VMF-216 was organized on January 1, 1943 at El Centro Marine Corps Air Station, California but not commissioned for duty until September 16, 1943. The new squadron was comprised of mostly newly trained, inexperienced 1st and 2nd lieutenants. Only two officers, the Commanding Officer and the Flight Officer, had actual combat experience.
Major Rivers J. Morrell, Jr., also known as "Bulldog" Morrell, was the squadron Commanding Officer beginning June 23, 1943. Major Morrell had seen combat action at Guadalcanal in the South Pacific with VMF-212 in 1942. He would remain CO until January 22, 1944.
Major Benjamin S. Hargrave, Jr. formerly a flight instructor at Pensacola, was the squadron Executive Officer. He would later be assigned as squadron CO from January 22, 1944 to May 4, 1944.
Captain Lawrence M. Faulkner, also known as "Cloudy", was designated as the squadron Flight Officer. Captain Faulkner also had prior combat experience at Guadalcanal with VMF-212.
July 27, 1943 letter to Mother (El Centro, CA):
"Well, here I am in my new Squadron. I've been here nearly a week and am just now really settled. As you may know, El Centro is out here in the middle of the desert. And talk about hot!! -- Wow!! It's between 125-130 degrees in the shade and in the sun, the thermometers read between 150-160 degrees. And you know how easily I perspire. Well, you should see me. I go around soaking wet all the time. By midnight it cools off to about 95-100 degrees. Some fun, huh?
The fellows in this Squadron are swell. There are five or six here that I started out with in Dallas a year ago. The Squadron is VMF-216. And all the fellows that were in my flight at Melbourne (the picture) are all here except M.G. Chilton. He joined the Squadron in El Toro.
Out of about forty fighter pilots, about ten of us are from Texas. Not a bad showing, huh?"