Marine F-35Bs carried out the high-tech fighter’s first combat strike on Sept. 27 in Afghanistan, but one of the aircrafts carried the names of two legendary Marine aviators.
The names of Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, a Marine squadron commander killed during the infamous 2012 attack on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, and Maj. Henry T. Elrod, also known as “Hammering Hank,” the first aviator to receive the Medal of Honor in World War II, were printed on one of the F-35Bs.
Photos of the historic F-35B strikes published by the Defense Department visibly show Raible’s name inscribed near the canopy, but on the other side of that same aircraft was Maj. Elrod, Capt. Diann Rosenfeld confirmed to Marine Corps Times.
"Honoring those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice defending the Marines to their left and right ensures we never forget our storied history," said Lt. Col. Kyle Shoop, commanding officer, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron-211. "Both Lt. Col. Raible and Maj. Elrod are part of our squadron's legacy, and that jet reminds us every day of the sacrifices those men made for their country."
Elrod is a legendary aviator steeped in the Corps’ history.
His defense of Wake Island with Marine Fighter Squadron-211 against a Japanese onslaught from Dec. 8-23, 1941, would earn him the Medal of Honor. He is first aviator in World War II to be awarded the nation’s highest award for combat valor.
During the Wake Island campaign, then-Capt. Elrod managed to down two Japanese planes out of a flight of 23 enemy aircraft while also conducting bombing and strafing runs at enemy targets below.
He was the first pilot to sink a major enemy vessel using small caliber bombs.
When his aircraft was disabled, Elrod took command of some ground forces defending the island.
He was killed by enemy fire on Dec. 23, 1941. Elrod was posthumously promoted to major in 1946 and awarded the Medal of Honor.
Today, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron-211, or VMFA-211, bears the namesake the Wake Island Avengers, Rosenfeld said.
The F-35B also carried the name of Raible, the former squadron commander of VMFA-211, who was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his defense of the airfield at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, after it was attacked by nearly 15 Taliban fighters on Sept. 14, 2012.
Raible was eventually killed while spearheading an attack against the militants.
Marine officials told Marine Corps Times that it was relatively common for Marine aviation squadrons to inscribe the names of honorary or historical figures on their aircraft.
“Generally seniority in the squadron dictates names of current members on aircraft so the squadron commander may have his name on one but not on all,” Capt. Karoline Foote, told Marine Corps Times.
But the rules may varies depending on the squadron.
The Marines of VMFA-211 are currently embarked with the 13th Marine Expeditionary and are operating in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.