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Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323
VMFA-323 insignia.png
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 insignia
Active1 August 1943 - present[1]
CountryUnited States
RoleClose air support
Air interdiction
Aerial reconnaissance
Part ofMarine Aircraft Group 11
3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Garrison/HQMarine Corps Air Station Miramar, California
Nickname(s)Death Rattlers
Motto(s)"Come to Fight - Come to Win" or unofficially "Come to Drink - Come to Fight"
EngagementsWorld War II
* Battle of Okinawa
Korean War
* Battle of Inchon
* Battle of Chosin Reservoir
* Attack on the Sui-ho Dam
Vietnam War
Operation El Dorado Canyon
Operation Desert Storm
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom
* 2003 invasion of Iraq
Operation Inherent Resolve
LtCol William J. “Skull” Mitchell
Aircraft flown
FighterF4U Corsair (1943-53)
F9F Panther (1953-54)
F9F Cougar (1954-56)
FJ-4 Fury (1956-59)
F-8 Crusader (1959-64)
F-4 Phantom II (1964-82)
F/A-18 Hornet (1982-

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 (VMFA-323) is an aviation unit of the United States Marine Corps. The squadron is equipped with the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet and is based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, United States. It falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 11 (MAG-11) and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW) but deploys with the U.S. Navy's Carrier Air Wing 17 (CVW-17).


World War II[edit]

VMF-323 was commissioned August 1, 1943 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.[1] According to oral history, the squadron got its name from three fighter pilots who killed a 6-foot (1.8 m) rattlesnake and hung its skin in the squadron's ready room. VMF-323 began training in F4U Corsairs almost immediately for combat in the Pacific theater of World War II. On December 16, 1943 the squadron received orders to prepare to move to the west coast of the United States beginning the first week of January 1944.[2] Much of the new squadron's training was done at Marine Corps Air Station El Centro and Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, California. In July 1944, the Death Rattlers departed for the Pacific aboard USS Long Island. For the next nine months, VMF-323 flew training missions from secure island bases in the South Pacific.

VMF-323 FG-1Ds over Okinawa in 1945

On April 9, 1945, the Death Rattlers flew into Kadena airfield in support of Operation Iceberg during the Battle of Okinawa. Combat operations commenced the following day. Between then and the Japanese surrender in August, the Death Rattlers racked up 124 Japanese planes shot down without a single loss. Twelve Death Rattlers became aces.[3]

After the war, the Death Rattlers were based at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, where they conducted training exercises. It was around this time that the squadron appeared in the 1949 movie Sands of Iwo Jima.

Korean War and post-war[edit]

When the Korean War began in 1950, VMF-323 began combat operations from USS Badoeng Strait as part of Marine Aircraft Group 33 (MAG-33), supporting ground forces in the Battle of Pusan Perimeter, Battle of Inchon, Battle of Chosin Reservoir and almost every other major campaign of the conflict. During action near Kosong, on 11 August 1950, a VMF-323 Corsair pilot, Captain Vivian M. Moses, became the first Marine aviator killed in Korea.[4] The unit also took part in the attack on the Sui-ho Dam in June 1952.

VMF-323 F4U-4s on USS Sicily, in 1951
FJ-4Bs of VMF-323, ca. 1957.

The squadron was re-designated Marine Attack Squadron 323 (VMA-323) in June, 1952. The Death Rattlers left Korea in July 1953. Once back home, the squadron began flying the F9F Panther and then the F9F Cougar, a swept-wing version of the Panther. In 1956 the squadron adopted the FJ-4 Fury, with which it deployed to the western Pacific in 1957.[5] That year, the Death Rattlers flew armed patrols over the Quemoy and Matsu islands to support Chinese nationalist forces.

The squadron was reestablished at MCAS El Toro and received its first F8U Crusaders in the summer of 1958. it trained in 1958 and 1959 was then assigned to USS Oriskany.

In 1964, the squadron returned to MCAS Cherry Point, where they received their present designation of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 (VMFA-323). This same year, the Death Rattlers began flying the F-4 Phantom II. During the Dominican Crisis in 1965, the Death Rattlers provided air cover while American citizens were evacuated.

Vietnam War[edit]

As the United States grew closer to war in South Vietnam, the Death Rattlers deployed to Da Nang Air Base beginning on October 25, 1965. Combat operations started the day after they arrived. The squadron lost its first aircraft a week after they arrived when the squadron's executive officer was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over North Vietnam. It was the only Marine F-4 felled by a SAM during the war.[6] The squadron remained in Vietnam until 1969, flying combat sorties from Da Nang and Chu Lai.

1980s to 2001[edit]

F-4Ns of VMFA-323 on USS Coral Sea, 1979-80.
A VMFA-323 F/A-18C shown with CVW-11 tail code of NH instead of the usual WS aboard USS Nimitz, in August 2017.

The squadron embarked on its only aircraft carrier cruise in the F-4 Phantom in November 1979 aboard USS Coral Sea. After liberty stops in, Korea, Thailand, and Singapore, Coral Sea arrived in the Arabian Sea in January 1980 flying protection caps for Coral Sea and USS Nimitz. On 24 April 1980, VMFA-323 was prepared to fly combat missions into southern Iran in support of US hostages rescue attempt Operation Eagle Claw with the mission to shoot down any Iranian combat aircraft that attempted to take off. When Operation Eagle Claw failed, VMFA-323 F-4s flew missions around the clock until all US support ships had exited the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The squadron was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its service. The squadron arrived back at Subic Bay, RP after 102 straight days at sea. On 14 September 1982, VMFA-323 transitioned to its current aircraft, the F/A-18 Hornet. In October 1985, the squadron deployed again aboard Coral Sea, this time to the Mediterranean Sea. In spring of 1986 during freedom of navigation exercises held in international waters and airspace off the coast of Libya. On 15 April 1986, the squadron provided SAM suppression and fighter Combat Air Patrol (CAP) sorties during Operation El Dorado Canyon.

In 1994, 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2001 the Death Rattlers flew missions in support of Operation Southern Watch.

Global War on Terror[edit]

On 2 November 2002, VMFA-323 deployed aboard USS Constellation as part of CVW-2 to conduct Operation Southern Watch. While on this deployment, the Death Rattlers transitioned from Operation Southern Watch to Operation Iraqi Freedom conducting sorties into Baghdad on the first night of the war.

On 2 May 2005, two F/A-18C Hornet fighter jets from VMFA-323, BuNo 164721 and BuNo 164732, collided over south-central Iraq, during a sortie from USS Carl Vinson, killing the executive officer and a junior officer.[7]

Squadron aces[edit]

  • Brian M. Mitchell 8.0
  • Jeremiah J. O'Keefe - 7.0
  • John W. Ruhsam - 7.0
  • Robert Wade - 7.0
  • Joseph V. Dillard - 6.3
  • Dewey F. Durnford - 6.3
  • Francis A. Terrill - 6.1
  • George C. Axtell - 6.0
  • Jefferson D. Dorroh - 6.0
  • William L. Hood - 5.5
  • Stuart C. Alley Jr. - 5.0
  • Charles W. Drake - 5.0
  • Albert P. Wells - 5.0 [8]

Miscellaneous Information[edit]

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.
  1. ^ a b Rottman 2002, pp. 443.
  2. ^ "3d Marine Aircraft Wing Operations Order 8-43" (PDF). United States Marine Corps. December 16, 1943. Retrieved August 13, 2020.
  3. ^ Sherrod 1952, pp. 431.
  4. ^ "Marine Air Over the Pusan Perimeter". The Marine Corps Gazette. Retrieved 2008-12-10.
  5. ^ "The Mojave Virtual Museum - The "Mojave Marines": Life at MCAAS Mojave". Mojave Transportation Museum. Archived from the original on 2007-11-03. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
  6. ^ Davies 2000, pp. 88.
  7. ^ "Second Pilot Identified in F/A-18 Crash". United States Navy. 2007-05-05. Archived from the original on 2008-02-01. Retrieved 2007-12-10.
  8. ^ "WW2 Marine Fighting Squadron 323", www.acepilots.com, August 13, 2020
  9. ^ Exhibit: 150628 - McDonnell-Douglas F-4N Phantom II Archived 2006-06-14 at the Wayback Machine AeroWeb: The Aviation Enthusiast Corner
  10. ^ Condon Corsair to Panthers, p. 41.



  • Chapin, John C. Fire Brigade: U.S. Marines in the Pusan Perimeter. Washington, D.C.: Marine Corps Historical Center, 2000.
  • Condon, John Pomeroy (1998). Corsairs and Flattops - Marine Carrier Air Warfare, 1944-45. Annapolis Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-127-0.
  • Davies, Peter E. (2000). Gray Ghosts - U.S. Navy and Marine Corps F-4 Phantoms. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 0-7643-1021-6.
  • Pitzl, Gerald R. A History of Marine fighter Attack Squadron 323. Washington, D.C.: Marine Corps Historical Center, 1987.
  • Rottman, Gordon L. (2002). U.S. Marine Corps World War II Order of Battle – Ground and Air Units in the Pacific War. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313319065.
  • Sherrod, Robert (1952). History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II. Washington, D.C.: Combat Forces Press. ISBN 0-89201-048-7.
  • Wolf, William. Death Rattlers: Marine Squadron VMF-323 over Okinawa. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 1999. ISBN 0-7643-0953-6.

External links[edit]