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Tigers: Tracking a Legend
Robert F. Warren
Col. Robert F. Warren was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan in 1923 and went on to join Helicopter Experimental Squadron One in Quantico, Virginia where he instructed marine fixed-wing pilots transitioning to helicopters at the outbreak of the Korean War. Warren was one of three original officers assigned to Helicopter Squadron 161 (HMR-161), the first U.S. Military all-helicopter squadron.
Seven months after receiving its first helicopter, HMR-161 embarked on the USS Sitkoh Bay for Korea. Using the ship's machine shops on route to Korea, Warren helped design and manufacture external sling hoists and quick-loading external cargo hooks which became the norm for helicopter operations for years to come.
Warren was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for Operation Blackbird, a night combat operation executed in complete darkness and considered the most hazardous by HMR-161 during its entire Korean combat tour.
On February 8, 1952, he rescued a downed pilot 40 miles behind enemy lines for which he was award a second Distinguished Flying Cross. In 14 years of helicopter flying, he never had a single accident, although he experienced complete engine failure twice. Both times he auto rotated to a safe landing.
Back in the U.S., Warren was promoted to major and selected as aide-de-camp to Medal of Honor winner Gen. Christian Schilt, USMC. Upon Schilt's retirement in 1957, Warren returned to Santa Ana where he joined HMM-363. He was in charge of a three helicopter special mission which transported President Dwight Eisenhower from the San Francisco International Airport to the Presidio.
In the U.S., he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and served as a helicopter tactics instructor in the Marine Corps Command and Staff College in Quantico for the next four years. He was then transferred to the Marine Corps Air Station in Beauford, S.C. to transition to flying fixed-wing jets. Upon completion, he was assigned as commanding officer, Marine Attack Squadron-331 (VMA-331). Warren is the only pilot to have commanded both a Marine Corps helicopter squadron (HMH-363) and a Marine Corps jet attack squadron (VMA-331).
In June of 1968, he returned to California in command of a Marine helicopter air group comprising seven squadrons and more than 5,000 Marines. He retired in September, 1969 after 27 years of active duty flying. From 1981 to 1987 he was recalled to active duty and ordered to the Pentagon six times to serve on an advisory committee for the Secretary of the Navy.
Col. Robert F. Warren was enshrined into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on May 21, 2011.