Sunday, December 4, 2016

Marine Corps Ace and Medal of Honor Winner Pappy Boyington [otd 12/04]

Pappy Boyington. USMC photo.
Ace pilot and Medal of Honor winner Gregory “Pappy” Boyington was born December 4, 1912 in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. His mother divorced and remarried while Greg was very young, so he grew up thinking his last name was Hallenbeck. Not until some years later did he discover his birth name.

He grew up in the Idaho Panhandle but eventually graduated from high school and then college in Washington state. At the University of Washington, he served on the swim and wrestling teams and, for a time, was middleweight wrestling champion of the Pacific Northwest. He graduated in 1934 with a B.S. degree in aeronautical engineering.

Greg served in the Reserve Officers Training Corps at the University and became a full-fledged Marine aviator three years after graduation. He spent several months as a flight instructor before resigning in 1941 to join the American Volunteer Group, the famous “Flying Tigers” who fought in China.

He took the job for the money. By the time he joined the AVG, Greg had already led a troubled life: He was divorced and owed child support and other debts. Also, like many of Native American heritage – he was part Sioux Indian – Greg fought with alcoholism all his life.

After the AVG was disbanded, he returned to duty with the Marines in the South Pacific. That was when he acquired the sobriquets “Gramps” and “Pappy” because he was a decade older than almost everyone he flew with. Before his most famous duty, Boyington served in the South Pacific, but had little success in combat.

Finding himself at loose ends after one assignment, he wrangled permission to assemble his own command, the legendary “Black Sheep Squadron.” His pilots were not, however, the band of misfits and screw-ups depicted in the later television program. They were simply men who had no specific assignments: green replacements just in from the States, members of disbanded units, and so on.

As squadron leader, Pappy added impressively to his bag of enemy aircraft. His victory total is somewhat clouded. The official number is 28, but some commentators suggest 22 might be more accurate. (Either toll would be an impressive accomplishment.)
Marine Corsair in the South Pacific. USMC photo.

Beyond that, however, Pappy welded Marine Fighter Squadron 214 (the official designation) into a supremely deadly fighting force. The squadron flew their F4U Corsair fighters from rough island bases and pummeled Japanese aircraft, shipping, and ground installations. During a span of just under three months, the unit recorded 97 confirmed air-to-air victories and awarded Ace status to eight pilots.

Pappy was shot down in January 1944 and spent twenty months in Japanese prisons. For his actions and leadership, Boyington received the Congressional Medal of Honor, a Navy Cross, and several lesser medals. The original Black Sheep squadron received a Presidential Unit Citation.

Some years later, Boyington wrote his autobiography – Baa Baa Black Sheep – as well as a novel growing loosely from his experiences in China. He also served as a adviser for the highly fictionalized, but exciting television show.

Greg “Pappy” Boyington died in January 1988; he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
                                                                                 
References: “Colonel Gregory Boyington, USMCR (Deceased),” Who’s Who in Marine Corps History, United State Marine Corps.
Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Bantam Books, New York (1977).
Guila Ford, Elizabeth Jacox, “Gregory ‘Pappy’ Boyington - 1912-1988,” Reference Series No. 1133, Idaho State Historical Society (January 1996).
Bruce Gamble, Black Sheep One, The Life of Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, Presidio Press, Novato, California (2000).
Colin D. Heaton, “Black Sheep Leader,” World War II History Magazine, Herndon, Virginia (June 2000).

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