WHO CHOSE “GOPHER” AS A CALLSIGN AND WHY?
WE DID, BUT FOR GOOD REASON…
HMM-263’s A/C 16, +/-1969 VMM-263’s A/C 16 Today
Respectfully Submitted by Capt Jonathan “Bruiser” Brandt, VMM-263(REIN) 12 Aug 2011
The following are pieces of our squadron’s history regarding the name Gopher [Broke]:
HMR-263 was formed in 1952 flying the HO-55. After several airframe changes, they deployed to Vietnam flying the UH-34 in 1965. At the end of 1967 the squadron went back to CA and transitioned to the CH-46 before redeploying to Vietnam as HMM-263 at the start of 1969. It was during that period flying the CH-46D from 1968-1971 in Vietnam when the squadron’s nickname and motto was “Gopher Broke.” The exact origins of how that came about aren’t exactly clear, but the phrase became an unofficial patch, which VMM-263 re-created last year as a tribute to our past.
The play-on-words have a substantial meaning particularly when tied to the events surrounding the crew of “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” – the name of aircraft 16 in HMM-263 when deployed to Marble Mountain, Vietnam. It was on that aircraft on January 31, 1970 where the actions of the crew, and in particular the young Private First Class Mike Clausen, went down in the history books by living up to their namesake; doing whatever it takes to get the job done. On a MEDEVAC mission into a minefield, crew chief PFC Clausen guided the aircraft to multiple landings in craters blown out by detonated mines (areas therefore known to be cleared) and then, against the orders of his aircraft commander but feeling he had to do it in order to help fellow Marines, left the aircraft six consecutive times to assist in retrieving the dead and wounded amidst the mines. For these efforts, he became the only enlisted aircrewman in Vietnam to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The citation is of course easy to find and the story written about the event is titled “Gopher Broke: The Story of Blood, Sweat, and Tears.”
We numbered an aircraft 16 and as the picture depicts (onboard the USS BATAAN, as photographed just today), painted it as a memorial to that event and crew.
Interestingly, that same CH-46 continued to fly in active service until it was damaged during a hard landing in Iraq in 2004. It now resides at the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte.
Our core squadron’s name also hails from the same time period: HMM-263 was originally named the Thunder Eagles but it was during this time in Vietnam that the name morphed into Thunder Chickens. Squadron lore has it that “Eagle” was lost in translation and ended up as “Chicken”, and it stuck. A squadron commanding officer in the 1990s thought it didn’t sound good enough and went back to the Thunder Eagles, but upon change of command that was promptly corrected, in deference to those who served before us, and we have remained – proudly, I might add – the Thunder Chickens ever since.
In summary: Because of our squadron’s history, a handful of V-22 Captains were not ashamed to choose “Gopher” from the list of possible callsigns for this AO.