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This page is dedicated to the Marines of 323, both pilots and ground crews who transitioned from recepicating engine driven F4U Corsairs to become pioneers in Marine Jet Aviation. 

Semper Fi to the New Breed!
Commanding Officers from 14 Jul 1953 to 1 Oct 1956  
LtCol William M. Watkins 14 Jul 1953-16 Mar 1954 Maj Richard Hey, Jr. 24 Dec 1954-10 Mar 1955
Maj William D. Armstrong 17 Mar 1954-29 Mar 1954 Maj Clyde H. Davis, Jr. 11 Mar 1955-30 Mar 1955
LtCol Robert G. Owens, Jr. 30 Mar 1954-9 Aug 1954 LtCol Clyde H. Davis, Jr. 1 Apr 1955-3 Aug 1955
LtCol Douglas A. Bangert 10 Aug 1954-23 Dec 1954 LtCol Kenneth D. Frazier 4 Aug 1955-1 Oct 1956

     When 323 left Korea, it turned all of it’s aircraft and equipment over to other units remaining in the Far East.  Most of the personnel were sent on leave, with orders reassigning them to other duty stations in the states.  VMA-323 was now in command of Capt Ted J. Foster and 5 enlisted men, traveling to Itami, Japan by air then on to Atsugi, Japan and by air to NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii.

     On 13 July 1953 the 6-man squadron arrived at NAS Moffet Field, Ca.  Later that day they flew to MCAS El Toro, Ca.  The next day, Capt Foster was relieved by LtCol William M. Watkins as commanding officer and VMA-323 became part of MAG-15.  The squadron accepted 16 F9F-2 Panther jets and flight-testing began within 2 days.  Training problems mounted as the squadron entered the jet era.  Less than half of the enlisted men had any experience in squadron duties and less than half of the pilots had flown jets.  To complicate matters further, the squadron had to move to a Marine Corps Auxiliary Landing field (MCALF) in the Mojave Desert.  The squadron returned to El Toro on 8 Aug 1953 and began planning for a 6-month deployment to Hawaii.  All squadron aircraft were transferred to VMF-235.

     On 4 Nov 1953, VMA-323 embarked on board the USS Marion (LSD-22) in San Diego.  On 10 Nov, the squadron celebrated the 178th birthday of the Marine Corps while on board the Marion.    On 11 Nov VMA-323 arrived at Pearl Harbor and departed for MCAS Kaneohe as part of MAG-13.  The Death Rattlers engaged in tactical flight training, aerial gunnery and close air support missions.  The otherwise successful deployment to Hawaii was marred by the death of the squadron’s Operation Officer, Maj Roy J. Irwin, during a training flight.  On 16-17 March all personnel and equipment were loaded aboard LST-742 and LST-802 for transportation back to the West Coast and to MCAS El Toro and MAG-15.

     In Feb 1955, the squadron, led by its new skipper, Maj Richard Hey, Jr. deployed to MCALF Mojave where the pilots received training in airborne rocket firing, bombing, strafing, and section and division tactics.  On 15 Sept 1955, MAG-15 became part of the 3rd MAW.  Between 7-18 Nov 1955, the squadron supported the 1st Marine Division and Canadian armed forces in Pacific Training Exercises (PacTraEx) in the Camp Pendleton-San Clemente-San Diego area.  VMA-323 also engaged in air tactical training in the Mojave Desert and at the Naval Auxiliary Air Station, El Centro, Ca. 

     By mid 1956, The Death Rattlers were flying the F9F-8 Cougar, a swept wing version of the Panther.  In Aug 1956, Maj Summerfield M. Taylor, squadron XO, led 100 aircraft in a flyover of the Los Angeles Coliseum for the American Legion Convention Gathered there.  Later in Aug, the squadron began a 3 week deployment in which 12 F9F-8 Cougars spent the 1st week aboard the USS Shangri-La (CVS-38), the 2nd aboard the USS Bennington (CV-20), and the 3rd at NAS El Centro.  This assignment marked the last significant use of the F9Fs. 

     VMF-323 had conquered the Jet age and set several new records, adding to the history of the Death Rattlers.  Their success was marred by the loss of one of their own.  They had proved once again that the Death Rattlers could over come anything. 

Are you a former member of VMA-323 or VMF-323?  We would like to add you to our Squadron Roster page.  Did you fly or work on the Panther and/or Cougar?  Drop us an email!

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