Carl’s imposing list of “firsts.” Beginning with his World War II career, he gained such commendations as
• First Marine Corps ace (at Midway and Guadalcanal)
• Among the first Marines ever to fly a helicopter
• First Marine to land aboard an aircraft carrier
• First U.S. military aviator to wear a full pressure suit
• As a brigadier general, commanded the first Marines to land in Vietnam
• Test pilot in the pioneer days of jet aviation
• The world’s altitude and speed records
• Retired as Inspector General of the Marine Corps
• First living Marine admitted to the Naval Aviation Hall of Honor
• First Marine to be named to the Navy Carrier Aviation Test Pilots Hall of Honor (Carl & Tillman)
Marion Carl was born into a farming family in the Willamette Valley on November 1, 1915, the second of four children of Herman Lee Carl, a dairy farmer, and Ellen Lavine Ellingsen Carl.
He graduated from Oregon State University in 1938 with a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering. He entered the U.S. Army Engineer Corps Reserve on May 31, 1938, and enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserve on August 17, 1938.
Carl then entered the Aviation Cadet Program of the Marine Corps on September 27, 1938, beginning active duty on November 15, 1938, and was commissioned a 2d Lt and designated a Naval Aviator on December 1, 1939.
He ended up fighting in flying in WWII (including at Midway and Guadalcanal), Korean conflict and Vietnam. He logged more than 13,000 hours of military flight time, and for 30 years was thought by many to be the Marines’ finest pilot. (Tillman)
In a vicious dogfight at Midway the Americans lost plane after plane. After the ‘all clear,’ the Midway radio called: “Fighters land, refuel by divisions….” No fighters landed. Then came the call, “All fighters land and reservice,” only ten planes came back, and only two would ever fly again.
It was the heaviest loss the Marines suffered in a single air battle during the entire war. Capt. Carl flew one of only two planes sent up in the second defensive sortie from Midway.
On August 7, 1942, at Guadalcanal, two months after Midway, Marines stormed ashore in the Solomons during the first American offensive of World War II. He became an ace on August 26, 1942.
During an aerial fight off the coast of Guadalcanal on September 9, he was forced to bail out of his shot-up Wildcat and was losing his battle to swim ashore against the tide, when he was picked up by friendly natives in a canoe. After five days with the natives, he finally made his way back to his base.
A year later, he returned to combat in the Solomons. By the end of 1943, Major Carl’s total of enemy aircraft destroyed was 18½ with 3 damaged, making him the seventh highest-scoring Marine fighter pilot of World War II.
After the War, Marion Carl was assigned as a test pilot at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, testing jet aircraft on aircraft carriers. He was also the first Marine Corps pilot to fly a helicopter. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel August 7, 1947.
At Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) Marion Carl tested the Douglas D-558-I Skystreak and D-558-II Skyrocket, setting world records for speed and altitude.
(Chuck Yeager, the Air Force’s top test pilot, wrested away the title of world’s fastest human by breaking the sound barrier two months later, also at Muroc. He flew a Bell X-1 rocket plane at Mach 1.07 – 700 mph – on October 14, 1947.)
In 1955, Colonel Carl commanded Marine Photo Reconnaissance Squadron One and flew on secret missions over the People’s Republic of China.
By 1962, Colonel Carl was Director of Marine Corps Aviation. He was promoted to brigadier general, June 1, 1964. He commanded the First Marine Brigade during the Vietnam War and flew combat missions in jet fighters and helicopter gun ships.
Carl was promoted to major general in August 1967, with his date of rank retroactive to June 1, 1964. Carl commanded the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, then served as Inspector General of the Marine Corps from 1970 until 1973.
During his military career, Major General Carl was awarded the Navy Cross with two gold stars (three awards); The Legion of Merit with valor device and three gold stars (four awards); The Distinguished Flying Cross with four gold stars (five awards); and the Air Medal with two gold and two silver stars (twelve awards).
Tragically, General Carl was murdered in Roseburg, Oregon, June 28, 1998, as he defended his wife, Edna, during a home-invasion robbery. Mrs. Carl was wounded, but survived.
In 2009, the Marine base at Kāne’ohe Bay was designated Marine Corps Air Station Kāne’ohe Bay (it was formerly an “air facility,” the new “air station” title denotes greater activity than “air facility.”)
At that time, the name the airfield was named in honor of retired Maj. Gen. Marion E. Carl. (Lots of information here is from Tillman, Willetts, This Day in Aviation, Swops, Veteran Tributes and Lemoore Mud Run.)
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