AL-ASAD, Iraq (July 3, 2007) --
The Silver Eagles of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) celebrated their 65th anniversary here July 1.
The squadron was originally organized July 1, 1943 as Marine Fighter Squadron 115 in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Major Joseph Foss, an ace who held the World War II Marine Corps record for shooting down 26 enemy aircraft, took command 16 days later.
Foss, who had recently received the Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, made an impression on the pilots of the newly formed squadron, who quickly decided that VMF-115 would be known as “Joe’s Jokers.”
Joe’s Jokers joined the Pacific campaign in May 1944 where the squadron distinguished itself during the battle of Leyte Gulf and in the Sulu Archipelago, where they provided close air support, fighter cover and deep air strikes against enemy positions despite adverse weather conditions.
Having flown more than 18,000 flight hours in 5,856 sorties, the Marines of VMF-115 contributed to the success of the American campaign in the Philippines, according to Capt. Owen Smith, the VMFA-115 historical officer.
In celebration of their squadron’s heritage and 65th anniversary, The Marines of VMFA-115 painted one of their aircraft with the Joe’s Jokers insignia. The insignia also adorns the squadron members’ coveralls and flight suits.
Walt Disney studios created the original insignia, a stack of playing cards with a cartoon F4U-1 Corsair smoking a cigar on the top card, in the late 1940’s to represent the squadron’s balance of aerial combat prowess and high spirits, Smith explained.
“During this time of combat operations, it is only fitting that we paint a jet to represent our proud and distinguished history,” said Maj. Michael Juenger, VMFA-115’s executive officer. “I think the aircraft is something our squadron can be proud of and represents the Marines and sailors of VMFA-115 who served together here and have worked so hard to ensure their fellow warriors on the ground had air support overhead.”
The Joe’s Jokers emblem now resides on the tail end, while Foss’ name and Medal of Honor are printed beside the cockpit. The Marines added a South Carolina flag to the speed brake to represent the squadron’s current home, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C.
“We put a lot of thought into how we would be able to keep the originality of the old logo, while adding a little twist to represent the current squadron,” said Staff Sgt. Waldemar Velazquez, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of VMFA-115’s airframes division.
As the Joe’s Jokers jet took to the skies July 2 on its first combat mission since it was re-painted, it took part in the squadron’s historical deployment as the first single-seat forward air controller-airborne capable F/A-18 squadron deployed on Iraqi soil.
“The squadron honored its birthday as we have in every conflict we have fought in,” Juenger added. “That is by flying combat missions in support of the Coalition forces on the ground.”