Marion Sturkey, a Marine Corps helicopter pilot, deployed to Vietnam in May 1966. Sturkey and his squadron, HMM-265, flew the new Boeing H-46 helicopters (which are still in use with the Marine Corps today in 2001, 35 years later).
Below are some of the photographs depicting the Vietnam War that Sturkey saw in 1966-1967. He took some of the photographs from his helicopter cockpit, and others from the ground. The squeamish need not fret. There are no pictures of dead bodies, and no pictures of blood and gore.
All pictures are Sturkey's unless otherwise indicated.
18. In the fall of 1966, Marines and the North Vietnamese waged a bitter see-saw battle for control of the heavily jungled Nui Cay Tri Ridge ("Mutter Ridge"). Here, amid debris from artillery fire (from both good guys and bad guys) a Marine M-60 team fires at the enemy. (USMC Photo)
19. A "Sparrowhawk" reaction team swoops in by helicopter to land beside a typical small village -- hidden under the trees -- in the rice basin south of Da Nang. Are there good guys, or bad guys, in the village? The helicopter crew and the Sparrowhawk team are about 15 seconds away from finding out.
20. The late great THUNDERMUG, the HMM-265 squadron mascot. The toilet basin held invigorating libations. To quench his thirst, one simply dipped his cup in the bowl.
21. Hit by enemy AAA fire, a doomed H-46 from HMM-265 trails smoke and flame. The H-46 crashed, and exploded upon impact, in "Helicopter Valley" on the afternoon of 15 July 1966 -- the
fifth H-46 lost in the valley that day. Of the 16 Marines aboard (4 crewmen and 12 Grunts) 13 died in the crash and fire. Although severely burned, the remaining three Marines survived. (Photo courtesy of Haas Faust)
22. Downed by enemy fire, this Huey crashed in the mountains. The remains have been externalled back to base at Marble Mountain by an H-46.
23. An H-46 "slick," a heavy-hauler, externals a shot-down Huey back to Marble Mountain in the spring of 1967.
24. Hit by enemy AAA fire, this H-46 from HMM-165 made a forced landing in the river. In this photo, a maintenance crew is removing the rotor blades and preparing the fuselage as a "sling load." When all is ready, an H-53 will external the downed helicopter back to base for repairs. (USMC Photo)
25. An H-53 hovers above its sling load, a downed H-46. (USMC Photo A-421672)
26. Anybody see my missing Aft Pylon?????? On 1 September 1967, a mechanical problem ripped the aft pylon -- transmission, rotors, and all -- completely off of this H-46 from HMM-265. Fortunately the accident happened on the ground, not in flight. (Photo courtesy of Jim Connacher)
27. Sturkey pokes through the charred wreckage of an H-46 from his squadron. During the pre-dawn hours of 27 January 1967, this helicopter was flying an emergency ammo resuppy mission. Shooting a GCA into the Khe Sanh airstrip in blinding (zero-zero) fog, the H-46 flew into a Huey that had parked on the runway (the fog was so thick the Huey could not air-taxi). Both helicopters were incinerated by the jet fuel and the load of ammunition.
The crumpled remains of the front half of a doomed H-46 sunbathes in the Marble Mountain boneyard.
29. Another H-46 -- or, what's left of it -- that has taken its last flight.
30. The front portion of an H-46 from HMM-164 has found "peace at last" in the Marble Mountain boneyard.
31. The cannibalized hulk of a Sikorsky H-34 that has taken its last flight.
32. East of the city of Hue, flying toward the South China Sea, Sturkey photographs one of the most beautiful sights on earth. Looking eastward toward the sea, he snaps a picture of the shallow inland lagoon. It is filled with dozens of these arrowhead-shaped fish traps. Indescribably beautiful!
33. (USMC Photo) Mutter Ridge, a killing ground. The desperate, brutal fighting on Nui Cay Tri Ridge (called "Mutter Ridge" by the Marines) see-sawed back and forth for weeks in the fall of 1966. Only blind luck determined who lived, and who died. In this photo, Marines drag their wounded and dead brothers-in-arms toward a Huey from VMO-2. Note that all of the vegetation has been stripped away by artillery and air strikes.
34. (USMC Photo) From this outpost at Gio Linh, Marine artillery hammered away at the North Vietnamese. The North Vietnamese artillery in the DMZ could reach Gio Linh, plus locations as far south as Dong Ha. Gio Linh formed the northeastern corner of the lethal no-man's-land, "Leatherneck Square."
35. Time to refuel. An H-46 from HMM-265 has been inserting Recon teams into the mountains in the early summer of 1966. Here, it air-taxies to the fuel pits at remote Dong Ha -- before the big military build-up.
36. "Gruntville" on Hill 55. This desolate hill, on the coastal plain south of Da Nang, commanded a birds-eye view of the fertile rice basin. From Hill 55 one can see all the way (1) to Da Nang, to the north; (2) to the ocean, to the east; (3) to the Que Son Mountains, to the south; (4) to Charlie Ridge and the "Arizona Territory," to the west. The Marines occupied the hill, as the French had done in decades past.
37. Time to relax between combat missions. A pilot and his crew chief rest behind their H-46. The crew chief, on the left with his back to the camera, wears the old type flak jacket. The pilot (Capt. Billy "Mad Dog" Collins, seated) wears the bullet-bouncer chest protector, sometimes called a "chicken plate."
38. (USMC Photo) Two H-46s from HMM-161 land in the "Arizona Territory" west of An Hoa. The region drew its name from the rugged and hostile badlands of the American Southwest. The Marines and the North Vietnamese contested the Arizona Territory for the duration of the war.
39. (USMC Photo) EP-166, from HMM-265, prepares to load ARVNs (soldiers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam) west of Hoi An. Note that this H-46 crew has elected to mount M-60 machine guns instead of the more common rapid firing .50 caliber weapons.
40. Air America -- the C.I.A. at work. An immaculate silver C-47 (from the airline that did not officially exist) sits on the dirt runway at Dong Ha in early 1966. Note the "Air America" painted on the rear fuselage.
41. (Sikorsky Aircraft Photo) A Marine maintenance crew and its mascot (the dog, rescued from the stew-pot) pose in front of their giant H-37 "Deuce" at Marble Mountain. The cantankerous Deuce proved too complex, too advanced, too far ahead of its time. But, it paved the way for the new H-53.
42. (USMC Photo) A tight squeeze. An H-46 from HMM-262 slips into a landing zone between boulders and trees in the Que Son Mountains.
43. Between flights, Sturkey poses in front of his H-46 at Marble Mountain in the early summer of 1966. He wears the old type soft body armor. The new bullet bouncer would not be available until July 1966.
44. (USMC Photo) Marine and North Vietnamese infantry duel in the mountains south of the DMZ. Note that all jungle vegetation in the foreground has been sheared away by artillery and air strikes.
45. (USMC Photo) An H-46 from HMM-161 externals howitzer ammunition to an artillery outpost west of Cam Lo. Because the outpost itself is a lucrative target, everything is heavily sandbagged. Empty ammo crates make an effective sidewalk to keep Marines from getting mired in the mud during the monsoon.
46. "Gruntville" at Cam Lo. When the monsoon arrives, the ground will turn into a sea of mud.
47. The remains of an H-46 that has been externalled back to Marble Mountain, never to fly again.
48. In the spring of 1967, Marine engineers began constructing this framework for the massive command bunker at Khe Sanh. When completed, the roof would be 10 feet thick. It could withstand a direct hit from anything except the largest North Vietnamese artillery shells.
49. Sturkey snapped this quick photo from the cockpit as his H-46 swooped down to insert a Sparrowhawk reaction team. An infantry patrol had been taking fire from the village, under the trees. Would this prove to be a milk run? Or, a hornet's nest? The helicopter crew and the Grunt passengers were about 10 seconds away from finding out.
50. Beer and steak party! On the beach at Marble Mountain, pilots and aircrewmen not on the flight schedule take a much-needed break. The steaks aren't visible, but the trash barrel is FULL of Carling Black Label cans. Note the concertina in the right background.
51. The maintenance line at Marble Mountain in the winter of 1966-1967. Marston matting walkways kept the maintenance teams out of the mud. On the right are the maintenance tents of HMM-263.
52. H-46s from HMM-265 shuttle in and out of Can Lo during Operation Hastings in July 1966. They are externaling sling loads of artillery shells to the cannon-cockers in the mountains to the west.
53. From the cockpit, Sturkey snapped this photo of Grunts lining the asphalt runway at Phu Bai. These Grunts would board the helicopters for an attack in the mountains (visible in the background) to the west.
54. Waiting! The hardest thing to do. At Dong Ha, Grunts sit on the ground, alone with their thoughts, waiting to be whisked by helicopter into the ongoing fighting in the mountains (visible in the background) to the west.