Aug 31, 2014

Heroes: Gregory "Pappy" Boyington

Gregory "Pappy" Boyington was born on December 4, 1912 in Coeur d'Arlene, Idaho, growing up in the logging town of St. Maries, Idaho and in Tacoma, Washington. He joined ROTC while attending the University of Washington and later worked for Boeing as a draftsman and engineer. In 1935, transferred to the Marine Corps Reserve and accepted an appointment as an aviation cadet. He signed up using his biological father's name of Gregory Boyington, his mother being Sioux. He was then assigned to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida. He was the first Native American to become a fighter pilot.
In 1941, he resigned his commission in the Marine Corps to accept a position with CAMCO, a civilian organization that contracted staff for the Special Air Unit to defend China and the Burma Road. The unit was called American Volunteer Group, but became known as the Flying Tigers in Burma. Boyington was officially credited with 3.5 Japanese aircraft destroyed in the air and ground, with AVG records indicating it was actually 4.5 Japanese aircraft destroyed. In April of 1942, he broke his contract with AVG and returned to the United States.
In September of 1942, he rejoined the Marine Corps and received a commission as major, the Marine Corps needing experienced combat pilots. He was assigned as the Executive Officer of the Marine Fighter Squadron 122 in Guadalcanal until April of 1943; when he became the commander of the Marine Fighter Squadron 112 and in September of 1943, Commanding Officer of Marine Fighter Squadron 214, which became famously known as the Black Sheep Squadron.
Because he was 31 years old at the time, Boyington got the nickname “Gramps”, ten years older than the Marines that served under him. Gramps was later changed to “Pappy”.
Boyington was best known for flying the Vought F4U Corsair and during his squadron's first tour of duty, the major shot down 14 enemy fighter planes in 32 days. By December 27, 1943, he shot down 25.
One daring feat that gave the squadron notoriety, was the attack on Kahili airdrome on October 17, 1943. Boyington and 24 fighters circled the field where 60 Japanese aircraft were based, goading them to send aircraft in the air in a dog fight. Twenty enemy aircraft were shot down and the Black Sheep returned to base without any loss.
In January of 1944, Boyington tied the American record of 26 enemy planes destroyed. On the same day, he was shot down. After a long search, Boyington was declared missing in action. Later it was found he was picked up by a Japanese submarine and became a prisoner of war. The submarine was sunk 13 days later. Boyington spend the rest of the war, 20 months, in Japanese prison camps. During that time he was temporarily promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. One of his fellow American prisoners of war was a Medal of Honor recipient, submarine captain, Richard O'Kane.
In August of 1945, Boyington was liberated from Japanese custody and returned to the United States in September 1945. There he met 21 of his former squadron members and held a part at the St. Francis Hotel that was covered by Life Magazine. \
The Medal of Honor was awarded by the late Franklin D. Roosevelt in March of 1944, but held in Washington DC until Boyington could officially receive it. On October 4, 1945, Boyington received the Navy Cross from the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the next day received the Medal of Honor presented by President Harry S. Truman.
Boyington then made a Victory Bond Tour. He retired from the Marine Corps in August of 1947, promoted to colonel after his commendation. He wrote his autobiography, Baa Baa Black Sheep in 1958 that would later be instrumental in the television show airing in the 1970s. He also wrote a novel about the AVG entitled Tonya.
Boyington died in his sleep on January 11, 1988 at age 75 in Fresno, California; buried in the Arlington National Cemetery. After the burial service for Boyington, one of his friends, Fred Losch, looked down at the headstone next to which he was standing and saw it was the boxing legend, Joe Louis, and remarked:
Ol' Pappy wouldn't have to go far to find a good fight.

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