OKINAWA, Japan -- On July 7, 1941, during World War II, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) was activated by Congress in Quantico, Virginia becoming the largest aviation unit on the east coast. 80 years later, the MAW celebrated its distinguished and vibrant history with a ceremony on Camp Foster in Okinawa, Japan. From the Pacific theatre during World War II, through every major conflict since, 1st MAW has proven its capability and readiness to deploy.
In the early 1940’s, 1st MAW participated in numerous campaigns in the Indo-Pacific region, to include some of the most infamous conflicts at Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands. Throughout WWII, 1st MAW had seven Marines awarded the Medal of Honor. 1stLt James E. Swett, fighter pilot with VMF-221 earned his Medal of Honor for shooting down seven Japanese bombers within 15 minutes. It is Marines like these, with dedication to the mission and to their fellow Marines, who have carried the MAW forward to the present day.
During the Korean War, in late-June 1952, 75 aircraft from 1st MAW participated in the attack on the Sui-ho Dam. Two 1st MAW aircraft groups, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 33 and MAG 12, and the 1st Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion served during the course of the war. The wing flew over 100,000 sorties of which over 40,000 were close air support and Marine helicopters evacuated nearly 10,000 wounded personnel.
During the Vietnam War, helicopters played an extensive role in air, as Marine pilots flew CH34s and later CH-46s and CH-53s to transport Marines into landing zones near suspected enemy locations and to evacuate the wounded following combat engagements. Helicopters were also used to re-supply Marines in the field at remote outposts. Other Marine pilots flew UH-1E Hueys and AH-1 Cobras. Many of these helicopters provided reconnaissance and armed air cover for combat air operations.
1st MAW has an extensive history of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions from Somalia to Guam. During one such mission, Operation Fiery Vigil in 1991, emergency evacuation of nearly 20,000 people was conducted during the explosion of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. In 1995, 1st MAW responded to an earthquake in Japan where 6,400 lost their lives. In early 2021, Marine Wing Support Squadron (MWSS) 172 assisted in construction of the Ban Mai Thai Pattana School in Thailand for 150 students and 16 teachers.
“1st MAW has a history of assisting our allies across the Indo-Pacific. These humanitarian disaster relief efforts are in a way as significant as your combat history. Each is a real commitment of America’s to help anyone in need, in life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, peace, stability and security,” said Lieutenant General H. Stacy Clardy, III MEF Commanding General.
Despite its old age, 1st MAW remains relevant in the Indo-Pacific. In the Commandant’s Planning Guidance, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) is named as the current focus of the Marine Corps, “III MEF will become our main focus-of-effort, designed to provide U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (U.S. INDOPACOM) and the Commander, 7th Fleet with a fight-tonight, stand in force capability to persist inside an adversary’s weapon systems threat range, create a mutually contested space, and facilitate the larger naval campaign.” The present environment demands agility, lethality and adaptability—with that in mind the MAW continuously trains and exercises its capabilities with rapid deployment drills and alert contingency drills.
“1st MAW is an integral part of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force. It’s important for us to be here to carry out the six functions of Marine Aviation as the expeditionary force,” said Brigadier General Brian Cavanaugh, 1st MAW Commanding General.
Most recently, MAG 12, MAG 36 and Marine Air Control Group (MACG) 18 responded to a no-notice drill designed to surprise and test their ability to respond to any contingency at a moment’s notice. Drills like these are essential to maintaining and improving operational capabilities should the MAW be called upon by its allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific.
1st MAW’s 80th anniversary is a celebration in honor of its history and dedication to future successes.
“There’s much that we have to be thankful for. 1st MAW has a rich history that each and every one of you are a part of as we write the next chapter of our story,” said Cavanaugh. “Happy 80th Birthday to the Marines and Sailors of 1st MAW.”