Marine Corps

June 21, 2012

To know where you’re going, you must first know where you’ve been

VMA-311 passes on pride for rich history, tradition

Story and Photos Cpl. Shelby R. Shields
Desert Warrior Staff
Large books full of newspaper clippings highlight all of VMA-311’s accomplishments since standing up 70 years ago.

Once a week the Marine Attack Squadron 311 commanding officer gathers his Marines and shares a piece of the Tomcat history, a tradition carried on by past, present and future VMA-311 leadership. VMA-311 holds an extreme amount of pride in knowing and preserving their squadron’s legacy.

“Some units post their one page history up on the wall and that’s about all you get. Not here at VMA-311,” said Sgt. Maj. David Wilson, the VMA-311 sergeant major and very new to the squadron. “I’ve only been here since last week but I can already tell you that every Tomcat you run into can and wants to give you a piece of this history.”

Photos, newspaper clippings and lineage of former Tomcats line the walls of the VMA- 311 squadron.

Wilson, who spent most of his 18 years serving with the infantry, has had no trouble transitioning from grunt life to aviation.

“The things that make Marines; hard work, dignity, dedication and mission accomplishment, are the same across the board,” said Wilson, a Sacramento, Calif., native. “There are far more similarities than differences and these Marines here at VMA-311 are fantastic, some of the best in the Corps.”

A reminder of the Fighting 311 Hells Belles patch hangs proudly in the hallway of Marine Attack Squadron 311’s hangar. The Hells Belles changed to the Tomcats after World War II.

Originally called the Fighting 311 Hells Bells, the squadron has a unique story of how they came to be now known as the Tomcats.

“From what I understand, it was politically incorrect for us to have a naked woman on our patch,” said Wilson with a laugh. “If you look closely at our current Tomcats patch you’ll see that she still rides with us to this day.”

The squadron switched over to the Tomcats sometime between World War II and the Korean War.

VMA-311 also boasts a rich history of celebrity Tomcats including John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth in space, and Ted Williams, base ball hall of famer.

“Those are some of the first historical facts I learned when I got here,” said Wilson. “The Marines are very proud of the Tomcats who came before them.”

A story about Ted Williams’ adoration for his old squadron and Corps really stood out for Wilson. It’s said that Williams was showing a young boy his memorabilia room, full of baseball photos, trophies and awards, at his family’s home when the young boy asked “isn’t that the Marine Corps insignia on the floor?” The young man was pointing to a rug on the floor which displayed the Marine Corps Eagle, Globe and Anchor.

Ted Williams proudly responded with “yea kid, that’s the best team I ever played for.”

“After all his years of baseball fame for him to recognize the Marine Corps as the best team just really hit home for me,” added Wilson. “It’s no wonder the Marines here are so proud, it seems they always have been.”

Wilson, who only recently took charge of the more than 250 Marines with VMA-311 marveled at their hard work ethic and matched morale.

“There’s units that work hard. There’s units that have high morale. But for a unit to work as hard as this one does and keep morale as high as they do isn’t heard of often,” Wilson said admiringly.

The new VMA-311 sergeant major is looking forward to working with and learning more about the rich history accompanying the squadron and encourages all Marines to take the time to learn a little about where they came from.

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