Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 363 was activated June 2, 1952, at Santa Ana, California, with the designation of Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron (HMR) 363. The squadron’s activation was brought about by the demands of the Korean War. After the squadron’s activation, personnel of HMR-363 embarked on a rigorous flight training schedule.
In 1953, the unit flew the Sikorsky HRS-1 and during this period took part in Operation DESERT ROCK, the first atomic test to use ground troops. The first squadron insignia commemorates this event depicting a mushroom cloud with a rotor head in the foreground. Soon thereafter, the squadron became the first West Coast helicopter unit to receive the Sikorsky H-34 helicopter.
In December 1964, a disastrous flood struck Northern California, and on Christmas Eve, 15 UH-34’s of HMM-363 deployed aboard the USS Bennington and rushed northward to the disaster area. General V.H. Krulak, Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Pacific wrote a personal letter of congratulations to HMM-363 for their "relief of suffering and preservation of life."
The intensification of the American involvement in the war in Vietnam in 1965 necessitated the deployment of Marine forces to Southeast Asia. On September 1, 1965, HMM-363 and its 15 UH-34’s engaged in their first combat missions ever. The squadron’s initial troop insert was a combined operation with HMM-161 in moving the 3rd BN, 3rd Marine Regiment into a landing zone south of Da Nang. Close ties between HMM-363 and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces were developed in Operation FLYING TIGER. The famed Tiger Division was airlifted to Hill 78 in conjunction with the operation, which was proclaimed as the most successful Korean Offensive of the war to date. Out of mutual respect for each other, the Korean Marines also presented an award to HMH-363 their current insignia and the nickname, the "Lucky Red Lions."
March 26, 1968 was perhaps the most disastrous day in the history of HMM-363. During a rocket attack, five squadron members were wounded and required medical evacuation. During the flight up the coast of Vietnam, the the medevac aircraft was tragically lost at sea, killing seven people including the Commanding Officer, LtCol Frankie E. Allgood. The only survivors were the pilot and co-pilot who managed to escape before the aircraft sank in the coastal waters. HMM-363 was later reorganized and established in Santa Ana, California, equipped with 13 new Sikorsky CH-53A aircraft. The new "Super Bird", took over the role of the heavy lift helicopter in the Vietnam War from the now obsolete UH-34. The old workhorse of the war had to give way to the sophisticated jet turbine powered CH-53A.
In December of 1972, HMH-363 rewrote the book on Tactical Aircraft Recovery when they lifted HMH-361’s CH-53A that had crashed in a mountainous area near Saddleback Mountain. In September of 1973, HMH-363 performed the same mission again when a crashed CH-53A was externally extracted from a 4,000-foot mountain-landing zone.
In early 1982, the Red Lions were well on their way to another outstanding year by receiving the Meritorious Unit Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, the squadron participated in the Unit Deployment Program to Marine Air Group 36, supporting multiple operations, to include TEAM SPIRIT, EMERALD EXPRESS, VALIANT BLITZ, and BEACH CREST throughout the Western Pacific and Far East. During their 1984 unit deployment, the squadron accumulated the most flight time ever achieved by a deployed helicopter squadron. In April 1986, the Red Lions were awarded the CNO Safety Award for 1985, exceeding 10,000 mishap free hours and two years of accident free flying.
As the sole CH-53D west coast squadron, the Red Lions participated in several exercises, providing support at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twenty Nine Palms and Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, California. Always ready, in December 1992, the Red Lions participated in Operation RESTORE HOPE as the heavy helicopter lift support for Marine Forces in Somalia and the Joint Task Force, deploying 162 personnel and 10 aircraft in less than four weeks. For its outstanding service, the squadron was awarded the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, the Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and numerous air crewmen were awarded the Air Medal for missions flown during the four-month deployment. Returning to California, the squadron resumed its support of I Marine Expeditionary Force, conducted squadron-training deployments, and supported exercises such as DESFIREX and EMERALD EXPRESS.
In 1996, HMH-363 was ordered to relocate to Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, in permanent support of 1st Marine Air Wing. The squadron boarded the newly commissioned USS Boxer to sail to Hawaii, thereby consolidating all existing CH-53D squadrons on one station. Soon thereafter, the squadron established itself as the premier assault support helicopter squadron for Marine Air Group 24. In October 2001, immediately following the tragic events of September 11th, the squadron was ordered to reestablish the WESTPAC Unit Deployment Program at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, becoming the first CH-53D squadron in over ten years to deploy to Japan. The Red Lions continue to participate in the Unit Deployment Program as recently as April 2003 to October 2003. The squadron has also participated in numerous Hawaii Combined Arms Exercises (HCAX), Exercise ULCHI FOCUS LENS 02, Exercise COBRA GOLD 03, and Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 04. The Red Lions have also distinguished themselves by earning three consecutive CNO Safety awards in 2001, 2002 and 2003 for 20,000 mishap free hours. The Red Lions were further recognized in 2002 when nominated by the Secretary of Defense for the Phoenix Award for Excellence in Maintenance. The squadron has also supported the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit by chopping four aircraft to the MEU during the month June in support of the Global War on Terrorism. This was the first time in over ten years that CH-53D’s have served aboard ship.
From late 2006 to early 2007, HMH-363 deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Based at Al Asad, this was the unit’s first deployment in support of the Global War on Terror. From 2011 through 2012, HMMH-363 deployed to Afghanistan is support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
HMH-363 was deactivated on 10 May 2012 at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay. The squadron was then re-designated VMM-363 and activated as an MV-22 Squadron aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar as part of Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3d Marine Air Wing.
Today, the Red Lions are in the process of building an MV-22B squadron that will continue to provide Assault Support to the MAGTF. Throughout its rich history, the Red Lions have received countless honors and decorations for their ability to get the job done under fire. With such a tremendous legacy, there is no doubt that the Red Lions of today will continue with the same esprit de corps in the finest tradition of Marine Aviation and the United States Marine Corps.