Gerald Owen Norton

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class
United States Navy
31 December 1938 - 06 October 1962
Moulton, Iowa
Panel 01E Line 012


Fleet Marine Force Corpsman

Good Conduct, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign

The database page for Gerald Owen Norton

09 Aug 2005

Gerald O. Norton was 23 years old when he became the first Navy Hospital Corpsman killed in the Vietnam War. He was flying on a UH-34D (Dog) helicopter which was assigned as the SAR (Search and Rescue) aircraft in a gaggle of 20 helicopters carrying Vietnamese troops south of Tam Ky, Vietnam.

It is stated that his helicopter experienced catastrophic mechanical failure and crashed into a mountainside killing all on board except the pilot. Among those killed was the first of three Navy Flight Surgeons killed in Vietnam, 28 year old LT Gerald C. Griffin.

I write this not only as a former MEDEVAC Corpsman but because his/their place in history should be noted. I would appreciate hearing from anyone who actually knew Gerald Norton or has detailed information regarding the incident.

Bruce Williams-Burden

A Note from The Virtual Wall

The SHUFLY program used Fleet Marine Force Pacific helicopter squadrons to augment the very limited Army aviation presence in Vietnam. The Marine squadrons rotated in and out of Vietnam, and moved around the country as required to provide necessary support to the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN).

As noted above, on 6 Oct 1962 Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (HMM-163) was providing lift support for a 2nd ARVN Division operation in northern SVN, perhaps the first time SHUFLY had operated that far north. UH-34D BuNo 145790 had been tasked for SAR and maintenance support. Eight men were aboard the aircraft:

  • 1stLt William T. Sinnott, pilot;
  • 1stLt Michael J. Tunney, Alexandria, LA, copilot;
  • Cpl Thomas E. Anderson, Spenard, AK, crew chief;
  • LT Gerald C. Griffin, USN, Omaha, NE, surgeon;
  • Sgt Richard E. Hamilton, Albuquerque, NM, technician;
  • HM2 Gerald O. Norton, USN, Moulton, IA, Corpsman;
  • Sgt Jerald W. Pendell, Macomb, IL, technician; and
  • LCpl Miguel A. Valentin, Rockaway Beach, NY, technician.
Seven of the eight men died when the UH-34 crashed and burned on a hillside 15 miles southeast of Tam Ky, apparently from a mechanical failure. The aircraft went down in thick jungle, preventing another helo from landing close to the wreckage. Instead, a portion of the ARVN troops were landed at the base of the hill and moved uphill to the crash site. On arrival they found one survivor, 1stLt Sinnott, and six bodies - one man, later determined to be Corporal Anderson, could not be found. His remains have never been recovered.

UH-34D 145790 was SHUFLY's first fatal loss, but hardly the Corps' last in Vietnam. Over the next 13 years 700 men died in Marine helicopter incidents in Vietnam. It is ironic that both the first and the last USMC helicopter losses in Vietnam were operational rather than combat losses, and that both involved "body not recovered" situations. Captain William C. Nystul and 1stLt Michael J. Shea were lost in the crash of CH-46D BuNo 154042 on 29 April 1975 while providing SAR coverage during the evacuation of Vietnam.

Fleet Marine Force Corpsman

"You guys are the Marine's doctors -
There's none better in the business than a Navy Corpsman ..."
-- Lieutenant General "Chesty" Puller --

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Last updated 08/10/2009