The first incarnation of the Jolly Roger was established on January 1st, 1943 at NAS Norfolk, as VF-17, flying the F4U Corsair. Inspired by the Corsair name being derived from the French Privateers, better known as Pirates. VF-17's commanding officer Tommy Blackburn selected the Jolly Roger's stark white skull placed against a sinister black background as the squadron's insignia. Sporting the fearsome bone markings, VF-17 became known as the highest-scoring Navy squadron of World War II.
On 1 May 1944, the first VF-84, "Wolf Gang" was formed around a nucleus of veterans of VF-17 (the original "Jolly Rogers"). VF-84 took part in the invasion of Iwo Jima; raids on Tokyo, and other targets located on the Japanese mainland; the discovery and sinking of battleship Yamamoto; and support of the invasion of Okinawa.
On 11 May 1945, while off Okinawa, two Japanese kamikazes struck the USS Bunker Hill carrier in quick succession. A bomb carried by kamikaze aircraft penetrated down to the pilots' ready room. 22 members of VF-84 lost their lives on that day. Both the carrier (then flagship) and its air group were knocked out for the remainder of the war. The squadron was disestablished on 8 October 1945
By wars end, the pilots of VF-84 were credited with 92 shootdowns for a loss of 4 Corsairs in air-to-air combat, with a kill ratio of 48:1.
The second VF-84, known as the Vagabonds, was established on July 1, 1955, at NAS Oceana flying the FJ-3 Fury. VF-84's commanding officer, formerly with VF-61, requested to change his squadron's name and insignia to that of the Jolly Rogers. His request was approved on April 1, 1960. The squadron then was reassigned to Carrier Air Wing 7 and transitioned to the F8U-2 Crusader in 1959. VF-84 continued to fly the F-8C Crusaders for several years prior to being introduced to the F-4B, J and N in 1964, until ultimatly transitioning to the F-14 Tomcat in early 1976.
VF-103 adopted the Jolly Roger after VF-84 was disestablished on October 1, 1995 , all the Sluggers aircraft were repainted with ominous all-black tails and black bands with gold chevrons painted on the side of the forward fuselage.
After a last deployment ”Last time baby” on John F. Kennedy with Carrier Air Wing Seventeen and returning to NAS Oceana in December 2004, VF-103 gave up their F-14B Tomcats and began transition to the F/A-18F Super Hornet and transfer to Carrier Air Wing Seven. The squadron was officially re-designated as VFA-103.
The Jolly Rogers continue a long-standing tradition of “passing the bones” to the new members of the squadron (FNGs). The skull-and-crossbones encased in glass, known simply as “Ernie” is the remains of Ensign Jack Ernie of VF-17. During a fierce battle over Okinawa, Ensign Jack Ernie was attempting to disengage from a fight due to loss of oil pressure. He was jumped by two Japanese Zeros and fought valiantly, even managing to splash one with his crippled Corsair, but was shortly overcome by the second Zero. As his F-4U Corsair plunged towards the sea, Ensign Ernie managed to make one last transmission: “Skipper, I can’t get out, remember me with Jolly Rogers.”