The history of the Marine Corps' oldest active fighter squadron began on 1 September 1925, at Naval Air Station San Diego, California. It was there that its first skipper, Second Lieutenant Clayton C. Jerome, took to the skies in a Vought VE-7SF single seat biplane with a shining "Red Devil" insignia clearly visible on the aft fuselage. The squadron's illustrious heritage began in earnest in April 1927 when the squadron embarked aboard USS HENDERSON and sailed from Shanghai, China, to provide reconnaissance and air support to General Smedley Butler's 3d Brigade.
Between 1927 and 1936 the Red Devils flew four different aircraft including the FB-1, FB-5, F6C-4 Hawk, and F4B-4. In 1937, the unit was re-designated as Marine Bombing Squadron 2, flying the Great Lake BG-1 until it transitioned in late 1940 to the new Douglas SBD-1 Dauntless scout bomber. In response to mounting tension in the Pacific, the Red Devils deployed in 1941 to MCAS Ewa, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii. It was here that the squadron, now designated Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 232, saw its first combat action of World War II and suffered the loss or severe damage of nineteen of its twenty aircraft during the infamous Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor. While only one squadron Marine was killed in that attack, the Red Devils did not fair nearly as well on Wake Island, where a detachment of twenty-five enlisted Marines were all killed or captured while assisting in the defense of the doomed island.
In August 1942, the opportunity came to avenge the attacks on Pearl Harbor and Wake Island. Flying the SBD-3 Dauntless from the decks of USS LONG ISLAND, the Red Devils became the first Marine dive-bomber squadron to fly against the Japanese and the first squadron to land at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal. When the squadron left Guadalcanal on 13 October 1942, the Commanding Officer was the only pilot of the original fifteen able to walk away from Henderson Field. Re-designated yet again in 1943 as Marine Torpedo Bombing Squadron 232 flying newly acquired Grumman TBF-1 Avengers, the Red Devils continued to pound enemy shipping, airfields, and installations throughout the entire Pacific until the end of hostilities in August 1945. The price of victory did not come cheaply. During its participation in operations throughout WWII, VMTB-232 lost forty-nine Marines and seventeen aircraft. On 16 November 1945, the squadron, one of the few to earn two Presidential Unit Citations during the war, returned home to San Diego, and was temporarily decommissioned.
The Red Devils were reactivated in the Marine Corps Reserve on 3 June 1948, flying the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat at NAS Floyd Bennett Field in New York. With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea, the squadron was placed on alert and ordered to MCAS El Toro, California. Here the squadron received the first delivery of the Chance-Vought F4U-4 Corsair. Although the unit itself did not deploy to Korea, by April 1951 nearly all the original aviators and forty percent of the enlisted Marines in the squadron had been detached and sent overseas for combat duty.
In March 1953, the Red Devils transitioned to the jet age with the receipt of the Grumman F9F-2 Panther. In 1954, homeport for the Red Devils was changed from MCAS El Toro to MCAS Kanehoe Bay, Hawaii. In 1956 the Red Devils changed aircraft once again to the North American F4-J Fury. While on deployment aboard USS BENNINGTON in 1958, the squadron flew combat air patrol missions in support of the Taiwan Defense Command during the Communist bombardment of Quemoy and Matsu Islands. In 1962, the squadron again transitioned to a new aircraft. With the receipt of their Chance-Vought F-8D Crusaders, the Red Devils' designation was changed to VMF(AW)-232. During this period, the squadron participated in various exercises and deployment to the Philippines and aboard USS ORISKANY.
As a result of intensification of operations in Southeast Asia, the Red Devils departed Kanehoe Bay and became fully operational in Da Nang, Vietnam, December 1966. While flying combat missions for the next 290 consecutive days, the Red Devils set new records flying 5,785 sorties and 7,273 flight hours, delivering 6,221 tons of ordnance. In September 1967, the squadron returned to MCAS El Toro and painted the Red Devil insignia on their new McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms. Re-designated as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, the squadron returned to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, as a MIG-alert squadron and subsequently deployed to Da Nang, Vietnam, and Nam Phong, Thailand. Here they continued to fly air-to-ground sorties in addition to playing a key fighter role in Operation LINEBACKER missions over North Vietnam. The only "last" in VMFA-232's history occurred on 1 September 1973, as the Red Devils became the last Marine squadron to leave Southeast Asia.
The squadron returned to Iwakuni, Japan, as a force in readiness while participating in numerous training deployments and exercises. In 1974, the standard of excellence achieved by the Red Devils earned them the coveted Robert M. Hanson award as the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron of the Year.
In October of 1977, the Red Devils returned to MCAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, after an eleven-year absence. This event marked the beginning of Red Devil participation in the demanding Western Pacific Unit Deployment Program. The squadron completed their sixth WestPac deployment in October 1986, then prepared to transition from the F-4J Phantom II to the F/A-18A Hornet. In 1988, the last Red Devil Phantom was flown to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
In early 1989, the Red Devils began the transition to the Hornet with its pilots training at VMFAT-101 in El Toro, California and the maintainers training at NAS Lemoore, California. By June 1989, the squadron had reunited at MCAS Kanehoe Bay, Hawaii. In December 1990, the squadron deployed to Shaik Isa Air Base, Bahrain, in support of Operation DESERT SHIELD. On 17 January 1991, the Red Devils were among the first to cross the Iraqi border during Operation DESERT STORM. During 41 days of combat operations, the Red Devils completed 740 combat missions totaling 1,390 combat flight hours.
Upon returning to MCAS Kanehoe Bay in April 1991, the Red Devils participated in several WestPac deployments and changed their home station in early 1993 to MCAS El Toro, California, and again in 1995 back to their birthplace of San Diego, California at NAS (soon to become MCAS) Miramar. The squadron also achieved a safety milestone during this period by surpassing 50,000 mishap free flight hours. From 1995 to 2000 the squadron continued its proud tradition of excellence by completing eleven Combined Arms Exercises and four UDP deployments while amassing five Chief of Naval Operations Safety Awards for the years 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000. Additionally, in 1996 the squadron once again earned the honored Robert M. Hanson Award as the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron of the Year. In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, VMFA-232 deployed to Andersen AFB, Guam to assume the mission of homeland defense of Guam and the Marianas Islands. While supporting Operation NOBLE EAGLE, the Red Devils surpassed 90,000 mishap free flight hours, setting a new record in Marine Fighter Aviation.
As tensions mounted in the Middle East, the Red Devils deployed in February 2003 to Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait, to support Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. As Operation IRAQI FREEDOM began, the Red Devils were among the first to fly in the combat zone. From March to May 2003, VMFA-232 flew over 800 combat sorties, the most in MAG-11, totaling 1700 hours, while dropping over 640,000 pounds of ordnance on enemy positions. By doing so, the Red Devils significantly contributed to the destruction of eight Iraqi divisions, allowing I MEF to advance toward Baghdad with significantly reduced resistance.
Once back at MCAS Miramar, 2004 proved to be a year of change for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232. The Red Devils became the first Marine Hornet squadron to begin the Department of the Navy's Tactical Aircraft Integration plan. Throughout the second half of 2004, the squadron completed detachments to NAS Fallon, Nevada, aboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN with Carrier Air Wing TWO, and aboard USS NIMITZ with Carrier Air Wing ELEVEN to take part in their first Strike Fighter Advance Readiness Program (SFARP), Tailored Ships Training Activity (TSTA), and Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX). From May to November 2005 the Red Devils deployed aboard an aircraft carrier for the first time in forty-six years. While deployed, the squadron operated out of the Arabian Gulf and flew over 200 combat sorties totaling 1200 hours in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.
On 1 September 2005, the Red Devils celebrated their 80th anniversary. Upon returning home the squadron deployed in full to support a Weapons and Tactics Instructor course in Yuma, Arizona. In May 2006 the Red Devils transitioned aircraft once again, this time from the F/A-18C to the F/A-18A+ airframe. While the Red Devils now found themselves flying and maintaining the oldest Hornets in the active-duty Navy or Marine Corps, the vast array of weapons and avionics systems upgrades represented a tremendous increase in combat capability. Shortly thereafter the squadron began preparing for another carrier deployment. After completing five pre-deployment detachments both afloat and ashore, the Red Devils deployed once again aboard USS NIMITZ in April 2007, this time to support Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.
During the 2007 deployment on board the USS Nimitz the squadron continued its long tradition of support of US troops and Marines engaged in combat. Operating in the Persian Gulf and North Arabian Sea the Devils flew combat sorties in support of both Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. The Squadron employed precision and unguided munitions to include strafing runs in support of troops in both theaters of operation. During the Western Pacific deployment of 2007 the squadron accumulated 1124 arrested landings and flew 2400 hours from the USS Nimitz. The squadron returned to MCAS Miramar in Sept 2007 after a successful deployment.
As part of the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Program the squadron was scheduled for a quick turnaround and another surge deployment to the Western Pacific only four months later. The Devils set sail aboard the Nimitz again on 2 April 2008 for its 2nd Western Pacific cruise in 12 months. This deployment brought the Devils into the Western Pacific to work with the US Air Force and air forces of Allied Asian nations and participated in several bilateral and multinational exercises around the Pacific Rim.
In 2009 the Red Devils continued training to support Marines deployed throughout the globe participating in Exercise Jaded Thunder in Tampa, Florida, as well as embarking on a squadron air to air detachment in October to NAS Key West. The year ushered in a series of maintenance inspections culminating with the Commander Naval Air Forces (CNAF) inspection. The results were the best seen by the inspection team in over three years and a testament to the professionalism of the maintenance department as a whole.
In February 2010 the Red Devil’s embarked the squadron to the Strategic Expeditionary Landing Field in 29 Palms, CA for Enhanced Mojave Viper. As the first resident F/A-18 squadron in over five years, VMFA-232 reset the standard for fixed wing operations. Flying sorties day and night in conjunction with MV-22’s, UH-1’s, and AH-1’s the squadron demonstrated flexibility and tremendous capability. Assessed as combat ready by evaluators from both TTECG and MAWTS-1 the Red Devils were set to deploy following a Commanding Generals Inspection (CGIP) upon their return to Miramar in April of 2010. The results of the inspection matched those of the CNAF the previous year. Of 54 programs evaluated all received a passing grade once again resetting the bar for performance within MAG-11.
From May to November 2010, the squadron deployed ten F/A-18C and two F/A-18D aircraft to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. As the first land based F/A-18 squadron in Afghanistan, the Red Devils flew over 1700 sorties and 4900 combat hours. Flying under the callsign “Stoic” the Red Devils dropped over 71,000 lbs of ordnance and shot over 20,000 rounds of 20mm in support of Marines and coalition forces in the Helmand Province. With nearly every employment inside of 500 meters VMFA-232 quickly gained the special trust and confidence of battalion commanders, air officers, joint tactical air controllers, and the individual Marine or coalition partner on the ground. The callsign “Stoic” became a known and much preferred brand of support. As the deployment progressed ground forces ceased requesting first available fixed wing support, but simply requested “Stoic”. VMFA-232’s successful pre-deployment training plan and subsequent combat deployment earned them the coveted Robert M. Hanson award as the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron of the Year 2011.
After over eighty-five years VMFA-232 remains today, as it always has, ready to answer the nation's call. In the Red Devils illustrious history the squadron has received the Presidential Unit Citation with three bronze stars, the Navy Unit Commendation Streamer with two bronze stars, the Meritorious Unit Commendation Streamer with four bronze stars, four Marine Corps Aviation Association (MCAA) Hanson Awards, the MCAA Commandant’s Aviation Trophy, and nine CNO Safety Awards.