Camp Wilson, 29 Palms

Camp Wilson, 29 Palms

Sgt. Grit,

Attached is a picture of me and a buddy named Max Lesko outside the old tin and wooden huts at Camp Wilson CAX 29 Palms, California in June 1982 before leaving for a Med Cruise and eventually Beirut. One day just after arriving, but before going on the actual training exercise a few of us decided to hump on over to the base of the mountain range. Needless to say, we never got there. We kept turning around and looking back at Camp Wilson and it kept getting smaller, but the base of the mountain never got closer and we just turned around and headed back. That Monday we were trucked out to the area where the live-fire operations were taking place, but I never did pay attention to how far the base of the mountain range was from the camp. Can any Jarhead or Doc who was ever at Camp Wilson tell me how far it actually is from Camp Wilson to the base of the mountain in the photo?

Incidentally, it was during this time that I was involved in a minor Helicopter crash. One evening during a night Helo operation (Lima 3/8 was a Helo Assault Unit) several of us 0331 m60 machine gunners were cross-training with a 50 cal machine gun team and we were loaded onto a CH53. This next part I am unclear of as my memory is a bit cloudy, but we were fully combat loaded down both sides of the benches of the 53 and I think we had a jeep in there with us as part of the cargo that belonged to the 50cal gun crew. The 53 lifted and moved up and forward as they typically did on takeoff, but the bird started shuttering and then dove forward and crashed. It was pitch black outside in the desert so we had no idea how high we were, but I later was told that we were only about 20 feet off the ground when the 53 pitched forward and crashed. We were seat-belted into the bench seats, but the crew-chief was thrown forward and bounced forward to the cockpit because he was just supported by a lanyard I believe. We were not injured and the crew chief was only slightly hurt, but I never heard any more about the incident. Is there any Jarhead or Doc reading this that recalls that incident?

Semper Fi
Mike Kunkel
Cpl 0331
Lima 3/8 Weapons Platoon

Sgt Grit wants to hear from you! Leave your comments below or submit your own story!


  • Paul L Jorgensen

    In the mid 80s (84, 85? or maybe 88, 89 with HMH-772 or HMH-363, haven’t talk about this stuff in so long can’t hardly remember) I and a couple of buddies tried to make a run to the hills, never made it. Even when doing ops around the air field (I was a CH53 crew chief) never got close; much farther than it looks. You could have multiple ops around the air field and by the mountains and never get in each other’s way. A large training area and a lot of busy but fun flying there.
    I don’t really remember the 53 crash, most likely classified as a hard landing, I was at MCAS New River HMH-362 at the time, and went to HMM-264 in October to ready for a Med Cruise; we went with them to Beirut in January 1983 aboard the USS Guadalcanal. Glad no one was seriously hurt. And although I loved 53s and logged thousands of hours, sometimes 53s could be very unforgiving.

    Semper Fi,
    Paul L Jorgensen
    GySgt 6173

  • Sgt. Robert L

    We lived there for a year in 1970-71 and the sand storms were bad but I never heard of it taking the paint off anyones car, We lived in base housing and had a garage. The thing my wife hated was trying to keep the sand out of our house. There was no way to keep the sand from getting in the house.

  • Mike Kunkel

    I was on both deployments as well. We did an operation with the Norwegian Home Guard. Even though we were a Helo Assault Unit, on that operation we moved in ten-man teams and humped everything on those snow sleds.

  • Ronald Bean

    Was with HMM 263 from 1981 to 1984. Went to Beirut with BLT 3/8 on both deployments (Aug 1982 to Mar 1983 and Feb 1984 to Aug 1984). We also went to Norway and about 24 other countries during that deployment before going to Beirut. The MAU, they were MAU’s then, kept getting extended. I missed the CAX because I joined the squadron shortly before the first deployment.

    USMC (Ret)
    Frog Driver

  • Mike Kunkel

    As I recall they told us that the pilots were using night-vision, but scuttlebutt had it a few days later that the crash had to do with overloading of the bird. It was so minor, I guess they wanted to keep it quiet. That’s all I ever really heard about it. You’d think I would remember the incident very clearly, but for some reason I don’t. All I can recall is that it was pitch black and we took off as we normally would, nose forward, but the bird make a weird shuddering motion when it lifted and just seemed to dive forward into the sandy LZ. If I recall correctly, we had several M60 teams and several 50cal teams plus the Jeep on board. Thankfully none of us was hurt. The crew chief was bruised up and shook up, but aside from that, no other injuries. Sadly, I do recall hearing of the crash you were talking about.
    In regards to the sand storms at 29 Palms, I never had my own vehicle out there. Since 3/8 was stationed out of NC at Geiger, they flew us out to CAX via commercial airlines, but I have heard that the sandstorms could do damage to the paint jobs on cars.
    Semper Fi brother!!


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