US Marine Corps, May 01, 2015 - KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii by Christine Cabalo - Painting crews discovered a piece of aviation history after uncovering a mural for “The Flying Tigers” inside Hangar 102 at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay.
Crews from Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s Facilities Department discovered the painting with a personnel roster while renovating the space earlier in April 2015. The hangar is currently home to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463. “The Flying Tigers” are now based out of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa.
“This is history come alive,” said Emmer Bio, a painter with the Facilities Department, who was part of the crew that made the discovery. “People from all over have come to take a photo.”
Bio said six pieces of block board were on top of the mural, hiding it from view up until that point. Members of “Pegasus” squadron had used the wall space to mount a board that kept track of foreign object debris. None of the current personnel were aware of the mural until crews removed the boards.
“When we were repainting the wall we started peeling back the boards due to it being termite-ridden,” Bio said. “When we pulled (the boards) off, we found (the mural).”
When the unit was stationed at Kaneohe Bay, “The Flying Tigers” were known as Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262, according to the unit’s official Marine Corps website. They were stationed at K-Bay from 1971 to September 1992 before transferring to Okinawa.
They flew CH-46 Sea Knight “Phrog” helicopters, conducting both combat and humanitarian missions. The unit provided support on the island of Kauai to help with Hurricane Iniki efforts in 1992.
The roster was updated as recently as 1991, with a few names signed on the wall with dates. The orange-striped tiger is still found on the unit’s patches and logo.
Several of the Marines in the roster are still on active duty, including Maj. Gen. Andrew W. O’Donnell Jr, who was the unit’s aircraft maintenance officer as a major. O’Donnell is currently the assistant deputy commandant of Combat Development and Integration, and the deputy commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
“The Flying Tigers” also included Brig. Gen. David Coffman, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South. As a first lieutenant, Coffman was a functional check pilot, flight leader and flight instructor for the unit aboard K-Bay.
When crews found the mural it showed the signs of wear, even though it was hidden for the past 24 years, said Maj. Neil Oswald, the executive officer of HMH-463. After documenting the find, crews finished repainting the hangar, including the wall with the mural.
“We’d save it, but the mural’s paint (was) already starting to flake off,” Oswald said. “This isn’t the unit’s space anymore, but we did preserve the image in pictures that we sent to (‘The Flying Tigers’).”
“The Flying Tigers” have also gone through their own changes since leaving Oahu. In 2013, the unit completed its transition to using the MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, and has been redesignated as Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262, or VMM-262.
Yet the unexpected find steps back into K-Bay’s past when tigers flew and “Phrogs” ruled the day.
“This is the first time I’ve ever come across something like this,” Bio said. “There are not very many things like this.”