24th HELICOPTER SQUADRON
Created and maintained by Don Damoth with contributions by other squadron members as noted.
If you have corrections or more information on the 24th, please email to Don at firstname.lastname@example.org
The H-21’s at Sewart AFB in Tennessee were originally assigned to provide troop carrier support for the US Army. The USAF gave up that mission, and the troop carrier squadrons were replaced by the 24th and maybe a couple of other Helicopter Squadrons. This photo is of some of the original pilots that were assigned to the troop carrier mission in 1956. Top Row: Maj. James Fowler, Lt Carr Wilkerson, Lt Hank Alberg, Lt Dick Ground, Lt Fetcherman, Lt Bert Engles, Lt Skip Cowell, Capt Harry Rhoades, Lt Don Rhoades, Lt Johnson, Maj Hartley. Bottom: Capt Jess Lewis, Lt Keith Droegemeier, Lt Fred Wagner, Lt Harry Dunn, Lt Errin L. Schaeffer, Lt John Arthur, Lt ?, Capt Ralph Searle, Capt “Pappy” Thompson, Capt Frank Gase. Photo and names by Keith Droegemeier.
Ron Mecklin was assigned to the 24th when it was first formed and shares these comments: I was a member of the 24th Helron in 1955 through 1959. Blackie Carney was CO of the unit. We were organized at Sewart AFB, Tenn. We got our 24 H-21B helicopters ready for a deployment to Japan in October 1956. Prior to that we flew our a/c to California to be made ready for shipment to Japan on a small carrier. The original pilots assigned to the 24th on 6 July, 1956 are listed below:
Maj Francis M Carney, Maj Wayne Howard, Capt John Alberti, Capt Paul Johnson, Capt Frank Gase, 1/lt Reese McClannhan Jr, 1/lt James R.[Ron] Mecklin, 1/lt Alan Momberger, 1/lt John Robbins, 1/lt Kenneth Spaur, 1st lt Larry Cooper, 1/lt Dave King, 1/lt Erwin Schaffer, 1/lt William Smallwood, 1/lt Carr Wilkerson, 1/lt Kieth Droegemeir, 2/lt Frank Harris, 2/lt Floyd Lockhart, 2/lt Jimmie Romick, 2lt Grant Mackie, 2/lt William Cowell, 2/lt Richard Ground. Note that many of these pilots are in the above photo.
Once in Japan the squadron was broken into 4 detachments. My unit of 4 A/C went to Chitose AB on Hokkiado island. The other units were stationed at Nagoya, Johnson AB near Showa, and Itazuke. The headquarters detachment was located at Showa AB near Tachikawa. With the four detachments, we pretty well covered the country. Our detachment in Chitose supported the radar sites on the northern Island of Hokkiado. The Johnson AB detachment covered northern central Japan. Nagoya supported the south central area and Itazuke covered the sites around the southern part of Japan. I don’t know how many sites each of those detachments supported. At Chitose we covered three radar sites primarily–with an occasional mission to other areas of need. Capt Dave King was our detachment commander–both at Chitose and later at Naha. The other original detachment pilots were Dick Ground and Floyd ‘Lucky’ Lockhart. The Squadron Maintenance Officer was Capt Frank Gase. The unit at Chitose was sent to Naha, Okinawa in April 1957. The Nagoya detachment included Capt John Alberti, Commander. Other pilots at Nagoya included Capt John Robbins, 1st Lt Sawyer White, 1st Lt Carr Wilkerson, 1st Lt John Casbergue, Lt Len Teague, Lt Bill Johnson and some others, [perhaps Bill Smallwood–but I’m not sure just who were the original 4 pilots there at Nagoya
When we got to Naha, we were told that another detachment of our squadron had been formed at Eniwetok. Blackie was given Administrative command of the unit at Eniwetok, although I don’t know how much active command he may have had. I’m sure some of the crew members from Eniwetok may have rotated into one of the 4 detachments of the 24th as some of the original members started rotating back to the states.
Before the October ’56 deployment, some of these pilots were transferred to other units–one squadron that stayed in the US for some time and one that went to France. I don’t have at my fingertips the listing of those that actually traveled to Japan on the carrier USS Corregidor–I know 1/lt John Arthurs was added to the 24th before deployment, and I’m sure there were others as well.
While the concept of the helicopter coincides with man’s first attempts to fly, the 24th Helicopter history goes back only to July 9th, 1956, when it was activated at Sewart AFB, Ten. Volunteer officers and airmen from the 516th Troop Carrier Group (RW) Assault, make up the personnel strength of the 24th Helicopter Squadron. This Group had proven its capabilities during such joint maneuvers as “Exercise Sagebrush” in Louisiana and “Exercise Pine Cone” at So\lthern Pines, North Carolina; in airlift of supplies to the DEW line in Alaska; and through many emergency relief missions. The Squadron was equipped with 18 H-21B helicopters. This aircraft, known as the “Work Horse,” is considered by the USAF as relatively an “old timer” which has proven its capability throughout the world. It is large enough and powerful enough to meet modern demands in payload, range and airspeed. When a call went out from Headquarters USAF for a helicopter squadron with a greater capability to transport supplies and personnel from bases in Japan to remote aircraft control and warning sites, the 24th was chosen.
Upon receipt of this order, the Squadron prepared its helicopters for movement to Sacramento Air Materiel Area, California. There the aircraft were “cocooned” and transported by barge down the Sacramento River to Alameda NAS. At this point, aircraft, equipment and personnel met for embarkation aboard the USS Corregidor, a Navy aircraft carrier. The Corregidor arrived at Yokosuka Naval Station on October 10. Since the Squadron’s arrival at its Itami Air Base headquarters, the I11 officers and airmen have been busy unpacking and uncrating equipment, and de-cocooning the helicopters at Kisarazu Air Base, in preparation for its new mission. In addition to this primary task, the 24th has a secondary mission of providing rescue and aeromedical evacuation in conjunction with the search and air rescue facilities already established in Japan.
Although the 24th Helicopter Squadron is complete, much work and additional training will be given to add polish to the already experienced pilots and men prior to their readiness date. Further, the Squadron will have detachments situated at Chitose, Johnson, and Itazuke Air Bases to afford complete coverage. New helicopter operational theories are continually being explored under the leadership of the present commander, Major Francis M. Carney, who is continuing the pioneering in the helicopter field. The Squadron’s motto, “Effectus Fides Sustinere,” which means “Effective Reliable Support,” sets the standard by which the Squadron will meet the problems of tomorrow.
Cocooned H-21’s on the Corregidor
1/Lt. Mackie, 1/Lt. Keith Droegemeier, and Major Francis (Blackie) Carney are greeted by Col. Ladson G. Esbridge as they landed the first H-21 at Itazuke AFB, Japan in December 1956.
Lt. Grant Mackie with the 24th Helicopter Squadron Logo.
To see more photos and information from the Itazuke Detachment from 1956 to 1960 click here
This is a photo of members of the 24th Helicopter Squadron at Eniwetok for the atomic test Hartack, 1957
Photo provided by KV Hall
In 1959 the 24th Helicopter Squadron was headquartered at Showa Air Base near Tokyo, Japan. It had detachments at Itazuke AB in Japan, Eniwetok Island in the Mariana Islands, and Naha Air Base in Okinawa. The squadron was equipped with H-21B helicopters with a checkerboard stripe on the fuselage and tail fins, and the tail section painted red.
E Flight at Eniwetok was commanded by Major Bob Lord and the Maintenance Officer was Capt. Dick Maznio. The Atomic tests had been finished, so the flight flew support missions for various scientific organizations. One of the supported organizations was working to develop a shark repellent. In the morning we would fly them up to one of the northern islands where they would descend in a steel shark cage to test the various repellents. We picked them up in the evening. I was one of six lieutenants from class 59D assigned in July 1959 fresh from the Helicopter Pilot school at Stead. Some of the others were Tom Schucat, Lt Davis, Quinten Staudt, and Duke Underwood.
Showa AS, near Tokyo in 1960. The H-21 shown landing and taxing in was actually on a small runway in the middle of a golf course.
24th Helron H-21 on Eniwetok Atoll in 1959. Standard uniform was Khaki shirt and shorts, when we went off-duty, we changed to a civilian shirt.
H-21 autorotating to the runway at Eniwetok
Living area, BOQ’s are the metal buildings in center. Note our theater, kind if a sit-down drive-in theater. We took a cushion and a parka, since it usually rained during the movie.
Base Ops area. The C-97 came in once a week with supplies and personal. It was the big event of the week since it also carried our mail.
The west end of the island held the flight ops and offices.
The east end of the island held the living quarters and the rest of the buildings. Note the pier on the end, you could go out on the pier and see all kinds of colored and strange ocean fish.
To see more photos of Eniwetok, click here
Here is some information on the Itazuke Flight from Vern Dander about the last flight of the Japan detachments:
On the last flight from Det 3 in 1960, it was actually out of Brady AB which was across Hakata Bay from Itazuke. It was the bird I “re-configured” while in flight per one of my claims to fame. When I got there in June of 1958, we were at the “airfield” at Itazuke (the “main” base with all the housing and admin functions was about 5 miles away), but took over the old hangers at Brady about a year or so later. Brady also had housing plus a big antenna farm with an underlying, associated golf course.
My claim to fame flight was a single ship and we had to stop on the way north at the Water Survival School at Numazu because of weather and headwinds. Believe John Oberst was dead-heading as co-pilot. The Survival School had been hit pretty hard by a typhoon a few weeks before and wasn’t in any condition to provide support. As I recall we stayed at one of the Japanese inns in town; the same one I’d stayed in when I’d been there earlier for survival school. Because of the headwinds, we were short on fuel. On the following day, when I tried to get Johnson AB to send a fuel truck down, they couldn’t promise anything so we decided to use “out-of-date” gas from a fuel drum that was left over from when the H-19’s would come down from Johnson for the survival school hoist training. We ran in “rich” all the way to the Japanese facility where we turned the bird over to the JASDAF.
I have a receipt for the last Det 3 H-21 delivered to the JASDF. The next day, the weather cleared and we flew across the Uruga Channel at the entrance to Tokyo Bay to a Japanese military facility on the Yokosuka side of the bay. Am not sure the name of it but the delivery was to a USAF rep at Shin Meiwa (a Japanese company). Delivery date was 2/26/60. Since I still had time to pull in theater after the shutdown of the 24th, I went back to Itazuke and flew the Base Ops H-19’s until about June of 1961.
The 24th detachments in Japan flew support for the Early Warning Radar Sites throughout Japan. Here are some photos of the sites courtesy of Vern Dander:
H-21 on final to the UNI-SHIMA Site
H-21 at Nagasaki in 1957
Mishima Site 1957
Sometime around the transfer of the southern Japan AC&W sites from USAF to JASDF control, General Monoru Genda of the JASDF made a tour of some of the sites The flights to off-shore locations were supported by Det 3, 24th HELRON, operating from Brady AB at this time. General Genda, who was a Naval officer prior to and during WW II, was one of the key planners on the Pearl Harbor attack. Individuals in the picture (L to
R) are General Genda, Captain Dave Kinne (pilot), S/Sgt Charles Wright (crew chief), 1st/Lt Vern Dander (co-pilot), and General Genda’s aide (name unknown).
In May of 1960 “E” Flight moved from Eniwetok to the headquarters in Japan. Later in 1960, “E” flight personnel were split up, with some being reassigned to Okinawa, and the remainder transferring to a C-130 Squadron.
24th Helicopter Squadron H-21 at Okino AS, a radar site about 90 miles north of Naha AB, Okinawa. The 21’s flew support flights to here three times a week, They also flew to Kume Jima, fifty miles west of Naha AB twice a week.
H-21s in the Okino School Yard. Landed here because weather at the Radar site was too bad.
On the ground at the Okino Air Station. Okino and Kume Jima were radar stations on islands around Okinawa.
24th Operations Building on Naha AB
Okino Air Station
Landing Strip at Kume Jima AS. The radar site was on top of a hill with no room for a landing pad.
In the spring of 1960, an F-100 pilot bailed out in a thunderstorm north of Okinawa. The Navy sent the USS Ticonderoga and it’s carrier group to the area to search for the pilot. Two 24th Helron H-21s were sent up to the Ti to help in the search.
H-21 coming up from the hangar deck on the port elevator, note that one blade was removed to fit it on the elevator. The wooden blades were attached with two large beveled pins. That’s Jimmy Stewart standing next to the elevator.
The Ti had HUP-1 Piasecki helicopters on board for rescue. Note the similarity to the H-21. They were both designed by Piasecki, though many of the H-21s were built by Boeing/Vertol. Note the AD Skyraiders and A3Ds. The Skyraiders on the deck were configured to carry atomic weapons if the mission dictated.
“See your Navy Recruiter” The flight deck personnel had a good sense of humor.
We never found the F-100 pilot, but one of the crews found his life raft washed up on shore on this island. The inflation valve had been ripped out, so apparently he never got to use it.
Leaving the Ti. (Talked to Bob Smith at the 2008 reunion. He says one of the H-21s had run out of time and needed a Maintenance Officer to sign off for the flight home. So an H-19 brought the Maintenance Officer out to the carrier.)
Time to head home, kind of sad to leave our friends on the Ti.
To see more photos from the Ticonderoga, click here
H-21 at Naha Air Base, Okinawa. C-130s in the background.
This slide is labeled “The last of the 24th” Taken in May, 1960. The big guy on the right is Englishman Jimmy Stewart, Bob Smith center back, Ralph Abbondanza left rear, Gene Wallace right front, Quinten Staudt next to Gene. Possible Msgt Foote in the middle of the crew chiefs.
One last pass over Naha AB before giving up the H-21s. Most of the remaining pilots moved to base Ops and flew H-19s until their tour was over.
In 1960 the Flight in Okinawa was disbanded and the H-21’s were transferred to Showa AS, Japan. My orders for the flight were dated 17 May 1960, with a departure date of 19 May. On my orders there were six pilots: 1st Lt Ralph Abbondanza, 1st Lt James A. Stewart, 1st Lt Donald R. Damoth, 1st Lt Ellis E. Wallace, 1st Lt Robert Smith, and 2nd Lt Quinten F. Staudt. The H-21’s were flown onto an Aircraft Carrier which took us to Yokosuka Navy Station in Japan. The H-21’s then took off from the carrier and flew in formation to Tokyo where they were probably donated to the Japan Self Defense Force.
Aircraft Carrier Princeton which carried the H-21s to Japan. Note the straight deck, this was called a “jeep” carrier and had no aircraft assigned to it. Most of the carriers of the 60’s era were either built with an angled landing deck or had been converted to angled deck. This was a first line carrier during WWII.
11/12/2007 I just received an email from Ralph Abbondanza. He added the following information about the trip on the carrier:
The aircraft carrier that took us to Japan was the PRINCETON. A movie was made about this carrier. After we managed to get all 5 H-21’s on board the Commander invited all of us to sit at his table for a great dinner that first night and suggested that we watch the film about his famous carrier.
It was called “Flat Top”. Good Movie.
We got lucky when we boarded. They had the Marines that took care of the flying deck and the Navy personnel that took care of the rest of the ship. And the only other people on board were the crews from the 24th Helicopter Squadron. They treated us great
The slide this photo was copied from was labeled “The last H-21s in PACAF. Note there are five.
We were sure sad to see the H-21s go, they had been good to us and had accomplished a lot of good missions on the island.
We left the carrier at Yokuska and flew in formation to Showa AS. Assuming about 3 days enroute on the carrier, this flight would have been on the 22rd of May, 1960.