After a crash course in tactics and war maneuvers, the squadron was off to the war in the South Pacific, initially stationed at Vella La Vella, a recently captured island base in the Solomon Islands.
First Lieutenant Robert B. See made the Squadron's first "kill" four days after arriving on the island. While in the Solomon's, the 'Hell's Angels" amassed a record of 39 kills of Japanese aircraft and an additional 11 probables, with only eight aircraft lost. At one time the squadron was scoring at least one kill and/or one probable a day with its F-4U1 "Corsair" aircraft. Captain J. R. Norman once downed four planes in a single day.
Major Edmund F. Overend, the squadron's Commanding Officer, who had come to the squadron with eight credited kills from his services with the American Volunteer Group in China, accounted for three more confirmed kills.
The squadron transferred north to the area around Guam, where pilots took over "milk run" bombings of neighboring islands and played a major role in knocking out Japanese bases from which attacks against American bomber bases were being launched.
Following the war, the squadron returned home in late 1945 and was disbanded. Early in 1946 a group of Marine aviators in the Washington, D.C. area began organizing a reserve fighting squadron from the ranks of pilots, officers, and enlisted members who had served together in the War as VMF-321. This new VMF-321 became an Organized Marine Corps Reserve Fighting Squadron in July 1946 at Naval Air Station Anacostia Maryland, and was assigned 14 Corsair aircraft similar to the ones flown by the squadron during the war.
On April 1, 1949 Marine Fighting Squadron 321 was redesigned Marine Fighter Squadron 321. The squadron was placed on alert January 13, 1951 and was activated on March 1, 1951 flying the F-8F "Bearcat" during the Korean Conflict. The 164-man unit began an intensive training program under the command of Major George Robertshaw, in preparation for deployment to the Far East.
The squadron did not go to Korea as a unit. Instead it was declared an augmentation squadron and its members were assigned to regular Marine units to fill empty billets. Though its members were off to Korea the squadron remained home based at Anacostia, reduced to a single Marine. Major R. T. Spurlock assumed command and initiated a rigorous recruiting program to fill the many vacancies in the squadron.
The squadron was again awarded the Marine Air Reserve Trophy in 1973 when named the best fighter squadron in the Marine Air Reserve. Brigadier General Robert W. Taylor, Marine Corps Liaison Officer to the Chief of Naval Operations, presented the award.
In October 1973. a new paint scheme, consisting of a black dorsal and vertical stabilizer prompted a temporary nickname changed to the "Black Barons". However, the squadron shortly returned to the "Hell's Angels" adding a pitchfork running through the " MG" on the vertical stabilizer.
Marine Fighter Squadron 321 was redesignated Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 321 in December 1973, when it became the first Marine Air Reserve squadron to receive the F-4B "Phantom II" aircraft. The designation, which remains today, indicated the dual fighter/attack mission. Aircrew and maintenance personnel began preparing for the new aircraft long before its arrival, and on January 15, 1974, VMFA-321 made its first Phantom flight.
In 1976, for the nation's 200th birthday, a distinctive Bicentennial color scheme was devised. Light blue replaced the black dorsal spine and tail fin, with white stars against the blue background.
The squadron also began receiving the updated F-4N version of the phantom that year.
With the new aircraft, the squadron had a primary role of interception and air superiority. In June 1976, VMFA-321 became the first Marine Reserve squadron to fire AIM-9 "Sidewinder" missiles, and joined VMFA-112 at Point Magu, California, in January 1977 for a highly successful AIM-7 Missile shoot.
In 1979, a new low-visibility, subdued gray color scheme was introduced. The new "paint job" received extensive testing during several squadron training deployments and exercises that year.
The squadron continued to maintain a high tempo of operations with a very successful record. In 1982 the squadron was again awarded the Pete Ross Safety Award.
In 1984 aircrew members and maintenance personnel again prepared for the arrival of a new aircraft, and in September, the squadron received the first of its line of newer, updated F-4 S's.
In 1985 VMFA-321 operated twelve F-4S Phantom aircraft and accumulated 12, 344 mishap free hours. During the calendar year the squadron flew nearly 3,000 hours in support of a demanding aircrew training program. VMFA-321 was nominated for the Chief of Naval Operations Safety Award.
In 1991, VMFA-321 stood down the mighty Phantom and commenced transitioning to the "state of the art" F/A-18 Hornet. The transition was completed six months faster than any active duty squadron, a testimony to the hard work and professionalism of all the Marines involved.
In April of 1994, VMFA-321 participated in the annual Low Country Bombing Derby at the Townsend Target Complex in Georgia. The derby attracted 64 tactical aircraft from the active and reserve forces of the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. VMFA-321 captured top honors in the section competition despite having to fly the longest distance to the target area.
Since transitioning to the F/A-18 Hornet, VMFA-321 has maintained an intense operational tempo and achieved noteworthy results. For example, during a five-week period in June and July of 1994, the squadron: (1) provided superb support to the Ground Combat Element of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) during Operation Pinnacle Advance, the first MAGTF operation attempted by Marine Reserve Forces; (2) received a superior grade of 99% on the Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation; and (3) supported two Combined Arms Exercises at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms.
In addition to VMFA-321's outstanding performance on all missions and operations listed above, VMFA-321 was nominated for the 1994 Pete Ross Safety Award.
In an effort to relieve the active duty Marines from their stringent deployment cycle, in early 1996 VMFA-321 made the first Marine Reserve transatlantic deployment to Bodo Norway.
The squadron participated in Exercise Battle Griffin in support of the first exercise accomplished entirely by the Marine Reserves. This was the start of a series of Overseas Deployments for the Hell's Angels including three deployments to RAF Leuchars, Scotland and a joint NATO exercise in support of Bright Star 99/00 at Cairo, West Egypt.
On September 11th, VMFA-321 was scheduled for a day off following the preceding drill weekend. Immediately upon learning of the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, squadron members reported to the squadron, prepared the aircraft for Combat Air Patrols and relayed the squadrons ready status to Higher Headquarters and to NORAD through the Northeast Air Defense sector. On the morning of September 12th, LtCol. Chris Stoner Johnston led the first armed Combat Air Patrol for the Hells Angels over Washington, D.C. followed shortly by the Commanding Officer, LtCol. Robert Buzz Ballard in the squadrons flagship aircraft. VMFA-321s participation and dedication to duty provided critical support to the overall air defense of the United States until normal air defense assets were in place.
The Hells Angels deployed to MCAS Yuma, Arizona in January 03 and 04 to work along side both fixed and rotary winged active duty units to assist in preparing those units for combat, and to contribute support to Exercise Desert Talon and the MAWTS-1 Marine Division Tactics Course. The benefits were tremendous. The squadron demonstrated its skills in many high level missions such as day and night self-escort and deep air strikes versus modern integrated air defenses, utilizing precision guided weapons, night vision systems, conventional weapons deliveries, and urban close air support. Through the squadrons close working relationship with the active units, the Hells Angels assimilated and implemented many of the combat lessons learned as briefed by MAWTS-1 and enhanced the training for those units prior to real world deployments.
The final deployment of the Hells Angels occurred in June, 2004 when the squadron deployed 10 FA-18s to Karup, Denmark for the NATO Exercise CLEAN HUNTER. This final exercise culminated with intensive interaction with active duty U. S. forces and Allies, including deep air strikes and dissimilar air combat with European aircraft.
In the final years after 2001, the squadron continued its tradition of heavy emphasis on combat readiness for the real world threat, and full integration with active duty U. S. and coalition forces. Since 1943, the squadron has been deployed from the South Pacific to the Artic Circle, the snows of Korea to the sands of the Middle East, truly every clime and place. As the squadron reflects on its contributions through 61 years of service, it can be justifiably proud of its achievements in combat, peacetime operations and its direct contributions.