Storied Lancers earn place in history
Stars and Stripes March 13, 2008
For the Lancers, it all started with Indian Joe.
The Allied Forces were making a major offensive against imperial Japan at Guadalcanal in mid-1942, fighting what would prove later to be a key victory in World War II.
Lt. Col. Harold “Indian Joe” Bauer, the first commander of Marine Fighting Squadron 212, was coming up on the fight in his Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat and was in a tight spot.
Bauer, who was critically low on fuel and alone due to radio confusion, found Marine positions and the USS McFarland under attack by Japanese forces.
Despite 9-to-1 odds, he engaged the Japanese and shot down four Aichi-99 dive bombers, according to Capt. Paul Wright of the current Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 212 Lancers based at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.
It was just the introduction of the squadron’s storied 66-year history, which will come to an end when VMFA-212 officially transfers to cadre status during a ceremony at the air station March 31. The status means the Lancers could be reactivated if needed.
“As I have a chance to learn more of the history of the squadron and see how it’s always been on the frontline and ready to support our Marines on the deck, I learn how important it is that we remember our history and the lessons it has taught us,” said Wright, who compiled a squadron history for the transition. “The footsteps I walk in are large ones, indeed.”
VMFA-212 is the Corps’ only fighter-attack squadron permanently forward-deployed.
Most of the squadron’s Marines will become part of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, known as the Bats, which is relocating to Iwakuni from Miramar, Calif., this month, according to Lt. Col. Douglas S. Mayer, commanding officer of 242.
VMF-212, known as the Hellhounds during World War II, helped defend the allied foothold in Guadalcanal through protection from enemy aircraft, attacks on enemy ships and close air support to the Marines during ground assaults, according to the history Wright provided.
Bauer was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism at Guadalcanal. The squadron shot down 94 enemy planes, sank two destroyers and was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
The squadron was rechristened the Devil Cats during the Korean War and was deployed to carriers and airfields to support ground forces, including the 1st Marine Division during its breakout at the Chosin Reservoir.
“During the Division’s march south to Hungnam, the Devil Cats’ Corsairs bombed, rocketed and strafed enemy troops, sometimes within yards of the Marines,” according to the squadron’s history.
The Lancers came to be in 1964 and completed two combat tours of Vietnam, being the last Marine squadron to operate out of Danang. During the Vietnam era, the Lancers racked up various medals including a Navy Unit Commendation, the Vietnam Service Streamer with two Bronze Stars and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Streamer.
After Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the Lancers flew some of the first air missions of Desert Storm and supported the U.S. military’s push north.
“The Marines and sailors of VMFA-212 today are right out of the history books,” Lt. Col. Robert C. Boyles, squadron commanding officer, wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. “Read anything about then VMF-212 Hellhounds or Devil Cats during Guadalcanal, Korea, or during the Vietnam Conflict — you will find that the Lancers of VMFA-212 today have the same drive, enthusiasm, and ability to accomplish the mission regardless of the challenges.”
Indian Joe would likely be proud.