Last week I spent three days in the Washington DC area to do research. Wednesday was spent at the Marine Corps History Division at Quantico. It was there that I was able to obtain copies of muster rolls from 1942, 43, 44 and 45. There was a huge changeover in personnel from year to year; very few Marines served their all their time with 251 from Dec 41 to June 45. At least two of these muster rolls will appear as appendacies in the forthcoming book.
Thursday and Friday was spent at the National Archives. On Thursday, I was able to obtain copies of all files pertaining to VMO/VMF/251 from 1941 to 1945. Among the finds were orders authorizing the activation of 251, aircraft accident reports, and two recommendations: one by the Navy (Navy Unit Commendation) and one by the Army (Distinguished Unit Citation). Current 251 awards do not reflect these awards.
Friday was spent making copies of maps and photos. Work remains when it comes to the Philippines. That will be my aim on my second trip, as well as finding records of the 11th Bombardment Group.
Overall it was a very productive trip. I came home with over 600 copies of documents, maps and pictures. Much to go through, sort, and begin writing the story.
When VMO-251 was activated on December 1, 1941 it had no planes assigned to it to perform its designated mission as an observation squadron. It would not be until late April and early May when the squadron began to receive them. The F4F-3's then had to be modified with the addition of cameras. Those F4F-3's would be designated as F4F-3P's. Above is a portion of the document, Location of US Naval Aircraft dated April 1, 1942. Certainly an inauspicious start for the squadron.
The is the original squadron patch. First Lieutenant Eldon H. Railsback is credited with designing the patch. It was approved by local command authorities in 1942, but not by Naval Aviation. The gold wings were later replaced by the gull wings of the Corsair when the squadron obtained corsairs in late 1943. When the squadron was re-designated as VMF-251 and its mission changed, the squadron redid the patch. They also began calling themselves "Lucifer's Messengers".
So what is the story behind the six arms? Here is an excerpt from a letter by Col. Roy Spurlock from page 67 and 68 of the book, US Marine Corps Aviation Unit Insignia (1941-1946),printed in 1995. Spurlock has since passed away. He flew with the squadron in 1942-43.
“We (251) departed the United States in June of 1942, and after unloading at Tontouta, New Caledonia, to reassemble and re-rig our F4F-3P fighters, the squadron was ordered to the island of Espiritu Santo, in the New Hebrides. At this time there was only one airstrip, partly constructed, which later came to be known as Palikulo Bomber Strip.
Our commanding officer, L/Col. John N. Hart, was the senior air officer present, as well as C.O. of the only substantial military unit on the strip. In addition to his own responsibilities and operations, he came by default the only support available to a small contingent of B-17 bombers from the 11th Bombardment Group of L/Col. L.G. “Blondie” Saunders (called “Blondie” because he emphatically was not). This support included refueling and minor maintenance, since the B-17 crews could not fly and do this also; they had no ground support personnel of their own with them.
At this stage our squadron did not have the luxury of gas refueler trucks, and all refueling had to be done by hand pump alone. This was bad enough when filling our F4F type planes which carried only 144 gallons of gas internally. With the B- 17 it was a different matter, since they required as much as 2700 gallons per plane, and there were usually three B-17 planes going out every day to reconnoiter the Solomons and surrounding areas. Our enlisted personnel were frequently up all night just gassing these planes, and as time wore on this chore become more and more onerous.
This episode was forever memorialized when the squadron insignia for VMO- 251 was designed. The design consisted of an octopus with a pilot’s helmet and goggles with two gold wings on a white cloud background. The octopus had only six tentacles (with apologies to our Creator, who gave them eight), and each grasped an item symbolizing one of the functions of that remarkable squadron (There has never been another like it since).
The first tentacle grasped a monkey wrench, symbolizing the mechanical aspects of supporting a Marine fighter/photographic squadron which was also fully equipped and served as a radar early warning and control squadron. VMO-251 also maintained an air-sea rescue capability.
On to the second tentacle, which clasped a machine gun, which along with the bomb in the fifth tentacle symbolized the ground and air combat functions of the squadron.
The third tentacle grasped a camera, which was appropriate since part of the assigned mission was photographic. Each fighter plane was equipped to make vertical aerial photographs, and the squadron had substantial photo-processing capability.
The fourth tentacle gripped a pair of binoculars, symbolizing the reconnaissance aspect of the photographic missions.
This leaves the sixth and last tentacle. This one grasped a roll of ordinary toilet paper, with which to wipe the Army Air Corps “posterior”. It is regrettable that under the trying conditions of war some irritations, aggravations and sometimes outright hostility occurs between services. All of us recognize that such incidents do not really divide us. We were all trying to reach the same objective, which was the defeat of the enemy in front of us.”