About six and a half years ago– we’ve been at it that long??– we sang the praises of the V-22 Osprey, and heralded its long-awaited entry into the fleet. We quoted a newspaper article that mentioned the odd squadron nickname.
Well, a correspondent wrote in yesterday to correct the record on the name’s origins:
I was just reading “Thunder Chickens Prepare for Lift Off” and in the post I noted the author wrote, “According to squadron lore, the unit was originally called the Thunder Eagles, but the name got mistranslated in Vietnam, and the new moniker stuck.” Well, that’s not quite accurate because I was with HMM-263 from August ’69 thru August ’70 and as Paul Harvey used to say, “Here’s the rest of the story.”
The tail section of our birds back then had the squadron insignia of a gopher carrying an external load, hence the nickname, “Gopher Broke” One evening in early 1970 a few of us lieutenants were in the Marble Mountain “O” Club sipping cokes when then 1st Lieutenant Mike Holland (now Colonel Mike Holland, USMC ret) walked in and said, “Hey guys, you’re not going to believe this but the skipper is having all the gophers removed and he’s replacing them with chickens!”
What was really happening was that our commanding officer, Lt. Col Ernie Young had decided to replace the “Gopher Broke” insignia with the original “Thunder Eagle” dating back to the 50s when 263 was a fixed wing squadron and had arrange to have the gophers removed and replace it with the “Thunder Eagle.” Lacking any paint artists at the time, the crew that did the painting must have had a few cokes themselves because our new insignia much more resembled an chicken than an eagle. Actually, it was closer to an emu, but who knew what an emu was back then? I any event, the next when we were launching for various missions instead of using our call sign “Peachbush” (formerly Power Glide) several of us lieutenants began using the call sign “Thunder Chicken”
I still remember the first time I used TC and the response I got from Da Nang control when I called my position crossing the river. There was dead silence at the other end as I’m certain the controller was frantically flipping though his Viet Nam call sign book (or whatever they had) trying to ascertain the type of aircraft. Finally he gave us clearance saying something to the effect of “Roger there, Chick, cleared to cross the river.” After making a quick landing near Charlie Med I again called Da Nang and this time he referred to us, “OK there Thunder” and gave us whatever clearance we had asked for.
I just wanted to be clear that there was no mistake or misinterpretation or anything else regarding the name. Thunder Chicken came about when a half dozen lieutenants with a few cokes under our belts in the “O” Club decided to have some fun with the name.
Thanks, Marine! We are happy to oblige, and enlarge the accuracy of the Corps’ history.
Oh– and for the record, when I floated with 24 MEU (SOC) in 1993, our aviation combat element was built around HMM-263, and yes, they referred to themselves as the Thunder Chickens. :-)