After nearly seven decades of service, Marine Attack Squadron 513 (VMA-513) was officially deactivated during a ceremony Friday morning at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
The Marines previously assigned to the squadron, known as the “Flying Nightmares,” will be transferred to other units unless they have decided not to re-enlist. The AV-8B Harriers used by the unit will also be reassigned.
The ceremony was attended by Maj. Gen. Steve Busby, Commanding General of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing; Col. Robert Kuckuck, MCAS Yuma commanding officer; and various Marines of all ranks, their families and community officials.
After an inspection, the Marines assigned to VMA-513 marched for a final review — their feet in step with the rousing music performed by the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
After the completion of the National Anthem, the Marines stood smartly at attention in their tan Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniforms as Lt. Colonel Samuel “Dirty” Smith, VMA-513 Commanding Officer, addressed the gathered audience.
“Some would say it is a sad day,” Smith said. “I choose to believe it is a proud day, a day where we all get to pay homage to the unit that will forever maintain its honor and winning record – having kicked butt in almost every major war and conflict for the last 69 years.”
VMA-513 was first commissioned as Marine Fighter Squadron 513 on Feb. 15, 1944, at Marine Corps Auxiliary Field Oak Grove in N.C. The original pilots flew the Grumman F6F Hellcat. The first commanding officer for the unit was Maj. Thomas O. Bales.
The squadron was transferred to Arkansas in September 1944 and then to MCAS Mojave, Calif., where it was re-designated VMF(CVS)-513, denoting the squadron was aircraft carrier qualified.
The unit then departed for operations in the Pacific aboard the escort carrier USS Vella Gulf and made stops at Ewa, Eniwetok, Saipan and Guam. The squadron's first taste of combat came during the Battle of Okinawa.
The squadron's nickname, “Flying Nightmares,” was coined by Lt. Col. James Anderson, the unit's Commanding Officer, during the Korean War. Anderson thought the moniker was appropriate because during March 1951 the squadron's 15 F7F Tigercats and 15 F4U-5N Corsairs provided the sole night fighter air defense and interdiction support for all the U.N. forces at war on the Korean peninsula.
Just before the escalation of the Vietnam War, the squadron received the F-4 Phantom II jet fighter and was re-designated VMFA-513, a fighter attack squadron. In June 1965, the Nightmares were sent to Vietnam for five months of combat. In August 1965, the unit supported the 7th Marine Regiment during Operation Starlite, the first major American operation of the war.
The first USMC AV-8A Harrier jets went to VMA-513 in 1971. In November, 1976, VMA-513 returned to the U.S. and was assigned to Marine Combat Crew Readiness Training Group 10 at MCAS Yuma, which was re-designated as Marine Aircraft Group 13 in 1987.
In October 1987, the squadron received the improved AV-8B Harrier II. Since then, VMA-513 has participated in Operation Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. It was one of the first squadrons to see action in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, spending nearly a year on deployment from October 2002 through autumn 2003.
In 2011, VMA-513 was again deployed to Afghanistan to provide close air support for the International Security Assistance Force.
The squadron's final tour of duty was in support of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in the northern Pacific Ocean aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard. The unit returned home for the last time in early June, but not before flying its final missions out of Okinawa.
“Significantly, the final flights for the Nightmares were flown where the squadron first cut its teeth” in combat during World War II, Smith said. “The last Nightmare ... landed in Okinawa on 24 May, 2013 – a fitting if not poetic end to the nightmare legacy.”
One of the last duties the unit finished together was retiring the squadron's American flag and Marine Corps flag. Each was rolled up and covered for storage by Smith and Sgt. Maj. Raquel Painter.
“What does this all mean?” Smith asked. “These colors that I have the honor of casing today have been a symbol of warrior ethos and professional excellence for 69 years. And what are the colors but a symbol of the people that have stood beside them since 1944. We all had a part in making this unit what it symbolizes today – Marine excellence.”
And while Smith said he would have been greatly pleased to “hand these colors off to the next commander, instead I stand before you as the last commander of the Flying Nightmares. Sad? Maybe. But I choose to think about this moment as a proud day. A day where we realize we are casing the colors on a winning unit. A unit that gets to go out at the absolute top of its game.”
The flags, along with other historical memorabilia from VMA-513, will be packed up and sent to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va.
After the colors were cased, the band played the National Anthem once more, along with Auld Lang Syne and the Marines' Hymn.
Andrew “The Count” Diviney, VMA-513 executive officer, didn't think he would “get as emotional as I did” during the ceremony, “but when I was standing there in formation and hearing the music,” he came to the full realization his squadron would now exist only in memory.
“I feel a lot of pride to be the executive officer of the Nightmares as we shut down the squadron – the last XO. I am very proud of this unit.”
The ceremony was especially momentous for Smith, who officially retired from the Marine Corps after 20 years of active duty following the deactivation of VMA-513.
“This is clearly an emotional day for me, and one that is very bittersweet,” Smith said.
“I've just given up command of a great unit and watched it deactivate. That is clearly a high note for me personally. But the finality of it certainly adds to the tension involved in retirement.”
Smith was personally recognized, awarded and retired by Maj. Gen. Busby, while letters of gratitude from high-ranking officials including President Barack Obama were read aloud to the audience.
“I am humbled here today to have the honor to retire” Smith, Busby said, adding he regards his former subordinate in the highest esteem.
Smith will move with his wife and children to the east coast to pursue a civilian career.
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.