Pirates of the Sky the Jolly Rogers
An aviation unit of the United States Navy established in 1943, the “Jolly Rogers” squadron with the insignia of skull and crossbones, and a proud war-fighting legacy in the professional performance of duty, are always prepared for combat to fight and protect, and for victory.
“Jolly Roger” is a name given to any flag flown to identify a ship’s crew as pirates. It conveys the message that the attackers were outlaws without mercy. Contrary to being outlaws, in the naval context, military units use this logo or flag as a unit identification insignia, or a victory flag to show that they are as tough as the pirates of the sea.
In 1943, four squadrons of the 90th Bombardment group of the 5th Air Force under General George Kenny displayed the insignia of skull and crossbones on the twin tail fins of their B-24 heavy bombers. This design has adorned a variety of aircraft like VF-17/VF-5B/VF-61, VF-84 and VF-103.
VF-17 (Fighting 17) was the original squadron to bear the name “Jolly Rogers.” It’s one of the first squadrons to receive the F4U Corsair that was formed by Lt.Cmd. John Thomas Blackburn at NAS Norfolk, Virginia. They are re-designated as a land-based naval squadron and are based in the Pacific theatre at Ondonga, New Georgia. In 1946, VF-17 re-designated VF-5B while retaining the "Jolly Rogers" name.
Photos of VF-17
On April 28, 1948, VF-5B (formerly designated as VF-17) after a period of 18 months, was re-commissioned as VF-61(Fighting 61). And on April 15, 1959, VF -61 was disestablished.
Photos of VF -61
In 1955, VF-84 (Fighting 84) was commissioned at NAS Oceana under the name "Vagabonds." The "Jolly Rogers" name was held by VF-61 at that time. Cdr Hoppe, former commanding officer of VF-61 became the commanding officer of VF-84. And on April 1, 1960, VF-84 formally became "The Jolly Rogers" and acquired the skull-&-crossbones fin-flash following the approval of the CNO.
The 1980 movie "The Final Countdown," propelled "The Jolly Rogers" into international celebrity status by featuring a memorable scene involving two VF-84 Tomcats engaged in a dogfight against two Japanese Zeros.
The dogfight scene:
In Sept. 29, 1995, VF-84 was disestablished as budget cuts for the Navy to adopt a policy of only one F-14 squadrons per carrier. The VF-103 (The Sluggers) requested permission to adopt the "Jolly Rogers" name and fin-flash.
Photos of VF -84
VF -103 (Fighting One Zero Three) formally became the “Jolly Rogers” on October 1995. They were first squadron to engage in home trials with the Navy's newly acquired LANTIRN pods for the F-14 Tomcat. The squadron's prized mascot is a set of skull and crossbones enclosed in a glass encasement. The bones are supposedly the remains of Ensign Jack Ernie of VF-17. Ernie was allegedly killed during the Okinawa invasion in World War II. As his flaming aircraft spiraled towards earth, he made one last radio transmission in which he asked "Remember me with the Jolly Rogers."
Photo of VF 103
Images from Jolly Rogers.com and Google Images
As the squadrons of the US Navy changes, some are eventually shut down, but their identity has remained strong as many of the squadron traditions from the earliest days have gone unchanged. There has always been another group willing to take up the name and insignia as their own. As a result, the traditions are given new life, ensuring that yet another generation can become members of the "Jolly Rogers."