Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington


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 13 June 1935, he enlisted and went on active duty in the Volunteer Marine Corps Reserve. He returned to inactive duty on 16 July.


On 18 February 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 11 March 1937, then was transferred to Quantico, Virginia, for duty with Aircraft One, Fleet Marine Force. He was discharged from the Marine Corps Reserve on 1 July 1937 in order to accept a second lieutenant's commission in the regular Marine Corps the following day.


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 first lieutenant on 4 November 1940, Boyington returned to Pensacola as an instructor the next month.

Boyington resigned his commission in the Marine Corps on 26 August 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 was dishonorably discharged.

Boyington talking to other pilots from VMF-214Boyington wangled 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."

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.

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 17 December 1943, he headed the first Allied fighter sweep over impregnable Rabaul. By 27 December his record had climbed to 25.

A typical daring feat was his attack on Kahili airdome at the southern tip of Bougainville on 17 October 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.

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 3 January 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.)

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.) He spent the rest of the war, some 20 months, in a Japanese prison camp, during which time he was selected for temporary promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

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 29 August and arrived in the United States shortly afterwards. On 6 September, he accepted his temporary lieutenant colonel's commission in the Marine Corps.

Boyington shortly after receiving the Medal of HonorShortly after his return to his homeland, 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 4 October 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.

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.

In addition to the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross, Boyington held the American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, American Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.








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