Sifting through the sands of the hour glass; a look back at the prestigious history of the Moonlighters

16 Feb 2007 | Lance Cpl. Jenn Farr

After 64 years of building a proud history and unrivaled legacy, the Moonlighters of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332 will be deactivated on April 1 and transitioned to cadre status – meaning the squadron is intended to return with the onset of the Joint Strike Fighter.

The squadron, first commissioned on June 1, 1943 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., will deactivate as a part of the Marine Aviation Transition Strategy helping to address current aircraft inventory and manpower challenges created by the aging F/A-18s which are no longer in production.

"Moonlighter talent, pride and professionalism will soon hit all of Marine Hornet Aviation as the remainder of the squadron departs to follow on assignments," said Lt. Col. Samuel Kirby, the commander of VMFA(AW)-332. "I tell each of my Marines that their history is with the Moonlighters, but their future is in another unit and skills acquired here will improve any squadron in which they serve."

Throughout their existence, the Moonlighters have served in many climes and places providing critical air power to countless conflicts and wars.  The Moonlighters have flown multiple aircraft based out of varied locales – both on land and at sea - and have even been known by more than one nickname.  But these details perhaps aren't even the squadron's crowning achievement – their unparalleled safety record of more than 100,000 mishap-free flight hours that has been sustained since 1952.

The squadron, originally designated Marine Scout Bomber Squadron 332, flew SBD Dauntless dive bombers out of MCAS Cherry Point and MCAS Bogue Field, N.C., in their first year. By January 1944, the squadron moved to MCAS Mojave, Calif., before relocating to the Pacific Theater during the latter part of World War II.

From 1945 to the mid-1980s, the squadron witnessed many changes in airframes and duty assignments.  Moving from California to Japan and participating in operations in Korea, Japan, and at sea, the Moonlighters flew aircraft such as the F64 Hellcat, F4U Corsair, AD-5 Skyraider, A4C Skyhawk and the A-6 Intruder.  Between 1953 and 1983, the squadron adopted the hat, cane and infamous red polka-dots which created the squadron's nickname as the “Polka-Dots.”

It wasn’t until after 1983 that the squadron's nickname was mysteriously changed from the Polka-Dots to the presently used Moonlighters and the tail letters on the jets were changed from "MR" to "EA." Although rumors have surfaced through the years, no written explanation exists for the changes.

On June 16, 1993, the Moonlighters were once again re-designated, becoming Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332 and moved to Fightertown where they made the final transition to their current aircraft F/A-18D Hornet. Since moving to the Lowcountry, VMFA(AW)-332 has participated in numerous exercises and deployments worldwide.

During their years here in the Lowcountry the Moonlighters continued to operate around the world and have supported the United Nations during Operation Deny Flight and Provide Promise.  They also led the largest air strike in NATO military operations, striking Udbina Airfield, Krajina, Croatia in 1994.

The Moonlighter’s history is long and prestigious.  The squadron has achieved safety milestones and set the standard for other Hornet squadrons to follow.  After achieving 75,000 mishap free flight hours in the mid ‘90s the squadron surpassed 100,000 in 2005, representing the largest record of mishap free hours for any tactical aviation squadron in Marine Corps history.    

"The significance of the milestone is remarkable when you consider the fact that this squadron has been operating combat ready aircraft since the Korean War," said Lt. Col. David Wilbur, former Moonlighters commander. "The record was a result of about 60,000 hours in the A-6 and 40,000 in the F/A-18, so it's a combination of many people doing so much over a long period of time.

In 2005 the Moonlighters deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and supported Operations Rivergate, Iron Fist and Steel Curtain among others.

"Deploying to combat was a fitting final mission for the Moonlighters," said Cpl. Angela Pruitt, an administrative clerk at VMFA(AW)-332. "It really gave us the opportunity to operate as a team. We flew hundreds of hours and dropped thousands of pounds of ordnance in support of combat operations and I will miss the squadron as a whole."

Now in 2007, the squadron is facing yet another evolution that is expected to eventually take them from the F/A-18D Hornets they currently fly to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

"This is yet another transition for the Moonlighters," said Lt. Col Chris Pappas III, the Moonlighters executive officer. "Our cadre status sets us off to stand up as a Joint Strike Fighter when it's ready."

"It has really been an honor to work at this squadron," said Cpl. Joshua Pelkey, a powerline Marine with VMFA(AW)-332. "It really is the best squadron in the Marine Corps and I cannot imagine a better group of Marines to work here as the squadron deactivates than the ones already here."
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