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Former CH-46 Sea Knight pilot lends expertise to Vietnam Experience Exhibit

Molly Hamilton Nov 03, 2014
japan 1972 Joe Caruso

Capt. Joe Caruso, USMC in 1972

When Joe Caruso joined the Marines in 1968 on an aviation contract, he had never even seen an airplane. Three years later, he was piloting a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter as part of the last operational squadron in Vietnam, HMM-164.  “We were the quick reactionary force pulled in to transport the South Vietnamese forces during the Easter Offensive of 1972,” said Caruso.

Currently a resident of Summerville, SC, Caruso recently heard that Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum was creating a Vietnam Experience and that a newly-acquired CH-46 Sea Knight would be featured in the exhibit. He knew he had to be a part of it.  He reached out to the museum’s Executive Director Mac Burdette to see if his expertise could be used in the creation of the exhibit and ensuring the authenticity of the CH-46 display. Burdette immediately welcomed him to a planning meeting where he shared a great deal of useful information about his experiences on the CH-46 that can be incorporated into the exhibit.

Then on a warm October day, Caruso came to the Vietnam Experience and stepped into the CH-46 on display. As he sat in the pilot’s seat, all of the buttons and systems came back to him in a flood of memories. “The CH-46 was the workhorse in Vietnam.  Hueys were too small, 53’s were too big, but the CH-46 was perfect for troop transport, medevac and re-supply,” said Caruso.

Easter Offensive

Captain Joe “Rico” Caruso, USMC, was piloting the middle CH-46 Sea Knight in this photo.

In December 1971, Caruso’s squadron was assigned to the USS Okinawa in WestPac – which mainly operated in the South China Sea. During the spring of the following year, Caruso and his squadron participated in what is now known as the Easter Offensive. All regular Marine ground and air forces had been removed from Vietnam for about a year, “but the military assets that our government had handed over to the South Vietnamese were deemed inoperable, due to lack of proper maintenance procedures,” said Caruso.

His squadron and their sister squadron, HMM-165 (stationed onboard the USS Tripoli), were chosen to help the South Vietnamese forces engage the enemy in the northern provinces. “The Vietnam War was the first helicopter war. The Army used helicopters like the old cavalry had used horses,” Caruso recalled.  He didn’t always feel safe when landing in the danger zones in Vietnam. “We were a slow moving, big green target,” said Caruso. In recognition of their support, Caruso’s squadron, HMM-164, was awarded the “Marine Corps Squadron of the Year” honors in 1972.

When Caruso reflects on his service, his thoughts are mixed. “The Vietnam experience, for those of us who lived it, was not a pleasant one, to say the least,” said Caruso. But he has high hopes for the purpose and intent of the Vietnam Experience exhibit opening soon at Patriots Point.  He explained, “My hope is that this ‘Vietnam Experience’ will be a starting point for healing, and a place where our nation can truly appreciate those who gave most, if not all, by answering the call to duty.  After all, over 58,000 men and women will never have the opportunity to hear, ‘Thank you for your service.’”

Photos below are from one of Joe Caruso’s visits to Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in October when he shared information about the CH-46 Sea Knight with museum staff.  The helicopter has since been repainted as it looked in Vietnam.



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19 thoughts on “Former CH-46 Sea Knight pilot lends expertise to Vietnam Experience Exhibit

  1. Dennis Masters says:

    Ask Joe if he was a member of Von Hertberg’s Flying Circus.

    1. Joe Caruso says:

      Hi! Dennis,

      What have you been up to……..,

      Joe Caruso

      1. Dennis Masters says:

        Retired after 23 yrs, living in south florida, doing good, there is another phrog driver I served with in HMM-261 lives in Charleston, SC, Waldo Peper. Good stick.
        Glad to see you doing well.

      2. Hi Joe, we never met, but from roughly Jan 1968 to Jan 1969 I was one of the GE Reps with HMM 162 in the Caribbean and HMM164, HMM165 , HMM265 in Vietnam. I have had some contact with HMM265, but no luck so far with HMM162, HMM164 and HMM165. My interest is guys that were there when I was. I do have some photos of Vietnam. Any contacts you have would be appreciated. I think all but me and one other of the GE guys are RTB now. Larry

  2. Robert Burris says:

    Was avionics and a gunner in HMM-164. We were also
    the first CH-46 squadron in Viet-nam in March of “66”.

  3. Dennis Masters says:

    Crewchief YT-13 154812, Left Squadron Dec 72. Was a young Cpl. then, Maj Brody(OPS), pinned my Combat AirCrew Wings.

  4. Timothy Kirkup says:

    Hello I just found an old black baseball cap wit “HMM 164” on the front “OKINAWA 1972” on one side and “LUCH” on the other. Did you know a man named Luch in HMM-164 ? I would love to find out the history of this hat. Thank you for your service and Welcome Home !
    Sincerely, Timothy Kirkup

  5. rick quinn says:

    I was a crewchief on yt-25 a ch-53 on hmm-164′ Whoever is doing the articles left out the fact we were a composite squadron of hueys ,53,s and ch-46,s and I believe is a disservice to the other aircrewman that participated in vietnam missions.We all got along fantastically and had each other,s backs. We partied together in the Philipines and were all brothers in arms. We were voted number 1 squadron of the year and named Von Hertbergs Flying Circus. Col.Von Hertberg was a fantastic commander.And a shoutout to Maj.Frank Bell ,Lt. Steve Wonner and Lt. Furman,they could land a 53 on an lph and you did not know you had landed it was so smooth. Corporal Rick Quinn YT-25,serial number 156656 a/c #

  6. rick quinn says:

    Feel free to contact me anytime for more specifics on the uss okinawa tour in 1972.After leaving the USMC in 73 I worked for Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford Ct. and West Palm Beach

  7. Steven Wonner says:

    Rick, just happened to be browsing and caught your thread today. I agree that the 53’s and UH-1s are usually overlooked in the HMM-164 history. Understandable, I guess, since the CH-46s were the original component of 164 and we were the freckled step children. I remember hauling a 46 back to the Okinawa on a sling with Maj. Bell. I think we were flying your ship. I remember that we had to burn so much fuel off to pick it up that we had the warning lights on when we landed. I too left the USMC in 1974 and flew S-64s for Evergreen for a couple of years and then got a real job in sales. We lived in Alameda for thirty years and I’m now retired and living in Bonsall CA. We are so close to Pendleton that the Cobra’s downwind leg is visible from our deck. We also occasionally see some Ospreys from Miramar fly over. That’s a aircraft I’d like to fly. Thanks for your post.

  8. Jimmy J Tassin says:

    Was a CH46 Crew Chief/Gunner in the USMC @ the very end of Vietnam War. I didn’t go to Vietnam, but most of the guys I served were Vietnam veterans. I spent nearly 4 years and loved the 46. When the squadron was replaced with the Hueys, it was time for me to go. Thanks to guys like you, all the guys I served with able to come back home. To the ones that didn’t make it back home; a debt of gratitude is owed by all Americans.
    Thanks for serving,
    Jimmy J Tassin USMC/Sgt.

  9. Jim Carter says:

    I am looking for anyone who knew Lt Mike McGinty who flew Sea Knights. He was killed in Dec 1971.

  10. Daniel McAfee says:

    Looking for anyone who knew Mark McAfee CH46 Crew Chief. Thanks to all of you for what you did!

  11. To Steve Wonner I just caught your reply almost a year later but thought I would let you know I have an actual photo of you and Major Bell landing the 46 on the deck of the Okinawa that day.Its a littlr raggedy in a box all these years.If you want to communicate directly me e-mail is [email protected] and I am in Cape Coral Florida retired.Glad to hear you had a decent and wholesome life since those days. Thank you for responding,I ran into Lt.Furman in 1975 in a bar in Worcester,Massachusetts and we shared a few beers.God Bless you .You still landed a 53 smoother than any pilot I ever flew with!!

  12. to Dennis Masters,Iwas a member of Von Hertberg’sFlying Circus We were all given black t-shirts with the logo on it in1972.Iwasthe c/c on YT-25 # 156656. Some of our crewmembers were Mike Madison,Mike Mormon,Whitey Shaw,Benny Whitsey,and Major Bell was our maintenance officer.If you remember give me a yell at [email protected] directly!!

  13. Larry Paavola says:

    Welcome home to all you “CAN DO” brothers. I was an avionics/door gunner on YT-46’S in 72 under Col. Hertberg before he went back to D.C. I’ll never forget when he “loop-delooped” the flight deck on the Okinawa as he left.AWESOME!! Lt Caruso I had the ” pleasure” of flying w/ you several times. Woohoo! Love y’all. Sgt. LARRY PAAVOLA. Semper Fi

  14. Paul Santucci says:

    It’s Tucc

  15. Paul Santucci says:

    It’sTucc Larry give me a call at 210910705 want to hear from you Thanks Tucc

  16. Paul Santucci says:

    2109107050 this is number thanks Tucc

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