By Sgt. David Bickel | 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
As an organization, the Marine Corps culture is based on rigid tradition with a rich historical path paved by the Marines of bygone eras. Part of that legacy is Marine aviation, preserved by a hidden gem containing historically significant equipment, aircraft and stories, located just outside of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
The Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum came into existence after a similar aviation museum at MCAS El Toro closed after the air station was decommissioned in 1999.
“Gen. Jay Hubbard, who started the museum at MCAS El Toro, called me up and said that they were going to close MCAS El Toro and move the museum to MCAS Miramar,” said retired Maj. Gen. Bobby Butcher, a Vietnam veteran and museum chairman of the board. “I joined his board of directors in 1997 at El Toro, formed a steering committee at MCAS Miramar in early 1999, and on April 1, 1999, I started the museum foundation down here.”
The museum is home to rotary aircraft and several fixed wing assets which have been used throughout the Marine Corps’ history.
“I flew the A-4 Skyhawk for 31 years, and we have several versions outside,” said Butcher. “We have a drone outside that has seen combat in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, as well as many more aircraft that have been in combat.”
Many of the aircraft displayed at the museum have seen combat with different squadrons throughout the years.
“I’ve flown an OV-10 Bronco,” said Butcher. “The one that we have outside actually saw combat as part of a Navy Squadron in Vietnam and the Marine Corps used it in Desert Shield and Desert Storm.”
Veterans are the primary volunteers at the museum and often share their individual stories and experiences with guests.
“When I was flying a routine ordnance drop mission, I had two rounds that hit me,” said retired Lt. Col. Jay Bibbler, a Vietnam veteran and former Marine pilot. “My right engine gave out, and I couldn’t drop the ordnance for the mission. We got to the point where I told my co-pilot that we had to get out, and we both ejected from the aircraft.”
One of the Marine Corps’ primary focuses is to honor the people who have sacrificed for this country, as evidenced by the 2017 MCAS Miramar Air Show’s theme: A Salute to Vietnam veterans.
“When I came back from Vietnam, we were briefed before they turned us loose and let us go,” recalled Butcher. “They insisted that we changed into civilian clothes because if we went out of the gate in uniform, we would get spit on and have things thrown at us.”
The goal of this year’s air show is to not only display the aircraft used during the Vietnam era, but to also honor those that sacrificed their lives for this country.
“Many of us were spit on when we came back,” stated Bibbler. “We never got thanked for what we did. We did what we were supposed to do and a lot of guys didn’t come back. I’d say it’s about time all of us were recognized.”