1 July 1959 - 31 January 1996
The Freelancers came into being at Alameda, California on 1 July 1959 when VF-64 was redesignated as part of the latest Navy attempt to "tidy-up" the Carrier Air Groups which were then in existence. At this time, operational control of the Freelancers was entrusted to Carrier Air Group 2 (CVG-2), VF-21's association with this organisation proving to be a most enduring one since the squadron continued to operate as part of this Air Group for the next 20 years.
Equipped with the McDonnell F3H-2 Demon, the unit very quickly embarked for its first major deployment following the change in identity, sailing aboard USS Midway (CVA-41) in mid-August of the same year. It duly spent some seven month in the Western Pacific area, making further cruises with the Demon in 1961 and 1962, this being a period which also witnessed a change in shore base when the Freelancers were reassigned to Miramar in June 1961, although they did not actually take up residence there until late September when they returned from a visit to the Western Pacific.
It was at Miramar that VF-21 converted from the rapidly obsolescing Demon to the F-4B Phantom II during 1963, eventually making its sea-going debut with this potent fighter when it visited WestPac between November of that year and late March 1964, this being the last peace-time deployment that the Freelancers were to make for close to 10 years.
When VF-21 returned to sea, in March 1965, they were bound for combat. It was during this tour that VF-21 recorded its only aerial victories of the Vietnam War, these coincidentally being the first confirmed kills to be achieved by a US Navy fighter squadron during the course of that long conflict. On 17 June 1965 CDR Louis Page and Lt John Smith despatched a MiG-17 with an AIM7 Sparrow missile. Moments later, fellow Freelancers Lt Jack Batson, Jr and LCDR Robert Doremus made it a double celebration by adding another MiG-17 to VF-21's tally, again employing an AIM-7. VF-21 compiled a most impressive combat record by making six further visits to the war zone aboard USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) and USS Ranger (CV-61) between 1966 and 1973.
Along the way, the Freelancers took time out from the pressures of war to re-equip with the improved F-4J in 1968, continuing to operate this model until December 1979 and following up their wartime exploits with three rather less demanding post-ceasefire deployments to the 7th Fleet in the WestPac as part of CVW-2 aboard USS Ranger.
After a long period of stability, VF-21 faced a number of important changes at the end of the 1970's, of which perhaps potentially the most important was re-equipment with the F-4S. This transition actually got underway in mid-December 1979 although the Freelancers were not destined to deploy operationally with the F-4S, the powers that be in the Navy deciding that this variant was by no means ideally suited for use from USS Coral Sea which was to be the squadron's next ocean-going base. At the same time as VF-21 received the F-4S, it was also reassigned to the control of CVW-14, and it was as part of this command that the Freelancers returned to sea in the summer of 1981, spending a total of seven months in WestPac and the Indian Ocean. However, the decision not to utilise the F-4S version from Coral Sea ha, in the meantime, necessitated another change of equipment and VF-21 duly deployed with the older and rather less effective F-4N model which it was felt was better equipped for operation from this carrier.
The 1981-82 tour of duty in WestPac was followed by a rather more ambitious deployment in 1983, VF-21 being one of several squadrons that took part in the Coral Sea's world cruise of that year which culminated in a change of fleet assignment to conduct operations in unfamiliar skies, the 1983 tour was also noteworthy in that it marked the last occasion on which US Navy Phantoms were to deploy from a US base, VF-21 joining with sister squadron VF-154 in a nostalgic and impressive final "fly-in" to Miramar in mid-September.
This was not quite the end of the Phantom in VF-21 service, however, for some aircraft lingered on until 4 November. On that date, again in conjunction with VF-154, the Freelancers participated in a ceremony which heralded the end of an era, for, although 2 forward-deployed squadrons continued to fly the F-4, the VF-21 and VF-154 machines were the last US-based examples of McDonnell's remarkable warplane to see front-line service with the US Navy.
With hte ceremonies over, VF-21 then set about the task of transition to a rather more potent fighter, namely Grumman's F-14 Tomcat. As usual, this process was managed by VF-124 and it was not until the latter half of 1984 that VF-21 was again declared operational, the Freelancers thereafter directing their energies to the lengthy process of regaining full combat-ready status in anticipation of hteir first major 7th Fleet deployment with the Grumman fighter as part of CVW-14 aboard USS Constellation (CV-64).
This cruise eventually got underway during the early part of 1985 and, as was to be expected, involved a return to the more familiar waters of the WestPac. Although highly significant as far as VF-21 was concerned, the Constellation's 1985 WestPac tour was probably most memorable in that it marked hte operational debut of the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet, itself no mean performer in the air combat arena.
A number of cruises followed until in 1990 the squadron moved, along with the rest of CVW-14 to the USS Independence (CV-62). The USS Independence was the first carrier to reach the Persian Gulf in response to the crisis of August 1990. However the squadron did not take part in Desert Shield, as by that time the carrier had returned to the US, but VF-21 played an important part in protecting the build up of allied forces in the Gulf and along with other rapid reaction units it is possible they are what deterred Saddam Hussein from attacking Saudi Arabia.
In August of 1991 the squadron moved to Japan, when USS Independence took over the role of USS Midway (CV-41) in being the only carrier home ported outside the USA, at Yokusuka. During this change the squadron stayed with the same carrier but moved air wings, from CVW-14 to CVW-5. This was because Midway's air wing had been without Tomcats, as the older Midway could not accommodate the F-14's size and weight. During the whole of it's F-14 career VF-21 has been partnered by VF-154.
This latest cruise of USS Independence has not been without incident or tension. Along with the Nimitz (CVN-68), Independence and her air wing have been involved in operations to demonstrate US resolve in support of Taiwan, during the recent tensions when Chinese military forces held large scale exercises showing their displeasure at Taiwan's recent Presidential elections.
VF-21 returned from a deployment onboard USS Independence (CV-62) in late 1995. Unfortunately this was their last deployment and the squadron has now disestablished, the official disestablishment ceremony happening on the 31st of January 1996.
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