Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River will proudly celebrate its 75th anniversary on Friday.
From its humble beginnings as “the airfield at Peterfield Point,” the air station has evolved and adapted to support the rapid evolution of Marine Corps aviation as the Corps has confronted new challenges and adversaries from World War II into the 21st century. Today, it is universally recognized as a world-class facility that supports 100 percent of the Marine Corps’ East Coast rotary wing and tilt-rotor platforms.
The air station has been through many changes since its inception — legions of Marines have trained, lived and fought from here while the facility continued to evolve and grow as much as Marine Corps aviation has done in the last 75 years.
The air station got its start when the federal government purchased 29 parcels of land, in addition to Camp Lejeune, for $64,502.08. Of those parcels of land, 2,672 of them became the air station.
It was first established as an Emergency Landing Field for the 1st Marine Division that was located nearby for safety consideration. In addition to being an Emergency Landing Field, it was also a key place for routine liaison, communication and transport.
In November 1941, land clearing began at Peterfield Point, which is where The Landing is present day. Runways were complete by May of 1942. Camp Lejeune was tasked with developing a landing field for a glider training base, which would be used in the Marine Corps’ new study and venture into “vertical envelopment” that focused on the use of gliders and parachute units. With the new requirement to battle from the sky to the ground, Capt. Barnett Robinson, Marine Glider Squadron 71, began to survey possible locations that would be able to host both land and sea plane operations. With its ideal proximity to both the New River and the Atlantic Ocean, Peterfield Point was the chosen location.
Construction began immediately on the glider facilities, and by August 1942, Peterfield Point was designated as a landing field, emergency landing field, parachute landing field, glider training base and a sea plane base. It was also in December of 1942 that the airfield was named Marine Base, New River at Peterfield Point.
Three of the seven PBJ (B-25) Mitchell medium bomber squadrons under MAG-61 trained at Peterfield Point. Squadrons VMB-433 and 443 were commissioned at Cherry Point on Sept. 15, 1943, and arrived on Oct. 20. They trained until mid-January of 1944 before being deployed to the West Coast.
An excerpt from VMB-443’s Cruisebook describes the squadron’s move from Cherry Point to New River.
“With most of our airplanes and personnel assigned, we were transferred to Peterfield Pt., New River, N.C., in late October. Though only forty miles away New River was unknown to most of us. Advance patrols including the flight surgeon, mess officer, and mess sergeant investigated the living conditions at our new camp and described them as simple if not wholesome. We were not too eager to leave the comparative civilization of Cherry Pt., (forty miles nearer Raleigh and Washington), but reluctantly we agreed that we would be knit together as a squadron in the lonely boondocks of New River. To find the new field, which was effectively camouflaged by haze and smoke most of the time, pilots originated square searched from Jacksonville (pop. 900), a system which proved useful more than once.”
Marine Corps aviation assets trained and deployed from Peterfield Point until the end of World War II when the installation was deactivated in March 1945. Though it was deactivated, the airfield continued to act as an outlying field for aviation assets out of Marine Corps Air Base Cherry Point.
In 1952, MCAF Peterfield Point, Camp Lejeune was redesignated as Marine Corps Air Facility New River, and two years later, it received its first operational helicopter group, Marine Air Group 26 (MAG-26). MAG-26 served as a training, staging and deployment squadron during the Cold War.
During the Vietnam era, MCAS New River started to play a sizeable role in Marine helicopter missions, beginning in 1962, and played an even bigger part in subsequent conflicts. In 1968, according to historical reports, the air facility was redesignated as the first Marine Corps Air Station (Helicopter), which reflected the air station’s development from a small training base to the home of the Marine Corps’ largest aircraft group, MAG-26, and the only MCAS devoted entirely to helicopters.
In June 1969, Marine Helicopter Training Group 40 was activated there, which prompted a huge construction boom. Additions to the air facility included a 13,000 square-foot training building to service the new CH-53 helicopters, an operations building, an airfield lighting system and a new hangar. Along with a number of recreational amenities, medical and dental facilities and a mess hall, an elementary school was provided for dependent children and dedicated in 1965 in honor of Lt. Col. Armond H. Delalio, generally recognized as the pioneer Marine Corps helicopter pilot.
Marine Corps Air Station New River’s airfield was renamed McCutcheon Field June 8, 1972, to honor the late General Keith Barr McCutcheon, who passed away in 1971. McCutcheon was the Marine Corps’ first four-star aviator and he is thought of as the “Father of Marine Helicopter Aviation.”
Also in 1972, HMTG-40 was deactivated and reborn as MAG-29, joining MAG-26 to provide direct helicopter support to II MAF. Both groups retain tenant status at New River as components of the 2nd Marine Air Wing. By 1975, MCAS New River, which at the time was the third busiest air station in the Corps, had become home to eight helicopter squadrons, HMT-204; VMO-1, a fixed wing observation squadron that flew OV-10 Broncos; an air traffic control unit, four H&MS and MABS squadrons, and the station’s Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron. During the height of the Vietnam War, these 16 aviation units, consisting of 5,000 Marines, were involved in more than 10,000 aircraft training landings a month at New River.
After Vietnam, New River units experienced their first combat in 1983 when New River-based squadrons flew combat missions in Lebanon and during the invasion of Grenada. Station Marines were also involved in the Iranian hostage rescue attempt, the liberation of Kuwait during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Hurricane Hugo Relief, Operation Sharp Edge, Monrovia, Liberia, the O’Grady rescue mission in Bosnia, the rescue of Hurricane Katrina victims, and flight operations in support of Hurricane Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, New River units were among the first to respond in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the continuing efforts to fight the Global War on Terror.
Marine Corps Air Station New River is home to four HMH’s, two HMLA’s, nine VMM’s, two MALS and one MWSS that fall under either Marine Air Group 26, Marine Air Group 29, or Marine Wing Support Group 27. Within these squadrons are five different aircraft that use the airspace and facilities spread all around the air station.
The CH-53E Super Stallion and its successor, the CH-53K King Stallion, are designed for heavy lift assault support. The MV-22B Osprey is primarily used for assault support of troops, equipment and supplies. The UH-1Y Venom Huey provides command and control as well as assault support. The AH-1W Super Cobra and AH-1Z Viper provide fire support and fire support coordination on the battlefield. The UC-12F and UC-12W Huron provides logistics support carrying passengers and cargo between military installations.
Throughout the years, aircraft from the two groups have operated in hot spots around the world, and continue to this day.
New River’s Battle Colors include the Meritorious Unit Commendation streamer (1990-1991), American Campaign streamer, World War II Victory streamer and National Defense Service streamer with three bronze stars, and Global War on Terrorism streamer.
Today, the station is comprised of more than 7,000 Marines, Sailors and civilians who continue to play a major role in Marine aviation. While her landscape has changed over the years, her mission to provide aviation support, force protection, infrastructure and community services to promote readiness, sustainment and quality of life for II Marine Expeditionary Force and other military forces, tenant commands, personnel and their families remains the same.
With more than $400 million in direct economic impact to the local community, its special partnership with Jacksonville and Onslow County is absolutely vital for sustaining and growing the military mission in North Carolina.
“We are all collectively proud to be a part of MCAS New River’s 75-year legacy, because we stand on the shoulders of thousands of Marines, sailors and civilians who built it from the ground up to become the Corps’ premiere training facility for all East Coast rotary wing assets,” said Col. Russell C. Burton, commanding officer, MCAS New River. “With the help of the communities of Jacksonville and Onslow County which have always given us their full-fledged support, I am supremely confident that MCAS New River is well positioned to play a significant role in Marine Corps aviation missions worldwide for many years to come.”
Plans to celebrate MCAS New River’s 75th birthday will include an air station field meet on Friday, followed by a dinner reception that evening.