Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron (HMR) 363 was activated June 2, 1952, at Santa Ana, California, due to the demands of the Korean War. After the squadron’s activation, personnel of HMR-363 embarked on a rigorous flight training schedule with their newly issued Sikorsky HRS-1 helicopters.
HMR-363’s first deployment took place in January through September 1956. HMR-363 supported Operation Redwing (US Army), an atomic test series conducted at test site Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, out of Eniwetok Army Base. Throughout the summer HMR-363 supported the atomic testing with General Support (GS) using both the Sikorsky HRS-1 and the HRS-3.
Later in 1956, the squadron became the first West Coast helicopter unit to receive the Sikorsky H-34 helicopter and was re-designated as Marine Helicopter Squadron (Light) (HMR(L)) 363. Throughout the next several years, HMR(L) was re-designated repeatedly as small changes to her helicopters were made; on 30 June 1958 as Marine Transport Squadron (Composite), then on 29 February 1960 back to HMR(L). Finally, as all the Sikorsky HRS type helicopters were phased out, the squadron was again re-designated on 1 February 1962 as Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 363.
In December 1964, a disastrous flood struck Northern California, and on Christmas Eve, 15 UH-34’s of HMM-363 deployed aboard the USS Bennington and rushed northward to the disaster area. General V.H. Krulak, Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Pacific wrote a personal letter of congratulations to HMM-363 for their "relief of suffering and preservation of life."
The intensification of the American involvement in the war in Vietnam in 1965 necessitated the deployment of Marine forces to Southeast Asia. On September 1, 1965, HMM-363 and its 15 UH-34’s engaged in their first combat missions ever. The squadron’s initial troop insert was a combined operation with HMM-161 in moving the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment into a landing zone south of Da Nang. Close ties between HMM-363 and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces were developed in Operation FLYING TIGER. The famed Tiger Division was airlifted to Hill 78 in conjunction with the operation, which was proclaimed as the most successful Korean Offensive of the war to date. Out of mutual respect for each other, the Korean Marines also presented an award to HMM-363, a new insignia and the nickname, the "Lucky Red Lions."
March 26, 1968 was perhaps the most disastrous day in the history of HMM-363. During a rocket attack, five squadron members were wounded and required medical evacuation. During the flight up the coast of Vietnam, the medevac aircraft was tragically lost at sea, killing seven people including the Commanding Officer, LtCol Frankie E. Allgood. The only survivors were the pilot and co-pilot who managed to escape before the aircraft sank in the coastal waters. In January 1969 HMM-363 was later re-designated as Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 363 and established in Santa Ana, California, equipped with 13 new Sikorsky CH-53A aircraft. The new "Super Bird", took over the role of the heavy lift helicopter in the Vietnam War from the now obsolete UH-34. The old workhorse of the war had to give way to the sophisticated jet turbine powered CH-53A. For the remainder of the Vietnam War, in addition to assault support, HMH-363 was one of the first squadrons to execute Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP), recovering several downed UH-34 and CH-46 airframes during the war.
In December of 1972, HMH-363 continued to execute TRAP when they lifted HMH-361’s CH-53A that had crashed in a mountainous area near Saddleback Mountain. In September of 1973, HMH-363 performed the same mission again when a crashed CH-53A was externally extracted from a 4,000-foot mountain-landing zone.
In early 1982, the Red Lions were well on their way to another outstanding year by receiving the Meritorious Unit Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, the squadron participated in the Unit Deployment Program to Marine Air Group 36, supporting multiple operations, to include TEAM SPIRIT, EMERALD EXPRESS, VALIANT BLITZ, and BEACH CREST throughout the Western Pacific and Far East. During their 1984 unit deployment, the squadron accumulated the most flight time ever achieved by a deployed helicopter squadron. In April 1986, the Red Lions were awarded the CNO Safety Award for 1985, exceeding 10,000 mishap free hours and two years of accident free flying.
As the sole CH-53D west coast squadron, the Red Lions participated in several exercises, providing support at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twenty Nine Palms and Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, California. Always ready, in December 1992, the Red Lions participated in Operation RESTORE HOPE as the heavy helicopter lift support for Marine Forces in Somalia and the Joint Task Force, deploying 162 personnel and 10 aircraft in less than four weeks. For its outstanding service, the squadron was awarded the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, the Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and numerous air crewmen were awarded the Air Medal for missions flown during the four-month deployment. Returning to California, the squadron resumed its support of I Marine Expeditionary Force, conducted squadron-training deployments, and supported exercises such as DESFIREX and EMERALD EXPRESS.
In 1996, HMH-363 was relocated to Marine Corps Base Hawaii in permanent support of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. The squadron boarded the newly commissioned USS Boxer to sail to Hawaii, thereby consolidating all existing CH-53D squadrons on one station. Soon thereafter, the squadron established itself as the premier assault support helicopter squadron for Marine Air Group 24. In October 2001, immediately following the tragic events of September 11th, the squadron was ordered to reestablish the WESTPAC Unit Deployment Program at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, and became the first CH-53D squadron in over ten years to deploy to Japan. The Red Lions participated in the Unit Deployment Program April - October 2003. The squadron also participated in numerous Hawaii Combined Arms Exercises (HCAX), Exercise ULCHI FOCUS LENS 02, Exercise COBRA GOLD 03, and Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 04. The Red Lions distinguished themselves by earning three consecutive CNO Safety awards in 2001, 2002 and 2003 for 20,000 mishap free hours. The Red Lions were further recognized in 2002 when nominated by the Secretary of Defense for the Phoenix Award for Excellence in Maintenance. The squadron supported the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit by chopping four aircraft to the MEU during June 2005 in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
From late 2006 to early 2007, HMH-363 deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Based at Al Asad, this was the unit’s first deployment in support of the Global War on Terror. From 2011 through 2012, HMH-363 deployed to Afghanistan is support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
HMH-363 was deactivated on 10 May 2012 at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. The squadron was then re-designated VMM-363 and activated as an MV-22 Squadron aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar as part of Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3d Marine Air Wing.
Throughout their tenure at MCAS Miramar, the Red Lions supported the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF), Crisis Response, Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC) with TRAP coverage of Iraq and Syria. As part of the SPMAGTF-CR-CC rotation VMM-363 deployed to support SPAGTF-CR-CCs 15.1, 16.2, and 17.1. After their third rotation to SPMAGTF-CR-CC, and the squadron became fully acclimated to a regular diet of sand, VMM-363 enthusiastically conducted the move from MCAS Miramar to MCBH Kaneohe Bay in July 2018.
Today, the Red Lions are an MV-22B squadron that will continue to provide Assault Support to the MAGTF. Throughout its rich history, the Red Lions have received countless honors and decorations for their ability to get the job done under fire. With such a tremendous legacy, there is no doubt that the Red Lions of today will continue to serve with the same esprit de corps found throughout its history in the finest tradition of Marine Aviation and the United States Marine Corps.