Since its commissioning as a Fighter Squadron 62 years ago, on 24 June 1941, the Green Knights of Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121 have compiled a distinguished history unsurpassed in the annals of Marine Corps Aviation. The Green Knights began combat operations operating F4F Wildcats and later F4U Corsairs as charter members of the Cactus Air Force and throughout Guadalcanal, the squadron fought from the legendary forward air bases of Espirito Santo Island, Turtle Bay, Bougainville, and Emirau.
VMF-121 was without equal among Marine Corps Fighter Squadrons during WWII. During the conflict, the Squadron produced 14 Fighter Aces, more than any other squadron, including Congressional Medal of Honor winner, Captain (later Major) Joseph J. Foss. Throughout the war, VMF-121 set the standard for enemy aircraft destroyed, by downing 209 Japanese aircraft (165 flying Wildcats and another 44 flying Corsairs) in aerial combat. After WWII, VMF-121 returned to the United States and Naval Air Station, Glenview, Illinois where the Squadron designation was changed to Marine Attack Squadron 121 (VMA-121). The Squadron was flying a variety of aircraft including F4U Corsairs, F8F Bearcats and AD Skyraiders.
In mid 1951, VMA-121 received orders to activate its reserve members and departed Glenview, Illinois for Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, California. After completion of training in the Skyraider, the Squadron was transported aboard the carrier USS Sikko Bay to Yokosuka, Japan to begin final preparations for a combat deployment to the Republic of Korea.
VMA-121 deployed to K-6 Airfield at Pyongtaek, ROK to conduct strike missions in support of infantry operations. Flying missions as long as 14 hours, the Skyraider could carry 9000 pounds of ordnance, a load which rivaled that of a seagoing WWII destroyer. The Squadron dropped more bomb tonnage during the Korean War than any other Navy or Marine Corps squadron, devastating enemy airfields, supply dumps, bridges, and railroad yards.
During the Korean War the Squadron insignia depicted Al Capp’s “WolfGirl” from the comic strip L’il Abner. The feared “Wolf Raiders” of VMA-121 remained in South Korea for several years after the cease-fire in 1953. Returning to MCAS El Toro in 1957, the squadron assumed its role in the Unit Deployment Program with scheduled rotations to Japan and traded in its AD Skyraider aircraft and joined the jet age with the F9F-8B. The Cougar equipped with the LABS system for loft bombing, was the first aircraft flown by the squadron capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
In late 1958, the Squadron traded the Cougars for brand new A-4 Skyhawks. Spending most of the next year at the likes of Fallon, Yuma, and China Lake, the “Green Knights” became the first squadron to complete the entire special weapons delivery syllabus. In January 1960, the Squadron deployed to Iwakuni, Japan for a scheduled six month UDP. However, in July the “Green Knights” were embarked onboard the USS TICONDEROGA and in October 1960, they transferred to the USS CORAL SEA (CVA-43) for six months. Finally ending their 15 month odyssey, the Squadron returned home to MCAS El Toro.
During November of 1962, the “Green Knights” deployed their new A-4s to NAS Cecil Field on the coast of Florida in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In August, 1966, the Green Knights were once again called to battle and ferried their Skyhawks to Iwakuni and ultimately, Chu-Lai Air Base, Republic of Vietnam. After six months of combat operations, the Squadron rotated back to Iwakuni, Japan and Naha Air Base, Okinawa before returning to Chu-Lai for another combat tour in 1968. During the first six months of that deployment, VMA-121 supported 118 major operations, providing the eagerly sought “Marine brand” of close air support to all allied units.
In early 1969 the Squadron was reconstituted at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina and newly designated VMA(AW)-121 to reflect the Squadron’s transition to the all weather attack mission with the Grumman A-6E Intruder. The Green Knights were now capable of acquiring and destroying surface targets in any weather, day or night, with a wide variety of ordnance.
After a 12 month deployment to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, during 1977-1978, the Squadron was reassigned to MCAS El Toro. During this period, numerous updates and modifications to the A-6 constantly enhanced its capabilities, as the Green Knights operated from air bases in Sardinia, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Okinawa, the Philippines and Korea. When the Target Recognition and Attack Multi-sensor (TRAM) version of the A-6 aircraft was developed, VMA(AW)-121 was proud to be the first Marine Corps A-6 squadron to receive it.
In November 1985, VMA(AW)-121 was transferred to Commander, Carrier Air Wing Two (CVW-2), attached to USS RANGER (CV-61). Once again based aboard an aircraft carrier, the Green Knights brought expertise to CVW-2 in close air support, while rising to new challenges in areas such as war at sea, integrated service warfare and tanker support through back-to-back deployments onboard USS RANGER with CVW-2.
On December 8, 1989 the Squadron was redesignated as VMFA(AW)-121, becoming the first Marine Corps F/A-18D Night Attack Hornet Squadron. Slightly over one year later, the Squadron deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield/Storm. During the Desert Storm Air Campaign, the Squadron flew 557 sorties and 1,655.5 combat hours (more than any other Navy or Marine Corps tactical jet squadron) in support of the First and Second Marine Divisions liberating Kuwait.
Returning to El Toro following the cessation of hostilities, the Green Knights returned to the unit deployment rotation and relocated to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California during August 1994. The Green Knights made three deployments to WestPac before returning to combat over Iraq in March of 2000. The squardron flew 287 sorties in support of Operation Southern Watch while based at Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, VMFA(AW) was placed on a 96-hour “prepare to deploy” tether and remained on alert until called into action in April 2002. The squadron deployed with six aircraft to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, followed by the remaining six aircraft and personnel a month later. The squadron flew more than 900 combat sorties over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, returning to MCAS Miramar in October 2002.
Only 3 months after returning from Kyrgyzstan, the Green Knights deployed to Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait. From February to May 2003, the squadron flew more than 750 combat sorties over Iraq in support of Operations Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom, and returned to MCAS Miramar on May 12th.
The Green Knights’ colors proudly display 2 Presidential Unit Citations, 5 Navy Unit Commendations, 4 Meritorious Unit Citations and 10 Battle Streamers. The Squadron has received numerous awards to include; the CNO’s Safety Award for 1960, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1989, 2000 and 2002, the Commandant’s Aviation Efficiency Trophy for 1960, the Marine Attack Squadron of the Year in 1979 and Marine Fighter/Attack Squadron of the Year in 2001, and the Commandant’s Aviation Trophy for 2003.