One could come up with many trivial sayings regarding the decommissioning of a Marine Attack Squadron, but none would truly do the feelings and emotions felt by those in the squadron justice.
The Flying Nightmares of VMA-513 didn’t let that get in the way of celebrating their last birthday ball as a squadron, Nov. 9. It was brought up and talked about, but the Marine Corps birthday is a day to celebrate the history of the Corps, so it was much like any other squadron’s ball in many respects.
“It’s going to be emotional, but this is a ball that all of our Marines want to be at,” said Sgt. Maj. Raquel Painter, VMA-513’s sergeant major. “We sold all of the tickets, and its’ always a good sign when all of your Marines truly want to be there.”
The squadron is slated to be decommissioned in July of 2013. Originally, the decommissioning was to be temporary, as the Corps transitioned from the AV-8B Harriers the Nightmares fly into battle today, to the new F-35B Lightning II, the Corps newest and most sophisticated strike fighter
But, personnel and budget cuts have taken their toll on the entire Department of Defense, with VMA-513 as a whole falling victim.
But like all good Marines, that won’t stop the Nightmares from serving their nation and Corps, they’ll just be doing it with other squadrons with other names, and the birthday celebration had to go on.
“It’s bittersweet,” said the squadron’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Samuel Smith. “This is one of the finest aviation units in the Marines Corps, with a proud tradition since 1944. In my opinion, it should go on for at least another 68 years. But, I couldn’t ask for a better group of Marines to work with as the last tour of the Nightmares, they are truly the best I’ve worked with in my career.”
The ball’s guest of honor, retired Col. Billy McMillan, a former commanding officer of the Nightmares, gave hope to the Marines that someday, the Nightmares may return to the Corps’ aviation front-line.
“After the Revolutionary War, the Corps, was disbanded as a whole, but it came back. At one point, Marine Aircraft Group 13 was decommissioned, and it came back too. Someday, perhaps the Nightmares will come back too,” McMillan told the ball’s guest.
In a surprise to all but a very few senior leaders, McMillan pulled out a large granite brick. It was literally a part of the foundation of the Corps, a piece of the foundation of Tun Tavern, the Corps’ first recruiting station.
“This was given to me when I was a not-so-young captain, and I’ve lugged it literally all over the world with me since then,” said McMillan, who was celebrating his 50th Marine Corps birthday. “My wife will be glad to see this go to another young, motivated Marine.”
With that, he passed the brick off to Sgt. Joseph McNichols, an aviation operations specialist. The stunned sergeant graciously accepted the piece of history, and the condition that he too must pass it along to another young Marine as he nears the end of his time as a Marine. Once a Marine, always a Marine.
As sad as it is to say, the Nightmares’ last birthday ball was truly one for the history books.