Honoring The ‘Marine’s Marine’

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - June 03, 2009
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Col. Robert Rice, commanding officer of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, and Lt. Col. Michael P. Antonio, commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Facility Kaneohe Bay, are assisted by Bruce and Lyanne Carl during the ceremony renaming the air strip for their father

The setting was spectacular. Looking south from the Hangar 5 tarmac across the shallows of Kaneohe Bay toward the steep Windward cliffs of the Ko’olau, each type of the base’s operational aircraft was represented in static display. Navy and Marine marching units were well-rehearsed, the Marine Corps marching band never sharper. The weather was sparkling, the occasion historic: the recommissioning of Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay.

In 1994, all Hawaii Marine activities were consolidated at K-Bay as Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH), with the airfield proper downgraded to a subordinate element, Marine Corps Air Facility. Now, with the new military emphasis on the Asia-Pacific theater and the Indian Ocean, the Department of Defense has plans for new aviation units at the base, so the “air facility” is being upgraded back to “air station,” a title and status more consistent with its new missions with higher funding and support priorities.

And, in keeping with military tradition, the new air station will be named after a hero, in this case Carl Field for Maj. Gen. Marion E. Carl, USMC. The general’s son Bruce and daughter LeeAnn, who had both lived at K-Bay 46 years ago when their father was stationed there, were on hand to help dedicate the bonze plaque renaming the field in honor of him. But what an honor it also is for Hawaii.


 

Marion Carl was a Marine’s Marine, an aviator’s aviator. Legendary Marine aviator Joe Foss once called Marion Carl “the No. 1 pilot in the world.” Indeed, he was the first Marine “ace,” downing 10 enemy planes in World War II during the battles of Midway and Guadalcanal. For each of these engagements against numerically superior forces, he earned the Navy Cross (ranked just below the Congressional Medal of Honor) for “extraordinary heroism.” He finished WW II with 18 kills to his credit.

Later, as a test pilot at the Naval Air Test Center, he was the first Marine to fly a jet aircraft and one of the first to land and take off a jet on an aircraft carrier. In 1947 he set a world speed record (644 mph) in a Douglas Skystreak, and later set an unofficial altitude record (83,235 feet) in the Douglas Skyrocket. He commanded the first Marine jet fighter squadron and formed the first jet aerobatic team.

In Korea, he commanded a Marine reconnaissance squadron, and in subsequent years commanded the Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C., then Marine Aircraft Group 33. After Air War College and Pentagon tours, he was ordered to Hawaii’s K-Bay, where he became commanding general (CG) of the 1st Marine Brigade.

Carl then led the 3rd Marine Amphibious force to Vietnam, where he flew combat missions in five different types of aircraft. From there he was CG of Task Force 79 on Okinawa, then CG Marine Corps Air Stations Eastern U.S., and then CG of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.

In his final assignment as inspector general of the Marine Corps, he completed more than 35 years of service, during which he earned two Navy Crosses (one is extremely rare), four awards of the Legion of Merit (two with Combat “V”), five Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Air Medals and more than a dozen campaign and service medals, including the WWII Victory Medal. Marion Carl was a true leader of his Greatest Generation.


In June 1973, Carl and his wife, Edna, retired to his home state of Oregon in beautiful seclusion near the town of Roseburg. On June 28, 1998, a robber broke into their home and held Edna at gunpoint. The 83-year-old general entered the room and, seeing his wife’s plight, rushed the gunman, who shot him dead and then fled, to be apprehended soon after. All who had ever known the general were deeply saddened, but none was surprised by the circumstances of his death. Marion Carl was a hero to the very end.

So as you emerge from the Windward end of the H-3 tunnel, or you exit the Kaneohe side of Likelike Highway, that air strip you see in the distance on Marine Base K-Bay is now Carl Field.

Think of the man, his life, his death - and his legacy. Let yourself be inspired and savor the chickenskin.

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