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Gregory Boyington
December 4, 1912(1912-12-04) – January 11, 1988 (aged 75)
Pappy Boyington.jpg      A light blue neck ribbon with a gold star shaped medallion hanging from it. The ribbon is similar in shape to a bowtie with 13 white stars in the center of the ribbon.
World War II photo of then-Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington
Nickname "Pappy"
Place of birth Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Place of death Fresno, California
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States
Service/branch U.S. Marine Corps
Years of service 1934-1947
Rank Colonel
Commands held VMF-214
Battles/wars World War II
Second Sino-Japanese War
Awards Medal of Honor
Navy Cross

Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (December 4, 1912 - January 11, 1988) was a United States Marine Corps officer who was an American fighter ace during World War II. For his heroic actions, he was awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. Boyington flew initially with the American Volunteer Group ("The Flying Tigers") in the Republic of China Air Force during the Second Sino-Japanese War. He later commanded the famous U.S. Marine Corps squadron, VMF-214 ("The Black Sheep Squadron") during World War II. Boyington became a prisoner of war later in the war. He retired from the Marine Corps at the rank of colonel.


Early life

Gregory Boyington was born on December 4, 1912 in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.[1] He grew up in the logging town of St. Maries, Idaho and in Tacoma, Washington, where he was a wrestler at Lincoln High School.[1] He took his first flight when he was six years old, with Clyde Pangborn, who later flew the Pacific non-stop.[1]

In 1930, Boyington entered the University of Washington, where he joined the ROTC and became a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.[1] He was a member of the college wrestling and swimming teams, and at one time held the Pacific Northwest Intercollegiate middleweight wrestling title. Boyington graduated in 1934 with a B.S. in aeronautical engineering.[1]

He spent his summers working in his home state in a mining camp and logging camp and with the Coeur d'Alene Fire Protective Association in road construction and lookout work.[1]

Boyington married shortly after his graduation and worked for Boeing as a draftsman and engineer.[1]

He had grown up using the name Hallenbeck, after his stepfather. But when he decided to apply for flight training, he obtained his birth certificate and learned his father was actually named Charles Boyington, and his parents had divorced when he was an infant. Since there was no record that Gregory Boyington had ever been married, he was free to become a cadet pilot under that name in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Military career

Boyington started his military career in college, as a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps in which he became a cadet captain. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery Reserve in June 1934, and served two months of active duty with the 630th Coast Artillery at Fort Worden, Washington. On June 13, 1935, he enlisted and went on active duty in the Volunteer Marine Corps Reserve. He returned to inactive duty on July 16 in the same year.[1]

On February 18, 1936, Boyington accepted an appointment as an aviation cadet in the Marine Corps Reserve. He was assigned to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, for flight training. He was designated a naval aviator on March 11, 1937, then was transferred to Quantico, Virginia, for duty with Aircraft One, Fleet Marine Force. He was discharged from the Marine Corps Reserve on July 1, 1937 in order to accept a second lieutenant's commission in the regular Marine Corps the following day.[1]

He was sent to The Basic School in Philadelphia in July 1938. On completion of the course, Boyington was transferred to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Group at the San Diego Naval Air Station. He took part in fleet problems off the aircraft carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown. Promoted to lieutenant on November 4, 1940, Boyington returned to Pensacola as an instructor the next month.[1]

Boyington resigned his commission in the Marine Corps on August 26, 1941 to accept a position with the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO). CAMCO was a civilian organization that contracted to staff a Special Air Unit to defend China and the Burma Road. The unit later became known as the American Volunteer Group (AVG), the famed Flying Tigers of China. During his months with the "Tigers", Boyington became a flight leader. He was frequently in trouble with the commander of that outfit, Claire Chennault. As a member of the AVG 1st Squadron, Boyington was officially credited with 3.5 Japanese aircraft destroyed in the air and on the ground, but AVG records suggest that one additional "kill" may have been due to him. (He afterward claimed six victories as a Tiger, but there is no substantiation for that figure.) In the spring of 1942, he broke his contract with the American Volunteer Group and returned to the United States in order to be re-instated in the Marine Corps.[1] Boyington wrangled a major's commission in the Marines, which were in great need of experienced combat pilots. He was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 11 of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, where he became Executive Officer of VMF-121 operating from Guadalcanal. While assigned to VMF-121, Boyington did not shoot down any enemy planes. Later, he became Commanding Officer (CO) of Marine Fighter Squadron 214, better known by its nickname, the "Black Sheep Squadron."[1]

The CO earned the nickname "Gramps" because, at age 31, he was a decade older than most of his men. (Nicknames of this type are common within the armed forces, especially since the commanding officer of a unit is often referred to as "the old man".) It became "Pappy" in a song composed by one of his pilots, and this version was picked up by war correspondents.[1]

Boyington is best known for his exploits flying the Vought F4U Corsair in VMF-214. During periods of intense activity in the Russell Islands-New Georgia and Bougainville-New Britain-New Ireland areas, Boyington added to his total almost daily. During his squadron's first tour of combat duty, the major shot down 14 enemy fighter planes in 32 days. On September 16, 1943 Boyington shot down a F6F (the Pilot survived).[2] On December 17, 1943, he headed the first Allied fighter sweep over impregnable Rabaul. By December 27, his record had climbed to 25.[1]

A typical daring feat was his attack on Kahili airdrome at the southern tip of Bougainville on October 17, 1943. He and 24 fighters circled the field where 60 hostile aircraft were based, goading the enemy into sending up a large force. In the fierce battle that followed, 20 enemy aircraft were shot down while the Black Sheep returned to their base without loss.[1]

Boyington’s squadron, flying from the island of Vella Lavella, offered to down a Japanese Zero for every baseball cap sent to them by major league players in the World Series. They received 20 caps and shot down many more enemy aircraft.

He tied the American record of 26 planes on January 3, 1944 over Rabaul, but was shot down himself later the same day. The mission had sent 48 American fighters, including one division of four planes from the Black Sheep Squadron, from Bougainville for a fighter sweep over Rabaul. Boyington was the tactical commander of the flight and arrived over the target at eight o'clock in the morning. In the ensuing action, the major was seen to shoot down his 26th plane. He then became mixed in the general melee of diving, swooping planes and was not seen or heard from again during the battle, nor did he return with his squadron. (In later years, Masajiro "Mike" Kawato claimed to have been the pilot who shot down Boyington's plane. He described the combat in two books and numerous public appearances (often with Boyington), but this claim was eventually "disproven," though Kawato held to his story until his death. It is a matter of record that Kawato was present during the action in which Boyington was downed, as one of 70 Japanese fighters which engaged approximately 30 American fighters.)[3] Boyington's wingman Captain George Ashmun was KIA.[1]

Following a determined but futile search, Boyington was declared missing in action. He had been picked up by a Japanese submarine and became a prisoner of war. (The sub was sunk 13 days after picking him up, though not before dropping him off.) According to Boyington's autobiography, he was never accorded official P.O.W. status by the Japanese and his captivity was not reported to the Red Cross. He spent the rest of the war, some 20 months, in Japanese prison camps, Ofuna and then Omori, during which time he was selected for temporary promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel. A fellow American prisoner of war was Medal of Honor winning submarine captain Richard O'Kane.[1]

During mid-August 1945, after the atomic bombs and the Japanese capitulation, Boyington was liberated from Japanese custody at Omori Prison Camp near Tokyo on August 29. Boyington returned to the United States at Naval Air Station Alameda on September 12, 1945 and where he was met by 21 former squadron members from VMF-214. That night a party for him was held at the St. Francis Hotel in downtown San Francisco that was covered by Life Magazine. The coverage of the party marked the first time that the magazine had ever showed people consuming alcohol.[4] Prior to his arrival, on September 6, he accepted his temporary lieutenant colonel's commission in the Marine Corps.[1]

Boyington shortly after receiving the Medal of Honor

Shortly after his return to the U.S., as a lieutenant colonel, Boyington was ordered to Washington to receive the nation's highest honor — the Medal of Honor — from the President. The medal had been awarded by the late president, Franklin D. Roosevelt in March 1944 and held in the capital until such time as he could receive it. On October 4, 1945, Boyington received the Navy Cross from the Commandant of the Marine Corps for the Rabaul raid; the following day, "Nimitz Day," he and other sailors and Marines were decorated at the White House by President Harry S. Truman.[1]

Following the receipt of his Medal of Honor and Navy Cross, Boyington made a Victory Bond Tour. Originally ordered to the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, he was later directed to report to the Commanding General, Marine Air West Coast, Marine Corps Air Depot, Miramar, San Diego, California. He retired from the Marine Corps on August 1, 1947, and because he was specially commended for the performance of duty in actual combat, he was promoted to full colonel.[1]

Later life

Boyington was a tough, hard-living character who was known for being unorthodox. He was also an alcoholic, which plagued him in the years after the war, and contributed to multiple divorces as well as disciplinary problems with the Marines. He worked various civilian jobs, including refereeing and participating in professional wrestling matches.[1]

Many people know of him from the 1970s television show Baa Baa Black Sheep (also known as Black Sheep Squadron), a drama about the Black Sheep squadron based very loosely on Boyington's memoir of the same name, with Boyington portrayed by Robert Conrad. Like Chuck Yeager in the movie The Right Stuff, Pappy had a short walk-on role, as a visiting general during the second season of the show. Many of Boyington's men were very irate over this show, charging it was mostly fiction and presented an overly glamorized portrait of Boyington. At least on the television show, Boyington was depicted as owning a bull terrier dog, named "Meatball." However, he was heard commenting at a 1970s EAA airshow book signing that if he did have a dog at the time, it wouldn't have been such "an ugly" dog. Boyington frequently informed interviewers and audiences that the television series was fiction, and only loosely related to actual history, calling it "hogwash and Hollywood hokum".[5] (It's also worth noting that the character played by John Wayne in the 1942 film Flying Tigers, Capt. Jim Gordon, is called "Pappy" by some of his men.)[1]

In addition to his autobiography, Boyington wrote a novel about the AVG. Tonya is a spy story with characters who evoked actual individuals, sometimes by transposing the syllables of their names ("Ross Dicky" for Dick Rossi, for example).[1]

While artist depictions and publicity photos often show Boyington with aircraft number 86 ("LuluBelle") covered in victory flags, this was not his combat aircraft. In fact, he rarely flew the same aircraft more than a few times. It has been said that he would choose the F4U in the worst shape, so none of his pilots would be afraid of flying their own aircraft.[1]

The publicity photo taken of Boyington in F4U-1A Corsair number 86 was taken at Espiritu Santo (code named BUTTON), in the New Hebrides on 26 November 1943. The photo was taken while VMF-214 was on R&R, between VMF-214s 1st and 2nd combat tours with Boyington as the Commanding Officer. Although Boyington claimed after the war that the name of the plane in the publicity photo was named ("LuluBelle"), in light of Bruce Gamble's analysis, it was most likely named ("LucyBelle"). VMF-214 had previously served two combat tours in the Solomon Islands before Boyington assumed command of the squadron.[1]

He visited the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility, coincidentally just as the Museum's F4U Corsair left the restoration shop. According to docents who witnessed the incident, Boyington climbed into the cockpit "for old time's sake" and attempted to start the engine. He autographed the Corsair with a magic marker in one of the landing gear wells; saying, in effect, that it was a Corsair in the best condition he'd ever seen. Years later that same Corsair hangs from the ceiling at the NASM Dulles Annex, and Boyington's autograph is visible from floor level to the sharp-eyed.[1]

In 1957, he appeared as a guest challenger on the TV panel show "To Tell The Truth".

Boyington was an absentee father to three children by his first wife. One daughter committed suicide; one son graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1960.


Boyington died of cancer on January 11, 1988 at the age of 75 in Fresno, California.

He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on January 15, 1988, in plot 7A-150 with full honors accorded to a Medal of Honor recipient, including a missing man fly-by conducted by the F-4 Phantom IIs of the Marine detachment at Andrews Air Force Base. Before his flight from Fresno, California, VMA-214 (the current incarnation of the Black Sheep Squadron) did a flyby. They intended to do a missing man formation, but one of the four aircraft suffered a mechanical problem.

After the burial service for Boyington, one of his friends, Fred Losch, looked down at the headstone that he was standing next to, the boxing legend Joe Louis, and remarked that "Ol' Pappy wouldn't have to go far to find a good fight."

Awards & honors

Naval Aviator Badge.jpg
A light blue ribbon with five white five pointed stars
Bronze star
Bronze star
Naval Aviator insignia
1st row Medal of Honor Navy Cross American Defense Service Medal
2nd row American Campaign Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ 2 service stars World War II Victory Medal

Medal of Honor citation

"The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to



for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of Marine Fighting Squadron TWO FOURTEEN in action against enemy Japanese forces in Central Solomons Area from September 12, 1943 to January 3, 1944. Consistently outnumbered throughout successive hazardous flights over heavily defended hostile territory, Major Boyington struck at the enemy with daring and courageous persistence, leading his squadron into combat with devastating results to Japanese shipping, shore installations and aerial forces. Resolute in his efforts to inflict crippling damage on the enemy, Major Boyington led a formation of twenty-four fighters over Kahili on October 17, and, persistently circling the airdrome where sixty hostile aircraft were grounded, boldly challenged the Japanese to send up planes. Under his brilliant command, our fighters shot down twenty enemy craft in the ensuing action without the loss of a single ship. A superb airman and determined fighter against overwhelming odds, Major Boyington personally destroyed 26 of the many Japanese planes shot down by his squadron and by his forceful leadership developed the combat readiness in his command which was a distinctive factor in the Allied aerial achievements in this vitally strategic area.


Airport renaming

In August 2007, the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho airport was renamed the "Coeur d’Alene Airport–Pappy Boyington Field" in his honor.[7] An independent documentary film called Pappy Boyington Field was produced by filmmaker Kevin Gonzalez in 2008, chronicling the grassroots campaign to add the commemorative name.[8] The film showcases many of the local veterans who were involved with the campaign, as well as the personal insights into Boyington's life provided by his son Gregory Boyington Jr. and the actor Robert Conrad, who portrayed him in the television series. The documentary film has been reviewed by the Marines.

University of Washington Medal of Honor Memorial

In February 2006, a resolution recommending a memorial be erected to honor Boyington for his service during WWII was raised at the University of Washington[9] (Boyington's alma mater) during a meeting of the Associated Students of the University of Washington's Student Senate. Several themes emerged in the Student Senate's debate on February 7. People were concerned about whether the Senate was in a place where it could decide who among the several UW alumni Medal of Honor recipients deserved to be memorialized. Also, some were concerned about how the legislation was worded to refer to many specific acts of violence and destruction (specifically in Boyington's Medal of Honor citation, the full text of which was originally included in the resolution), and whether that was appropriate for a Student Senate resolution. Some did not believe that all financial and logistical problems around installing a memorial were fully addressed by the sponsor, and some were questioning the widely-held assumption that all warriors and acts of war are automatically worthy of memorialization.

Ultimately, the resolution was debated upon and resulted in a tie vote (45-45), broken by the Student Senate Chair, defeating the motion.[10] This resulted in a nationwide controversy that was debated through internet "blogs" and many conservative news outlets. Many members of the public balked when hearing this and sent large amounts of negative feedback, a significant portion of which were derogatory to the senators involved. As a result, several student senators have received thousands of malicious e-mails.[11][12][13]

Discussion in these media centered around two statements that were made by student senators during the meeting. One senator (Ashley Miller) said that the UW already had many monuments to "rich, white men" which created perceptions of racism, classism and sexism among several of the resolution's proponents and the media covering the story, because of the statement's perceived implication that the UW therefore need not honor any more. This sentiment came across as particularly petty considering that Boyington was of Sioux ancestry and hardly rich. Another student senator (Jill Edwards) questioned whether the UW should memorialize a person who killed others, and this notion was summarized in the minutes as saying "she didn’t believe a member of the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person UW wanted to produce."[14] This created a large outcry among the military community and other military-friendly people, media and organizations.

Since the eruption of the controversy, a new version of the original resolution was submitted that called for a memorial to all five UW alumni who received the Medal of Honor after attending the UW.[15] On April 4, 2006, the resolution passed by a vote of 64 to 14 with several abstentions, on a roll call vote. The eventual University of Washington Medal of Honor memorial was completed in time for Veterans Day 2009, and was made possible through private funding.[16] In addition to Boyington, it honors Deming Bronson, Bruce Crandall, John D. Hawk, Robert Leisy, William Kenzo Nakamura, and Archie Van Winkle.[17]

AVG victory claims

There is some controversy surrounding Boyington's AVG victory claims. His official CAMCO account showed 3.5 for enemy aircraft destroyed, of which just one was an air-to-air victory. However, AVG records suggest that Boyington was short-changed of an air-to-air victory during his tour of duty at Mingaladon airport in Rangoon. Boyington also felt that the AVG staff wrongly calculated claims from a raid on Chiang Mai, Thailand. Six pilots were involved in a raid that supposedly destroyed 15 Japanese aircraft on the ground, giving each man 2.5 victory credits for the raid. Boyington apparently decided that the two pilots who flew top cover should not have shared in the bounty, though it was often the case that when a pilot was shot down victory credits were equally shared among all taking part in the raid. Boyington evidently calculated his AVG score this way:

  • Confirmed air to air victories: 2 (this is what the US military officially acknowledges normally)
  • Chiang Mai Raid: 3.75 (15 aircraft destroyed divided by 4 shooters)
  • Total: 5.75

He then rounded it up to 6, and convinced the Corps to officially acknowledge it. This was probably good for the Corps' image during the final days of the tour as Boyington neared the record of 26 victories held at the time by Joe Foss and Eddie Rickenbacker. He ultimately tied the record on the same mission in which he was shot down.

Boyington's total score recognized by the American Fighter Aces Association is 24: 2 with the AVG and 22 claimed with the Marine Corps.

Many sources, such as the back of the Bantam Books edition of his autobiography, claim that he shot down 28 planes (6 with the AVG, 22 with the Marines).

After the war, Boyington insisted on the term "victories" rather than "kills", and was known to lose his temper over the issue.

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z "Colonel Gregory Boyington, USMCR". Who's Who in Marine Corps History. History Division, United States Marine Corps. Retrieved 2007-10-21. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ "Kawato Masajiro: The man who didn't shoot down Pappy Boyington", The Warbird's Forum. (retrieved April 11, 2006)
  4. ^ Reed, Lost Black Sheep, p.86-7.
  5. ^ Bates, Tom, "Black Sheep of the South Pacific," SOF's Action Series, Volume II, #6, December 1986 [issue titled Valor], Omega Group, Ltd., pp.56-57.
  6. ^ "U.S. Army Center of Military History Medal of Honor Citations Archive". World War II (A - F). Army Medal of Honor website. June 8, 2009. Retrieved June 8, 2009. 
  7. ^ Curless, Erica (August 8, 2007). "Coeur d'Alene Airport gets new name". The Spokesman Review. Retrieved 2007-08-09. 
  8. ^ Nicholas K. Geranios (2008-02-09). "Film tracks effort to honor 'Black Sheep' figure". Associated Press/USA Today. 
  9. ^ "A Resolution to Calling for a Tribute for Col. Gregory 'Pappy' Boyington, USMC", Resolution R-12-18, Associated Students of the University of Washington Student Senate, submitted 01/11/2006. (retrieved February 24, 2006)
  10. ^ Boyington memorial—A word from the Senate, The Daily, February 17, 2006. (retrieved February 24, 2006)
  11. ^ "Students reject honor to 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' hero, Member of Marines not 'sort of person UW wanted to produce",WorldNetDaily. February 14, 2006.
  12. ^ Flickinger, Christopher. "Marines Not Welcome at University of Washington", Human Events ", February 20, 2006.
  13. ^ "Pappy Shot Down By Campus Ignoramuses", Opinion Journal.
  14. ^ UW Senate minutes, February 7, 2006.
  15. ^ "A Resolution Calling a Memorial for UW Alumni awarded the Medal of Honor", Resolution R-12-16, Associated Students of the University of Washington Student Senate, submitted 02/17/2006.
  16. ^ "Honoring the men behind the Medals of Honor with ceremony, exhibit ", University of Washington News, 10 November 2009.
  17. ^ "New University of Washington memorial honors alumni who hold the Congressional Medal of Honor ", University of Washington News, 10 November 2009.

Further reading

  • Boyington, Gregory (1990) [1958]. Baa baa, black sheep. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0553263501. OCLC 2124961. 
  • Ford, Daniel (2007). Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941-1942 (Updated and rev. edition ed.). New York: Smithsonian Books/Collins. ISBN 9780061246555. OCLC 76481585. 
  • Gamble, Bruce (2000). Black Sheep One, The Life of Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (Hardcover ed.). California: Presidio Press. ISBN 0891417168. 
  • Gamble, Bruce (2000). Black Sheep One, The Life of Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (Paperback ed.). California: Presidio Press. ISBN 0891418016. 
  • Gamble, Bruce (1998). The Black Sheep, The Definitive Account of Marine Fighting Squadron 214 in World War II (Hardcover ed.). New York: Presidio Press/Random House. ISBN 0891416447. 
  • Gamble, Bruce (1998). The Black Sheep, The Definitive Account of Marine Fighting Squadron 214 in World War II (Paperback ed.). New York: Presidio Press/Random House. ISBN 0891418253. 
  • Colonel R. Bruce Porter and Eric M. Hammel ACE!:A Marine Night-Fighter Pilot in World War II Pacifica Press, ISBN 0-935553-31-2

External links


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