that thanks to the ineptness of Viet Cong locals, much needed supplies were not in place. The division’s advance stalled on the banks of the Ben Hat River; General Vang sent troops back into the North for supplies.

The infiltration was not a well-kept secret. General Westmoreland had been receiving intelligence reports about the presence of the NVA 324B, and he had long suspected that the NVA would make an attempt to seize Quang Tri Province, which was part of the I Corps Tactical Zone (also, I CTZ and often said as “One Corps”). Photo intelligence suggested the presence of NVA forces in Quang Tri —a captured NVA soldier confirmed it.

General Westmoreland believed that the Americans lacked sufficient intelligence about the enemy’s intent. The natural tendency would be to order up a blocking force and plan for a robust counter-attack. Marine commanders suggested that an NVA presence in Quang Tri could be a ruse, intending to lure the Marines away from Da Nang. Westmoreland directed General Lew Walt to employ reconnaissance units to determine the purpose and scope of the NVA 324B.

A Recon team of 12 Marines lifted off from Dong Ha on 1 July 1966. They were inserted near two intersecting trails inside the DMZ; they were immediately overwhelmed by enemy fire and quickly withdrew. For two weeks, recon teams landed in several locations observing NVA regulars as they developed fortified positions. With these confirmations, Westmoreland ordered Walt: seven Marine Corps infantry battalions, five Army of Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) infantry and airborne battalions (11,000 men) would be reinforced by artillery, combined aircraft, and long-range naval support from the Seventh Fleet. A special landing force was placed in reserve.

Operation Hastings had begun.

More than half of Quang Tri Province was mountainous jungle. The canopy was so thick that bombs couldn’t penetrate it, and ground damage assessment was next to impossible. To the east of these mountains were foothills, and then rice paddies and sandy beaches along the coastal shore.

Commanding Operation Hastings was Brigadier general Lowell English, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He developed a plan to cut off the NVA 324B by seizing control of two trails just south of the DMZ. One key point in this place was placing a Marine unit on top of the “Rock Pile,” a craggy hill overlooking the Cam Lo River and the flat plain in the north. NVA observed the dust rising out of nearby Dong Ha as US aircraft continuously landed troops and supplies. For three days, B-52 aircraft dropped ordinance on NVA positions.

Combat operations began in earnest on 15 July 1966. A-4 Skyhawks from Marine Aircraft Group —12 (MAG-12) and F-4 Phantoms from MAG-11 began bombing and laying down napalm at two pre-designed landing zones (LZs): LZ Crow, 8 kilometers northeast of the Rock Pile, and LZ Dove at the mouth of the valley five kilometers northeast of LZ Crow. As ground support aircraft withdrew, Marine artillery from the 12th Marines began a twenty-minute bombardment of LZ Crow. CH-46s began inserting Marines at LZ Crow at 0750. The first drops were conducted without incident; a second insertion was answered by sniper fire. The landing zone was too small; two helicopters collided and crashed while a third CH-46 hit a tree while trying to avoid the other two. Two Marines were killed, seven seriously injured. Later that day, another CH-46 was hit by NVA fire; 13 Marines from 2/1 were killed. The Marines promptly renamed the Song Ngan as “Helicopter Valley.”

Marines from 3/4 were soon receiving deadly accurate fire from the NVA 324B. It wasn’t long before 3/4 was cut off behind enemy lines. They took a pounding that lasted for days; it was the bloodiest battle of the operation.

Operation HastingsOn 24 July 1966, India Company 3/5 was ordered to proceed to the top of Hill 362 and establish a radio relay station —necessary for effective communications in mountainous terrain. The company completed their movement and had begun to secure their perimeter when attacked by a large force of NVA. Marines incurred significant casualties but remained in their positions throughout the night, protecting it and their wounded comrades. The carnage of the fight became apparent at dawn. Fighting continued as medevac aircraft removed the dead and wounded.

Operation Hastings lasted throughout the month of July. The NVA abandoned their plan for the invasion of Quang Tri Province. When they withdrew back into North Vietnam, they left behind 882 dead, hundreds of weapons, tons of ammunition, and 17 prisoners of war. Of the Marines, 126 were killed in action with an additional 448 wounded. Among those from India Company:

First Lieutenant Joseph Kopfler, III, USMC
Staff Sergeant Jerry Hailey, USMC
Staff Sergeant William Hawkins, USMC
Corporal Richard Currier, Jr., USMC
Corporal Robert Johnson, USMC
Lance Corporal Robin L. Arnold, USMC
Lance Corporal Ronald Coates, USMC
Lance Corporal George Corey, USMC
Lance Corporal Sidney Malone, Jr., USMC
Private First Class Randy Brosnan, USMC
Private First Class Lawrence Daniels, USMC
Private First Class Lawrence Denny, USMC
Private First Class Franklin Eucker, USMC
Private First Class R. Fenstermacher, USMC
Private First Class Daniel Harmon, USMC
Private First Class Stephen Kittle, USMC
Private First Class Thomas Presby, USMC
Private Oscar Cruz, USMC