News: Moonlighters gather, reminisce about their history
Story by Lance Cpl. Brendan Roethel
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. - Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort hosted a reunion for Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332 at the Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 Hangar, March 15.
The ceremony was held to honor and celebrate the rich heritage of the Moonlighters. Veterans from the late 1980’s until their decommissioning in 2007 attended the reunion. During the reunion, Moonlighters saw a static display of an F/A-18 that was painted to resemble the jets flown and maintained by VMFA(AW)-332. Moonlighters were also able to look at squadron memorabilia and interacted with their fellow Marines after several years.
"This squadron has such a rich heritage," said former Cpl. Michael Parks, who was a maintainer for VMFA(AW)-332. “That is why I am writing a book about the squadron’s history. I hope I can help pass down our legacy. I hope this will [allow] Moonlighter’s [to] show their relatives a piece of what they experienced while they served with VMFA(AW)-332.”
Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332 was commissioned in June 1943 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. Originally designated as Marine Scout Bomber Squadron 332, the squadron flew SBD Dauntless dive bombers. During World War II, their mission was to escort and provide air cover for all incoming and outgoing surface craft and submarines.
“The squadron deployed to Thailand back in 1962 to support the Marine Expeditionary Force,” White said. “When the squadron returned to the U.S., the squadron received the nickname the Moonlighters. Although it’s unclear where the nickname originated, it stuck, and we have been known as the Moonlighters ever since.”
On June 16, 1993 the Moonlighters were designated as Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332, moved to MCAS Beaufort, and transitioned to the F/A-18 Hornet. While growing rapidly as a new Hornet squadron, the Moonlighters were called upon to support NATO’s Operation Deny Flight and Operation Provide Promise in the former Yugoslavian republic of Bosnia. The squadron deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy from October 1994 to March 1995 and led what was the largest NATO air strike against the Udbina Airfield as well as participating in several other strikes.
In May 1999, the squadron deployed to Taszar Air Base, Hungary, in support of Operation Allied Force and Operation Joint Guardian. From 28 May to 7 June 1999, the Moonlighters flew 120 combat flights over the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, performing every type of mission required of an F/A-18 squadron during both day and night. During the deployment, they expended 175,000 pounds of ordnance. The squadron returned to MCAS Beaufort in July 1999.
“The squadron reached the 100,000 mishap-free flight hour mark May 26, 2005,” White said. “The then Lt. Gen. James Amos, who stood as the commanding general for the II Marine Expeditionary Force at the time, presented the squadron with the 100,000 Hour Safety Award, July 20, 2005.”
On July 26, 2005, VMFA(AW)-332 departed MCAS Beaufort for its combat deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During just seven months of combat operations the Moonlighters participated in Operations Rivergate, Iron Fist, Steel Curtain, Blue Devil, Trifecta, Tigers, Skinner, Spider Web and Liberty Express. The total ordnance expended during the deployment exceeded 160,000 lbs.
In 2006, the squadron began downsizing in preparation for their decommissioning. The squadron flew its last flight in the F/A-18 Hornet on March 30, 2007. The Moonlighters were named the 2006 Marine Corps Aviation Association Fighter Attack Squadron of the Year and held the longest streak of mishap-free flight hours for a tactical jet squadron with 109,000 hours.
“Out of all of my years in the Corps, some of the most memorable moments I spent were as a pilot with VMFA(AW)-322,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Reedy, the executive officer for Marine Aircraft Group 31. “I really enjoyed being able to spend time with my fellow Moonlighters, hear each other’s stories, and reminisce. I look forward to seeing them all again in the future.”
The Moonlighters plan on meeting every five years to get together and reconnect with one another.