Marine Fighter Attack Squadron-321 [VMFA-321]
Andrews AFB, MD
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron-321
Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 321 was established February 1, 1943 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, as a unit of Marine Aircraft Group 31, Third Marine Aircraft Wing.
After a crash course in tactics and war maneuvers, the squadron was off to the war in the South Pacific, initially stationed at Vella La Vella, a recently captured island base in the Solomon Islands. While in the Solomon's, the "Hell's Angels" amassed a record of 39 kills of Japanese aircraft and an additional 11 probables, with only eight aircraft lost. At one time the squadron was scoring at least one kill and/or one probable a day with its F-4U1 "Corsair" aircraft. The squadron transferred north to the area around Guam, where pilots took over "milk run" bombings of neighboring islands and played a major role in knocking out Japanese bases from which attacks against American bomber bases were being launched. Following the war, the squadron returned home in late 1945 and was disbanded.
Early in 1946 a group of Marine aviators in the Washington, D.C. area began organizing a reserve fighting squadron from the ranks of pilots, officers, and enlisted members who had served together in the war as VMF-321. This new VMF-321 became an Organized Marine Corps Reserve Fighting Squadron in July 1946 at Naval Air Station Anacostia, Maryland, and was assigned 14 Corsair aircraft similar to the ones flown by the squadron during the war.
On April 1, 1949 Marine Fighting Squadron 321 was redesigned Marine Fighter Squadron 321. The squadron was placed on alert January 13, 1951 and was activated on March 1, 1951 flying the F-8F "Bearcat" during the Korean Conflict. The 164-man unit began an intensive training program under the command of Major George Robertshaw, in preparation for deployment to the Far East.
The squadron did not go to Korea as a unit. Instead it was declared an augmentation squadron and its members were assigned to regular Marine units to fill empty billets. Though its members were off to Korea, the squadron remained home based at Anacostia, reduced to a single Marine. Equipped with AD-5 "Skyraider" attack aircraft, the squadron was revitalized and was designated Marine Attack Squadron (VMF) 321 May 15, 1958.
In recognition of aerial excellence, VMF-321 was presented the Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King Memorial Trophy in April 1961 as the outstanding reserve squadron at the Anacostia Naval Air Station.
On October 19, 1961, Marine Air Reserve Training activities were officially transferred from Anacostia to the new Naval Air Facility at Andrews Air Force Base. The move made the transition of jet aircraft possible, and in 1962 the squadron began receiving its AF-1E "Fury" jets. On July 1, 1962 the squadron was again designated VMF-321.
In January 1965 squadron pilots began making the transition to F-8 "Crusader" jet fighters. "Operation Ready One", a joint Navy-Marine Reserve Aerial Refueling Exercise in the fall of 1965, brought VMF-321 recognition when four squadron pilots, supported by Marine refuelers, flew their Crusaders nonstop from Andrews AFB to Naval Air Station Miramar, San Diego. The aircraft were refueled in flight by KD-97 tanker aircraft from the Wisconsin Air National Guard.
The squadron received the Pete Ross Trophy from Mr. Ross and General Keller, Commanding General of the Fourth Marine Aircraft Wing (4th MAW), on August 17, 1969, in recognition of an outstanding safety record. In the fall of 1970, the number of F-8 aircraft available to VMF-321 increased to 19 when the Naval Air Reserve Training Unit at Andrews limited F-8 inventory to photo reconnaissance aircraft.
The squadron was again awarded the Marine Air Reserve Trophy in 1973 when named the best fighter squadron in the Marine Air Reserve. Brigadier General Robert W. Taylor, Marine Corps Liaison Officer to the Chief of Naval Operations, presented the award.
Marine Fighter Squadron 321 was redesigned Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 321 in December 1973, when it became the first Marine Air Reserve squadron to receive the F-4B "Phantom II" aircraft. The designation, which remains today, indicated the dual fighter/attack mission. Aircrew and maintenance personnel began preparing for the new aircraft long before its arrival, and on January 15, 1974, VMFA-321 made its fist Phantom flight. In 1976, for the nation's 200th birthday, a distinctive Bicentennial color scheme was devised. Light blue replaced the black dorsal spine and tail fin, with white stars against the blue background. The squadron also began receiving the updated F-4N version of the phantom that year.
With the new aircraft, the squadron had a primary role of interception and air superiority. In June 1976, VMFA-321 became the first Marine Reserve squadron to fire AIM-9 "Sidewinder" missiles, and joined VMFA-112 at Point Mugu, California, in January 1977 for a highly successful AIM-7 Missile shoot. In 1982 the squadron was again awarded the Pet Ross Safety Award.
In 1984 aircrew members and maintenance personnel again prepared for the arrival of a new aircraft, and in September, the squadron received the first of its line of newer, updated F-4S's. In 1985 VMFA-321 operated twelve F-4S Phantom aircraft and accumulated 12, 344 mishap free hours. During the calendar year the squadron flew nearly 3,000 hours in support of a demanding aircrew training program. VMFA-321 was nominated for the Chief of Navy Operations Safety Award.
In 1991, VMFA-321 stood down the mighty Phantom and commenced transitioning to the "state of the art" F/A-18 Hornet. The transition was completed six months faster than any active duty squadron. Since transitioning to the F/A-18 Hornet, VMFA-321 has maintained an intense operational tempo and achieved noteworthy results. For example, during a five-week period in June and July of 1994, the squadron: (1) provided support to the Ground Combat Element of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) during Operation Pinnacle Advance, the first MAGTF operation attempted by Marine Reserve Forces; (2) received a grade of 99% on the Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation; and (3) supported two Combined Arms Exercises at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms.
In April of 1994, VMFA-321 participated in the annual Low-Country Bombing Derby at the Townsend Target Complex in Georgia. The derby attracted 64 tactical aircraft from the active and reserve forces of the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.
In an effort to relieve the active duty Marines from their stringent deployment cycle, in early 1996 VMFA-321 made the first Marine Reserve transatlantic deployment to Bodo Norway to participate in exercise Battle Griffin. Then in July the squadron deployed to Scotland to participate in exercise Brilliant Invader.
VMFA-321 took part in Exercise Bright Star '00, conducted in late 1999 in Egypt.