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VMA-214 insignia

BLACK SHEEP Marine Attack Squadron 214

Marine Attack Squadron 214 (VMA-214) is a United States Marine Corps fighter squadron. The squadron is best known as the Black Sheep of World War II fame and for one of its commanding officers, Colonel Gregory "Pappy" Boyington. In August 1943, a group of twenty-seven young men under the leadership of Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (who was later awarded the Medal of Honor) were joined together to form the original "Black Sheep" of VMF-214. The pilots ranged from experienced combat veterans, with several air-to-air victories to their credit, to new replacement pilots from the United States. Major Boyington and Major Stan Bailey were given permission to form the unassigned pilots into a squadron, with the understanding that they would have less than four weeks to have them fully trained and ready for combat. The Black Sheep squadron fought for eighty-four days.

They met the Japanese over their own fields and territory and piled up a record of 203 planes destroyed or damaged, produced nine fighter aces with 97 confirmedair-to-air kills, sank several troop transports and supply ships, destroyed many installations, in addition to numerous other victories. For their actions, the original Black Sheep were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism in action. The Black Sheep ended their second combat tour on January 8, 1944, five days after Major Boyington was shot down and captured by the Japanese.

Korean War

When the Korean War broke out the squadron's commanding officer, Major Robert P. Keller, was summoned to headquarters in Hawaii where he met with then Colonel Victor Krulak. Krulak bluntly asked, "Major, are you ready to go to war?"

Flying eight F4U-4B Corsairs on August 3, 1950, VMF-214 became the first Marine squadron to see action in Korea, when they launched from the USS Sicily (CVE-118) and executed a raid against enemy installations near Inchon. The Black Sheep completed two combat tours in Korea. They participated in key battles, including the Inchon landing and the UN's defeat and withdrawal from Chosin Reservoir. In these and others battles, they provided nearly continual air cover, interdicting supply and communication lines, and inflicting heavy damage on numerous ground emplacements, and enemy armor.

VMF-214 F4U-4Bs on the USS Sicily in late 1950

Late 1950s - early 1960s

Shortly before the close of hostilities in Korea, VMF-214 returned to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. Here they exchanged their Corsairs for F9F Panther jets and began another training program. In the spring of 1953, the Black Sheep traded their F9s for new F2H-4 Banshees, and headed for the Hawaiian Islands. Upon their arrival, they became part of Marine Aircraft Group 13 and the First Marine Brigade.

F9F-2 Panther jets from VMF-214 flying over Oahu in 1953.

The period between Korea and Vietnam saw several significant changes for the Black Sheep. VMF was changed to VMA on July 9, 1957, designating the Squadron as "attack" rather than "fighter".

An A-4B of VMA-214 Det. N, USS Hornet (CVS-12), 1964

Vietnam War

In May 1965, the Black Sheep were reassigned to Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, and relocated to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. On June 21, 1965, the first Black Sheep division flew into Chu Lai. The Black Sheep Squadron flew 14,000 hours in combat, 13,000 sorties, and dropped more than 10,000 tons of ordnance. For their service VMA-214 was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation with Bronze Star.

A division of A-4M Skyhawks from VMA-214 in the 1970s

The 1970s and 1980s

During the late 1970s, and into the 1980s, the squadron participated in the Unit Deployment Program, rotating between Marine Aircraft Group 12, Marine Corps Air Station, Iwakuni, Japan, and Marine Aircraft Group 13 at MCAS El Toro, California. In October 1982, the Black Sheep were awarded the Lawson H.M Sanderson Award for Attack Squadron of the Year. Two significant events occurred in 1989. During the year, the Black Sheep completed 30,000 accident free hours and six years of accident-free flying. Also, in June 1989, the Black Sheep introduced single-seat fixed wing "Night Attack" aircraft to the Marine Corps with the first operational squadron of AV-8B Night Attack Harrier IIs.

The 1990s

Marine Attack Squadron 214 became the first squadron to introduce the Night Attack capability into the Unit Deployment Program in October 1991, by deploying 20 Night Attack Harriers to Iwakuni, Japan, for seven months.

Global War on Terror

VMA-214 has twice deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The first time was for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and again from February to August 2004, where they were based out of Al Asad. The squadron deployed to Afghanistan in May 2009 as part of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. The Black Sheep were recognized for the fourth time with the Lawson H. M. Sanderson Award as the 2009 Attack Squadron of the Year.

AV-8Bs of VMA-214 on the USS Peleliu in 2005

To this day, the Black Sheep of VMA-214 have continued in their tradition of true and faithful service to the Nation and to the Corps. They have continued to produce and maintain a highly skilled and tactically proficient cadre of pilots and maintainers. From the time of "Pappy" Boyington to the present day, the Black Sheep have demonstrated a standard of excellence and esprit de corps that has marked them as one of the finest military units of our Country and Corps.