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  • Writer's pictureWill Armstrong

Naval Aviator George Roy Hill, VMR-152


MAG-25’s roster contained people with a wide variety of talents and backgrounds. One veteran, whose biographical accounts are not so much in error as they are lacking in specifics, was Oscar-winning director George Roy Hill. In addition to “The Sting,” for which he received the Academy Award for Best Director in 1974, Hill’s director credits included “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Slaughterhouse-Five,” and “The Great Waldo Pepper” (he also wrote the original story for the latter). Hill also wrote and/or directed a number of television programs. Before his writing, acting, and directing career took off, however, Hill was a pilot in VMR-152.


A lifelong aviation enthusiast, George Roy Hill enlisted as a Naval Aviation Cadet in 1942, and received his “Wings of Gold” and commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve at Pensacola in October 1943. He was then assigned to the Naval Air Operational Training Command at NAS Jacksonville. After Jacksonville, he was assigned to Air Regulating Squadron 3 (ARS-3), a unit that processed personnel for service to and from operational squadrons, at Marine Corps Air Depot Miramar, California.



Aircraft of MAG-15 at Camp Kearny. (National Naval Aviation Museum)

On March 3, 1944, Hill joined VMJ-953 at Camp Kearny, California, where he likely received his first experience flying the Douglas R4D. VMJ-953 had until recently been part of MAG-15, which for the first two years of the war prepared aircrews for service in MAG-25 and other units operating in the war zone. MAG-15 had deployed overseas on March 1. VMJ-953 remained in California, temporarily subordinated directly to Marine Fleet Air, West Coast, and the squadron’s operational training function continued until late May 1944. During operational training, Hill would have been given thorough instruction in flying the R4D, including instrument and night flying, in a combination of training and operational (Stateside) transport flights. Instructors also tried, despite the too-ideal climate of Southern California, to expose students to one of their most dangerous enemies: poor weather. Squadron graduates were qualified as first pilots in the R4D.


On May 24, 1944, Hill was briefly transferred to Headquarters Squadron 35, MAG-35, at Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Facility Corvallis, Oregon, before shipping out for the South Pacific from San Diego aboard the aircraft transport USS Kitty Hawk (AKV-1) on June 25. He arrived in-theater on July 19, 1944, assigned to VMJ-152, which was redesignated VMR-152 the following day (J = Utility, R = Transport). Although rated first pilots, new arrivals to the MAG-25 naval aviator pool served as co-pilots, typically for the duration of their first combat tour, giving an indication of the level of training and experience required to command a MAG-25 aircraft. Due to the nature of MAG-25’s operations, however, there was no logbook distinction between co-pilot and pilot flying hours.


Hill joined VMR-152 just as the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command was dissolving, its Army units reverting to USAAF control for the Philippines Campaign. “SCAT,” however, continued on until February 1945—now as Solomons Combat Air Transport Command, a Marine Corps outfit. MAG-25, formerly based in Tontouta, New Caledonia, now had its headquarters on Bougainville in the Northern Solomons. While the original SCAT had supplied both air and ground forces during the fight for the Solomons, after July 1944 MAG-25 primarily supported the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW).

R4Ds of MAG-25 on Bougainville. (MAG-25/SCAT)

On August 1, 1944, VMR-152 began moving its headquarters from Tontouta to Bougainville, joining the rest of MAG-25 there, and Hill’s first mission likely was in support of that move: an August 1-5 mission from Bougainville to Tontouta via Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo. For the next few months, Hill flew missions ranging from Tontouta north to Emirau, and later to Owi, Biak, and Peleliu.


In December 1944, MAG-25 began supporting operations in the Philippines, flying into Leyte. The movement of the 1st MAW to Leyte accounted for approximately 70% of VMR-152’s flying hours, according to the monthly war diary, including a number of Hill’s missions. In addition, the squadron was providing navigational guidance to 1st MAW aircraft relocating to the Philippines. By the end of January 1945, Hill was flying into Luzon.


During the Philippines Campaign, the 1st MAW’s fighter and bomber squadrons supported U.S. Army ground units. In part due to the fame and self-promotion of General Douglas MacArthur, the liberation of the Philippines tends to be remembered as an Army accomplishment, and the relatively small number of Marines have become something of a forgotten contributor (this cut both ways, of course, as the substantial Army contribution in the South and Central Pacific tends to be ignored in favor of the Marines). On the ground, however, soldiers had a deep appreciation for their Marine Corps air support. MAG-25 provided logistical support throughout the campaign, and was also responsible for transporting 1st MAW personnel to the rear for rest and recreation.


MAG-25 R4D and unidentified crew on Leyte during the Philippines Campaign, ca. 1945. (National Archives)

In March 1945, Hill passed the group's command pilot examination and received qualification as a MAG-25 first pilot. His first mission as pilot-in-command was on March 15. Hill accepted promotion to 1st lieutenant on June 7, 1945, with rank from April 30. MAG-25 continued supporting operations in the Philippines to the war's end. Hill was detached from VMR-152 on September 20, 1945, at the conclusion of his second combat tour, and returned to the United States the following month.


Hill was reactivated in 1952, during the Korean War, having been promoted to captain while in the inactive reserve. He served with Marine Air Base Squadron 11 (MABS-11) at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, until July 30, 1953. He was then assigned to VMA-225, a Vought AU-1 Corsair squadron based at nearby Marine Corps Air Facility Edenton. With the drawdown following the Korean armistice, Hill was detached from VMA-225 on August 25, 1953. Some of Hill’s obituaries state that he was a pilot during his Korean War activation, although his military occupational specialty (MOS) during that time was 7301, air traffic control officer.


Maj. George Roy Hill died at age 81 on December 27, 2002.


***


I want to give special thanks to Amanda Jones, who first alerted me to this story.


Bibliography:


Muster Roll, Aviation Detachment, Marine Barracks, Naval Air Training Center Pensacola, October 1943.

Muster Roll, Aviation Casual Company, Marine Barracks, Naval Air Station Jacksonville, October 1943.

War History, Marine Aircraft Group 15.

Muster Rolls, Marine Utility Squadron 953, March-May 1944.

War Diary, Marine Utility Squadron 953, May 1944.

Muster Rolls, Headquarters Squadron 35, Marine Aircraft Group 35, May-June 1944.

Muster Rolls and War Diaries, Marine Transport Squadron 152, July 1944 – September 1945.

Muster Rolls, Marine Air Base Squadron 11, January and July 1953.

Muster Rolls, Marine Attack Squadron 225, July and August 1953.

Chapin, John C. …And a Few Marines: Marines in the Liberation of the Philippines (Washington, DC: GPO, 1997).

“George Roy Hill” at the Internet Movie Database (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001351/).


Select Obituaries:


New York Times:

Los Angeles Times:

The Guardian:

The Independent:


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