Washington D.C. Fetes Marine Corps Aviation's 100th Anniversary
The U.S. Marine Corps' first 100 years of aviation was celebrated in the nation's capital during a sunset ceremony on May 16, 2012. Officially, the origin of Marine Corps Aviation began on May 22, 1912 when 1st Lieutenant Alfred A. Cunningham reported for duty at the Naval Aviation Camp at Annapolis Maryland. Soon, he travelled to the Burgess Company and Curtis, Inc. (no, not the Glenn Curtiss company) of Marblehead Massachusetts for flight training. Burgess produced licensed copies of the Wright Model B Flyer and this is where Lt. Cunningham received his ground training and where he first soloed on August 20th, 1912.
Almost 100 years to that official date, Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos presided over a wreath-laying ceremony that included plenty of ceremonial music and marching by the Marine Barracks Washington D.C. bands, drill team and color guard. Speeches were given by the Deputy Commandant for Aviation. Lt. General Terry Robling, who gave an overview of accomplishments and the future of Marine Corps Aviation. The Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, also spoke and drew a round of applause when, towards the end of his speech, he discussed the future of the F-35 fighter and said that “The Marines need a fifth generation fighter and they will have it!” A wreath honoring those in Marine Corps aviation was laid at the foot of the Marine Corps War Memorial (otherwise known as the Iwo Jima Memorial) by the Secretary and both of the aforementioned Generals. An "aerial review" containing ten aircraft used by today's Marines then roared overhead, including UH-1N, AH-1W, CH-46E, and CH-53E helicopters, C-130J and MV-22 transports, and F/A-18C, F/A-18D, EA-6B and AV-8B tactical jets. This was a rather intimate gathering, with about a thousand invited guests and spectators spread out about a cool, tree lined parade ground near the Marine's monument.
"Marine Corps aviation exists almost entirely to support the troops on the ground" is a common phrase which defines the job Marine Corps aircrew are tasked with. The Germans who faced the Marines in World War I nicknamed them "Devil Dogs" for their tenacity and toughness; those qualities have been displayed in countless battles ever since. Although there was much reminiscing about the past during the ceremony, there was a fair amount of looking ahead too, and one of the most galvanizing forecasts of Marine aviation's future was uttered by Secretary Panetta though, when he said that "...whatever the hell we're flying at the end of the next 100 years, there'll be one tough [SOB] Marine flying it!". Happy birthday Marine Corps aviation, and good luck in your next century of flight.
Story and photo by Ken Kula