Flying Tigers Ring Marine Bell in Remembrance
- October 12, 2015
- / Chris Kazakos
- / Post Tags
They stood around the Marine Corps Bell Tower at Veterans Memorial Park Pensacola with their heads bowed in prayer and remembrance. And, one by one, many of the members of Marine Helicopter Squadron 361 rang the bell in honor of those who couldn’t be at this reunion after paying the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.
The Flying Tigers of HMH-361 has had a long history of engaging in combat operations in every major conflict since its inception during the Korea conflict including the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and continues to serve in the Global War on Terror.
Generations of HMH-361 Veterans came together in Pensacola the weekend of October 3rd for a full slate of events which included a visit to the Veterans Memorial Park.
Because of the location and history of training pilots at area bases, Pensacola was the logical place to hold this reunion, according to organizer John Ruffini, a veteran of Desert Storm, OIF and OEF. It was the first gathering dedicated solely to this group.
"We have Whiting Field here, which has pilot training for helicopters,” Maj John Ruffini, USMC Ret. said. "They used to do (flight training) at Ellyson Field here in Pensacola and there’s also the National Museum of Naval Aviation Museum as well as Veterans Memorial Park.”
Ruffini also talked about the importance of having the Park in Pensacola as part of military reunions.
"I don’t think it can do anything but attract more reunions,” he said. "The Wall South is here and of course it’s great for Marines with the tower and Cobra helicopter. And it’s not only Vietnam and Helicopter guys. There’s monuments here from World War 1, Korea, World War 2. It covers all aspects of the military.”
HMH-361 was initially commissioned in February 1952, beginning their legacy attached to the only helicopter group in the Marine Corps, Marine Air Group 16. Shortly thereafter the squadron undertook its first major operation, as support for the atomic test exercise which is still the largest helicopter operation in history.
The Flying Tigers deployed for the Cuban Missile Crisis and then to Okinawa, Japan before being deployed to Vietnam as one of the first units in country. In May 1985, HMH-361 attained the highest Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation System (MCCRES) grade to date for a rotary wing squadron.
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, elements of HMH-361 joined the 15th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units. Since then, the Flying Tigers have completed numerous deployments sustaining heavy lift and assault support operations in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
For Veterans who have served with HMH-361 can contact Major Ruffini at [email protected] for additional information regarding future reunion activities.