The Story of the Purple Foxes
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364
Our history is rich and blessed with gallant stories of uncommon valor, bravery and sacrifice. Honor Our Marines, Inc. would like to share with you one story that stands out from many incredible stories. It’s the story of the Purple Foxes, in two similar flights, from two different wars, that thou separated by 38 years to the date, will be forever be linked with a common history that shares the same tragic fate. This is a story of love and sacrifice that transcends from Vietnam to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Stephanie Hanson having been adopted at birth had never known her real mother and father. And it might have stayed that way had she not been diagnosed with a medical condition in 1996 that required her to investigate her family’s medical history. Stephanie located her birth mother and learned about the tragic death of her Father while he served in Vietnam. The symptoms of her illness soon disappeared and Stephanie embarked on a quest to learn all she could about her father’s story. Over the course of time, she met with his family and with veterans that have served with him and were familiar with his passing.
At a time when America was calling its young to war, 18 year old, Gary Norman Young, enlisted in the United States Navy. It was a period that found many young Americans wanting to make a difference for their country and in their own lives. As a corpsman in the navy, he received life saving training and felt a strong calling to become a member of a MEDEVAC squadron, the Medical Evacuation Squadron where Corpsmen have the responsibility of providing critical emergency care in the back of helicopters to soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines. It is a very honorable job that saves the lives of others while often putting themselves in harms way.
On February 07th, 1969, Gary would have his first day of flying the MEDEVAC mission and tragically his last day. His ill-fated flight was shot down and six of the seven great crewmen on board perished that day. Only Corporal Greg Tomaro would survive the mission. The Purple Fox fallen crew members from the flight were:
HN Gary Norman Young,
HM2 Walter “Rip” Tyrrell,
Lance Corporal Rodney Shank,
Corporal Charles Miller,
First Lieutenant Russell Moke,
And Captain Earnest Bartolina.
Gary Norman Young had died without ever knowing he would have a daughter born just two months later. Over the next few years as Stephanie continued on her own personal mission to learn about her Dad, those he served with and particular about the squadron he had been a part of, the Purple Foxes, she discovered that her Dad never received his Combat Aircrew Wings and so she came determined that she would get them for him.
In October of 2002, with the help of her new Marine Corps friends, Captain Jennifer Harris and aircrew of the current day Purple Foxes, that dream became a reality, when the Marine Corps posthumously awarded Corpsmen Gary Norman Young his Combat Aircrew Wings.
On February 07th, 2007, 38 years later to the day, Purple Fox pilot and Captain, Jennifer Harris, carried an American Flag on her casualty evacuation mission over Iraq in tribute to Stephanie Hanson’s Dad and the crew of that faithful Vietnam flight.
HMM-364, stationed in Camp Pendleton, California, was on their third tour of duty and was currently stationed at Al Taqqadum, Iraq having arrived in late 2006. Their CASEVAC mission went on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 4 years without fail. Everyday on base a bell rings symbolizing the life saving actions of Marines as they would run to their flights, and within a few minutes of starting their helicopters, taxi out, join up with HMLA squadrons, and fly their CASEVAC mission. Tragically, the February 7th, 2007, CASEVAC memorial mission piloted by Captain Harris, known as callsign Morphine ONE TWO, was shot down. America lost 5 great Marines and two great Sailors that day. They were:
HM3 Manuel Ruiz,
HM1 Gilbert Minjares,
Corporal Thomas Saba,
Sergeant Travis Pfister,
Sergeant James Tijerina,
First Lieutenant Jared Landaker,
Captain Jennifer Harris.
Two similar flights, two similar missions, two parallel fates on the exact same date, 38 years apart. There were 5 aircrew and 2 corpsmen on both flights, both CASEVAC / MEDEVAC missions were first time flights for Corpsman Gary Norman Young in Vietnam and his counterpart corpsman Gilbert Minjares in Iraq. They were meant to be the last flights before going home. For Corpsman Rip Tyrrell and 38 years later for Captain Jennifer Harris and First Lieutenant Jared Landaker.
The Purple Foxes were not to let this rest and Memorial Day 2008, they carried another American Flag on a CASEVAC Mission in memory of those who lost their lives on February 07th, 1969 and February 07th, 2007. This is just one story. The story of the Marine Purple Foxes in what they represent.
For more than 104 years, Marine aircrew and sailors have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Many significant stories over the years have been told while generations of Marines and their aircraft may have changed, the theme is always the same.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the Marine Aviation had lost 31 aircraft, 96 Marines, 3 Sailors, 1 Solider and 1 Airmen. The Purple Fox story is one of those many compelling stories.