The first Marine Corps aviation squadron arrived in South Vietnam in April 1962 to help the struggling Republic of Vietnam fight a civil war against communist insurgents. Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 362’s 24 UH-34D Seahorses landed at Soc Trang, 85 miles southwest of Saigon, South Vietnam’s capital. Although the Seahorses were outdated, with radial instead of turbine engines, the Marines pressed on with the task at hand.
In an operation code-named Shufly, the UH-34s often supported U.S. Army H-21 helicopters shuttling South Vietnamese soldiers to and from battle areas under heavy enemy fire. These early missions showed the need for increased defensive armor as well as weapons to protect the vulnerable UH-34Ds and to keep enemy heads down in the landing zones.
Events in the Tonkin Gulf in August 1964 generated a massive buildup of American forces in South Vietnam and offshore. The Marines settled into what became at that time America’s longest war. Marine fixed-wing aircraft—A-4 Skyhawks, A-6 Intruders, F-8 Crusaders and F-4 Phantoms—eventually flew from Chu Lai because of overcrowding at the U.S. Air Force base at Da Nang, 55 miles to the north.