Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, A Marine We Should Know
Gregory "Pappy" Boyington
Born in Idaho on December 4th, 1912, Boyington took his first flight when he was six years old. He attended the University of Washington where he was a member of the ROTC as well as the wresting and swim teams. He graduated in 1934 with a degree in aeronautical engineering. After graduation he went to work for Boeing.
As Boyington had been in the ROTC during college he was commissioned a 2ndLt in the Coast Artillery Reserved in 1934. In June of 1935 he enlisted in the Volunteer Marine Corps Reserve. In 1936 he was appointed an Aviation Cadet in the Marine Corps Reserved and reported to Naval Air Station, Pensacola for training. Boyington was designated a Naval Aviator in March of 1937 and reported to Quantico, Virginia for duty. He accepted a commission in the regular Marine Corps on 2 July 1937.
Boyington attended The Basic School in Philadelphia during 1938 and was then assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Group at San Diego Naval Air Station. He took part in training with the Aircraft Carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown while assigned in San Diego. He was promoted to 1stLt during November of 1940 and returned to Pensacola as an instructor.
During August of 1941, prior to the United States entrance into World War II, Boyington resigned his commission and accepted a position with the Flying Tigers of China. Boyington became a flight leader and was officially credited with destroying 3.5 Japanese aircraft. He returned to the United States in the spring of 1942 and was re-instated in the Marine Corps as a Major due to the great need for experienced pilots.
Boyington was first assigned to Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 11, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and became the XO of VMF-121 which operated from Guadalcanal. Later he became the Commanding Officer of Marine Fighter Squadron 214, the "Black Sheep Squadron"
Black Sheep Squadron
The men of VMF-214 originally called themselves "Boyington's Bastards" after their new commander and the fact that all the pilots had been orphans when they got together with few planes and mechanics. The name was later changed to "Black Sheep".
Boyington and his Marines flew the F4U Corsair in intense combat in the Russell Islands, New Georgia, Bouganville, New Britain and New Ireland AORs. During the Squadron's first combat action Pappy Boyington shot down 14 enemy fighters in 32 days. By December his total was 25 downed enemy aircraft. His final number of 26 downed enemy aircraft tied an American ACE record.
"Pappy" Boyington" Callsign
Initially called Gramps by his men because of his age (31), Boyington's callsign became "Pappy" when a song composed by one of his pilots was picked up by war corespondents.
Boyington and four planes from the Black Sheep Squadron were operating over Rabaul on 3 January, 1944 when he shot down his 26th enemy aircraft. He was shot down later the same day. The action saw 70 Japanese fighters against approximately 30 American fighters. Following a search, Boyington was declared Missing in Action (MIA). Unknown to the Marine Corps he had been picked up by a Japanese submarine. He spent 20 months in Japanese Prisoner of War camps. He was promoted to LtCol during his time as a POW and returned to the United States on 12 September, 1945.
Navy Cross and Medal of Honor
Following his return to the United States Boyington was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Truman. The Medal had been previously awarded by President Roosevelt in March of 1944, but was held until such a time as he could receive it. The Commandant of the Marine Corps awarded him the Navy Cross for his actions during the Rabul raid on October 4th, 1945.
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS RESERVE
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 12 September 1943 to 3 January 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 17 October 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.
Gregory"Pappy" Boyington retired from the Marine Corps on August 1, 1947 at the rank of Colonel. Robert Conrad portrayed him in the 1970s TV show Baa Baa Black Sheep.
Colonel Boyington died of cancer at the age of 75 on 11 January, 1988 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Resources for Marines
Black Sheep One: The Life of Gregory "Pappy" Boyington
Once They Were Eagles: The Men of the Black Sheep Squadron
WAR STORIES WITH OLIVER NORTH: THE BLACK SHEEP SQUADRON