Marine Night Fighter Squadron 531 [VMF(N)-531] was activated on November 16, 1942 at Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, North Carolina. On January 9, 1943 the squadron became part of the Fleet Marine Force and on April 1 was absorbed by Marine Aircraft Group 53 (MAG-53). The squadron took delivery of its first non-trainer aircraft, the Ventura PV-1 on February 15. Due to the uniqueness of their night fight mission, VMF(N)-531 was placed under the direction of the Commandant of the Marine Corps until it was ready to deploy to combat.
Responding to Japanese night attacks on Guadalcanal, MAG-53 was reassigned to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing on April 15, 1943 and was quickly ordered to deploy to the South Pacific as soon as possible. VMF(N)-531 was the first combat squadron to leave MCAS Cherry Point. After layovers in Hawaii and Espiritu Santo, the squadron finally arrived on Banika in the Russell Islands on September 11. Joining Marine Aircraft Group 21, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, the Grey Ghosts flew their first combat patrol on September 16 making them the first naval aviation night-fighter squadron to operate in the South Pacific. The squadron's first kill was made by Captain Duane Jenkins, who stumbled upon a Betty Bomber on the evening of November 13, 1943.
The first kill aided by GCI did not come until December 6. During their tour in the Pacific, the squadron operated out of fields in the Russell Islands, Vella Lavella and Bougainville. They accounted for 12 enemy planes shot down by 5 different crews, all at night, with a loss of 6 of their own aircraft and 17 crew members, none of them a result of enemy fire. The squadron returned to MCAS Cherry Point on September 1, 1944 and was quickly deactivated only to be reactivated a short time later on October 13 at Marine Corps Auxiliary Airfield Kinston (MCAAF Kinston), North Carolina and reassigned to MAG-53, 9th Marine Aircraft Wing. A short time later the squadron moved to Marine Corps Air Station Eagle Mountain Lake near Fort Worth, Texas to operate as a training squadron for replacement pilots and ground control intercept operators being sent overseas.
Korean War Era
Following the conclusion of World War II, the squadron was relocated back to Cherry Point and in March 1947 reassigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (2nd MAW). In November 1946, the squadron was assigned twelve F7F-3N Tigercat's and operated training flights. In June 1948, the squadron was assigned to MAG-14 and redesignated as VMF(AW)-531, Marine All Weather Fighter Squadron 531 on 14 October 1948. In September 1949, the squadron was reassigned to MAG-24.
With the start of the Korean War, VMF(AW)-531 continued its mission of training pilots and airborne intercept operators specifically for the Korean replacement drafts as well as fulfilling FMF commitments flying the Douglas F-3D Skynight. Beginning in February 1959, the Douglas F4d Skyray, an "all-weather" single seat, delta wing, jet interceptor, began replacing the unit's F3d's. By April 1959, the squadron was deployed to MAG-11 at NAS Atsugi, Japan, for a routine tour of overseas duty. In July 1960, the "Grey Ghost" returned to MAG-24 at MCAS Cherry Point. A year later, the squadron again deployed to MAG-11 at NAS Atsugi from July 1961. When back at MCAS Cherry Point in MAG-24,
The "Grey Ghosts" began the transition to the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II. Transition training started in July 1962, at NAS Oceana, VA, with the Navy Replacement Air Group and by late September enough aircraft had been received for the squadron to commence training operations.
Vietnam War Era
VMF(AW)-531 was the first Marine Fighter Squadron to join NORAD, reporting to NAS Key West, FL, in early 1963. While there, it played a significant role in the air defense commitment during the Cuban Missile Crisis before returning to MCAS Cherry Point in June. Redesignated as VMFA-531, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron-531, in August, 1963, the squadron started preparation for another WestPac deployment. On 16 June 1964, the squadron was again deployed to MAG-11 at NAS Atsugi, Japan.
On 10 April 1965, the first divison of Phantoms left NAS Atsugi on the 2,500 mile flight to DaNang, Republic of Vietnam, utilizing in-flight refueling. This proved to be a number of 'firsts' for the "Grey Ghosts" as they became the first Marine jet squadron to see combat since Korea, the first fixed-wing unit to provide integrated enroute escort and landing support for helicopters in tactical combat operations, and the first F-4 Phantom squadron to base and operate in Vietnam.
"Many other Marine jet squadrons would come to Southeast Asis in the next seven years, but the Grey Ghosts of VMFA-531 were the first. Theirs was an enviable and essentially flawless record which would be recognized when they were included in the award of a Presidential Unit Citation to the 1st MAW, and also were awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for their service in Vietnam. The aircraft availability rate of 92.5% was likely the best acheived by any F-4 squadron in Vietnam, and was the product of a smoothly functioning and skilled maintenance team, most of whom had been together for more than three years." +
Upon return to MCAS Cherry Point in MAG-24 in July 1965, the squadron was assigned to training combat crews for duty in Vietnam. In April 1968, VMFA-531 was relocated to MAG-33, 3rd MAW, MCAS El Toro, CA. Then in December 1970, VMFA-531 was assigned to MAG-13 and then reassigned to MAG-11 in September 1971. One year later, VMFA-531 was deployed aboard the USS Forrestal (CVA-59) for a Mediterranean cruise. During the carrier based deployment , it performed as a member of Attack Carrier Air Wing 17. In July 1973, the squadron was once again relocated to MCAS El Toro, CA, in MAG-11. In the spring of 1975, VMFA-531 was selected to become the second Marine Corps F-14 Tomcat squadron, resulting in the squadron's administrative transfer to MCAS Beaufort, SC, until cancellation of Marine participation in the F-14 program resulted in the return of the "Grey Ghosts" to El Toro on 29 August 1975 and its outfitting with F-4N Phantom II aircraft.
1979 to 1992
Beginning on November 1979, the squadron was again deployed in the Indian Ocean onboard the USS Coral Sea aircraft carrier (CV-43) as a member of Carrier Air Wing 14. This proved to be the first time in history that an entire Carrier Battle Group's maritime superiority was provided exclusively by Marine Corps fighter units, namely VMFA-531 and VMFA-323. It was also during the build-up phase that the "Grey Ghosts" fired the first AIM-7F Sparrow missle from an F-4N aircraft. This deployment included 102 consecutive days at sea in support of the Iranian Crisis. Upon completion of its tour of duty, VMFA-531 returned to El Toro in June 1980. On 24 November 1982, the last of the squadron's F-4N Pnantom aircraft was retired after over 20 years of service.
To replace it was the McDonnell/Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. Training for this aircraft commenced in January 1983 at NAS Lemoore, CA. On 29 May 1983, the "Grey Ghosts" became the third fleet squadron, following VMFA-314 and VMFA-323, to receive the Hornet. By August 1983, the full complement of twelve aircraft was received. From 10 September through 24 September 1983, VMFA-531 was deployed to Canadian Forces Base at Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada, as part of the Canadian Maple Flag XII deployment for a Fleet F/A-18 squadron outside of CONUS. This first F/A-18 TRANSPAC took place on 22 March 1984 when the "Grey Ghosts" launched four Hornets to MCAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, in conjunction with a ten day deployment. Prior to landing at Kaneohe Bay, the Hornets successfully fired two Sidewinder missles against BQM-74C airborne drones at the Barking Sands Pacific Missle Range Facility northwest of the island of Kauai. Additionally, the flight was the longest ever recorded by the F/A-18, reconfirming its tactical flexibility and reliability. VMFA-531 completed its first F/A-18A combat readiness evaluation (MCCRES) on 7 June 1984. In August 1985, the squadron deployed to Inshas Air Base, Egypt, as a participant in Exercise Bright Star-85 where it supported an amphibious landing of Marines, provided air cover for air strikes against Egyptian bases and fought the entire fighter inventory of host nation aircraft. During the remainder of 1985 and through the fall of 1896, the squadron conducted training operations at a number of locations in the U.S. from Key West, FL to Adak, AL. In June of 1987, the "Grey Ghosts" of VMFA-531 became the first F/A-18 squadron to work with U.S. Army helicopters on coordinated night low altitude infrared laser designated ordnance deliverie at Robert Gray AAF at Fitbody, TX. Following this the squadron participated in Red Flag-87-5. After Red Flag, VMFA-531 became the first fleet F/A-18 squadron to drop MK-20 Rockeye bombs. On 19 April 1988, twelve F/A-18's of VMFA-531 departed to Yechon Air Base, Republic of Korea to participate as the first West Cost F/A-18 squadron in the Unit Deployment Program, as part of the first leg of the TRANSPAC, the largest and longest expeditionary Marine Aircraft Group deployment since the Vietnam War. While there, the squadron conducted one major deployment to U-Tapao Ait Base, Kingdom of Thailand to participate in Exercise Cobra Gold-88. It was the first Marine aviation deployment to Southeast Asia since the end of the involvement in Vietnam. VMFA-531 returned to MCAS El Toro on 6 October 1988. During the Gulf War, VMFA-531 remained at El Toro as many of its planes and personnel fought with other Marine squadrons stationed in Saudi Arabia and surrounding countries.
LtCol. Keith J. Stadler was the Commanding Officer from December 1990 to the time that the squadron was decommissioned on March 21, 1992.