CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - “I stepped on an 82 mm mortar round, and I flew through the air,” said Tim Stanton, a former Marine and San Gabriel, Calif., native, “From the time I got hit to the time I was on the hospital ship was 27 minutes. You can’t get an ambulance in that time and that’s why I didn’t bleed out.”
Stanton was a lance corporal when he stepped on ordnance near the Marble Mountains in Vietnam in 1970.
A helicopter crew with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, the Purple Foxes, medically evacuated Stanton. He credits them with saving his life.
The squadron celebrated its 50th anniversary, as well as the official end of their operations in Iraq, aboard Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, Calif., Nov. 10. As part of the celebration, Stanton became an honorary Purple Fox and the squadron formally added the Iraqi Freedom battle streamer to the HMM-364 colors.
“If you were a mechanic, a crew member or pilot in the last 40 years, you looked at that Vietnam Campaign streamer as something to live up to,” said Lt. Col. Edward Jeep, the commanding officer of HMM-364. “Every Marine has something to live up to.”
The Purple Foxes’ Iraqi Freedom battle streamer features four Bronze Stars, and, Jeep explained, represents the sacrifices squadron Marines and their families have made over the past seven years supporting operations in Iraq.
In addition to the new battle streamer, the newest honorary Purple Foxes donated HMM-364 memorabilia to the squadron’s ready room, or preflight briefing room for pilots and aircrew. The donations included a model CH-46 Sea Knight and a shadow box commemorating the seven Purple Foxes who lost their lives in Iraq in 2007 when their helicopter was shot down.
Stanton offered his own donation to the ready room: his very first Marine Corps birthday meal.
A Purple Fox helicopter delivered cases of C-Rations and Schlitz beer to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment lance corporal and his compatriots in the field on Nov. 10, 1970. The team did not have time to finish their birthday meal before they continued on patrol, so Stanton saved his pound cake and ham and eggs with water added C-Rations. When they returned to base, he mailed them home.
Forty-one years later, Stanton handed them over to Jeep, bringing his involvement with the Purple Foxes full circle.
The golden anniversary celebrated the end of the squadron’s second period of intense combat, as well as the newest, oldest and current Purple Foxes.
“It’s not about us,” said Jeep. “It’s about the guys in the back [of the helicopter]. It’s about the men and women and children at home. It’s about anyone who has ever had to do that. The 50th is a family reunion.”