First Casualty of Dillingham

First Casualty of Dillingham

In October of 1962, MAG-13 went on maneuvers up at Dillingham Air Force Base.  Dillingham was an old Air Force base on the North end of Oahu. There was no infrastructure to speak of besides the runway.  It was basically out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by hills and jungle on one side and ocean on the other.  It was a perfect spot to simulate a forward combat base.

 To make a realistic scenario, the grunts were assigned roles as guerillas and had the task to attack and harass the air wing and disrupt operations.  The grunts took on the roles of guerillas down to wearing bandoliers and carrying full automatic weapons. Although they fired blanks, they had suppressors on the muzzle to blow back the gasses making for full auto fire.  We plane captains were issued three blanks apiece for our M1s to use for defense and they didn’t have the suppressors, so each round had to be hand jacked. Things got real, real fast.  The “guerillas” hit our tent the first night. A couple of them ran into our tent after we were asleep and opened up on us.  Although they used blanks, it got the message across that we were not playing. The grunts did exceedingly well, even blowing a hole in the middle of the active runway one day.  Although they couldn’t actually blow up any airplanes, they did infiltrate the flight lines and would hang signs on the planes stating that this plane is now blown up.  Rules of the game would take that plane out of service.   They would also “capture” pilots from the flight line and march them into the jungle, blindfolded, and turn them loose to fend for themselves.   We were all armed, although with blanks.  The grunts had weapons that were able to fire on full auto while we wingers had our M1s and only three rounds apiece. Part of our job was to stop the “guerillas” anyway we could. We were told that if we captured a “guerilla” we would get an automatic promotion; the guerillas had the same orders.  It meant for some busted teeth and bloody heads. The Group even had a POW camp set up for them.  It got very physical at times, and people got hurt. Sometimes it got serious with rifle butts.

 Besides our regular duties as Plane Captains, we were expected to walk security patrols around the perimeter.  One night four of us Plane Captains were assigned this detail.  We were assigned positions as a fire team.  All of us armed with 3 rounds of blanks and M1s.  I was the rifleman and acting point.  The night was so dark the only way you knew where you were was the feel of the gravel path on your boots.  The tropical forest of Hawaii made for perfect ambush on both sides. We maintained silence, using hand signals or taps on the shoulder.  We held up at a clearing off to our left.  In the middle of a field of waist high grass was a grove of trees and we each heard a metallic sound from that area as if a round was being chambered.  We were determined to capture a guerilla.  I signaled single file though the grass toward the sound in the trees until we got close.  Then, I ran, charging through the grass with the team behind me.  I learned a great lesson that night.  Never run through the jungle with your rifle in trail, always at port arms.   Half way between the clump of trees and me was an invisible barbed wire fence that caught me in the face and both knees.  A rifle at high port is a much better way to detect an obstacle then using ones face.

 The wire caught me across the chin, hooking into my lower lip, and across the knees.  The “guerrilla” probably ran off when he heard my “panyos” laughing as they unhooked me from the fence and carried me back to the aid station for some big, black stitches.  The next few days I looked like Frankenstein with my head sewed back on.  I was the first casualty of Dillingham.

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14 comments


  • Rob’t Black

    Served under LtCol Archie VanWinkle in ‘Nam ’67-68 as his Hq Commandant when he was C.O. 2/1, then as skipper Bravo 1/1 when he was C.O. 1/1 and we were shutting down Khe Sanh outposts (1/1 stretched from Hill 950 in east to Hill 881S at western- & northern-most position [I was final hill cmdr])… He retired as Colonel when he was heading corrections/brigs etc at Camp Pendleton… Passed away from heart situation… Got The Medal on some no-name hill in Korea as SSgt… You couldn’t find a better Marine to work for & with… He got the best out of every Marine & Corpsman in his units… Gave new meaning to ‘Marine’!


  • Rob’t Black – Once a Captain/Always Marine

    Dillingham Airfield, as it was called in 1959, was used for sports car racing regularly and many on Oahu enjoyed them… Lots of weeds growing thru the cracks has Army Air Corps, later Army Air Forces, later USAF, hadn’t used field since late 1940s… Local highschoolers including Service Juniors would go to ‘submarine races’ there… As a ‘make out’ place it rivaled some of those on the heights above L.A. … Mokuleia was close by and many today know it for its humungous waves… We’d surf there but not on those giants, unless the kahuna’s cojones were equally as humngous…


  • A. H. Johnston

    Gy. J.J. Hinjosa, I was in the third platoon. Lt. Brown was our platoon leader. We had an XO that was a Mustang 1st Lt. but I can’t remember his name. I do remember that he had a chest full of ribbons so he had been around.


  • GySgt JJ Hinojosa USMC (Ret)

    I stand corrected re: Capt Steel. During my C-1-4 tour Dec 60-Dec63, there was also a Capt Quick (can’t recall who came first) and then a 1stLt Driver, all three hard-charging as their names!


  • Sgt. Wolf

    Bet it was an “ugly” grin. The 53 stitches made me grimace.


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