Pappy Boyington

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Pappy Boyington
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.
Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (World War II photo)
Birth name Gregory Boyington
Nickname(s) "Pappy"
Born (1912-12-04)December 4, 1912
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Died January 11, 1988(1988-01-11) (aged 75)
Fresno, California
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Marine Corps
 Republic of China Air Force
Years of service 1934–1947
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Commands held VMA214-Blacksheep.svg VMF-214

Second Sino-Japanese War
World War II

Awards Medal of Honor
Navy Cross
Purple Heart Medal
Presidential Unit Citation (2)

Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (December 4, 1912 – January 11, 1988) was a highly decorated American combat pilot who was a United States Marine Corps fighter ace during World War II. He received both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.

Boyington was initially a P-40 Warhawk combat pilot with the legendary "Flying Tigers" (1st American Volunteer Group) in the Republic of China Air Force in Burma at the end of 1941 and part of 1942, during the military conflict between China and Japan, and the beginning of World War II.

In September 1942, he rejoined the Marine Corps (had been an aviator before the war). In early 1943, he deployed to the South Pacific and began flying combat missions as a Marine F4U Corsair fighter pilot. In September 1943, he took command of U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadron VMF-214 ("Black Sheep"). In January 1944, Boyington, outnumbered by Japanese "Zero" planes, was shot down into the Pacific Ocean after downing one of the enemy planes. He was captured by a Japanese submarine crew and was held as a prisoner of war for more than a year and a half. He was released shortly after the surrender of Japan, and a few days before the official surrender documents were signed.

The television series Baa Baa Black Sheep was inspired by Boyington and his men in the "Black Sheep" squadron. It ran for two seasons during the 1970's.

Early life[edit]

Gregory Boyington was born on December 4, 1912 in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.[1] Sometimes he is erroneously quoted as being born in 1906. 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 was a member of the ROTC and joined the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.[1] He was on the college wrestling and swimming teams, and for a time he held the Pacific Northwest Intercollegiate middleweight wrestling title. He spent his summers working in Washington in a mining camp and at a logging camp, and with the Coeur d'Alene Fire Protective Association in road construction.[1] He graduated in 1934 with a B.S. in aeronautical engineering.[1]

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

In 1935 he applied for flight training under the Aviation Cadet Act, but he discovered that it excluded married men.[citation needed] Boyington had grown up using the name Gregory Hallenbeck, after his stepfather.[citation needed] When he obtained a copy of his birth certificate, however, he learned that his father was actually Charles Boyington[citation needed] and that his parents had divorced when he was an infant. Since there was no record that someone named Gregory Boyington had ever been married, he enrolled as United States Marine Corps aviation cadet using that name.[citation needed]

Military career[edit]

Boyington had begun his military training as a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), at the University of Washington, where he became a cadet captain. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the US Army Coast Artillery Reserve in June 1934, and then served two months of active duty with the 630th Coast Artillery at Fort Worden, Washington.

U.S. Marine Corps

On June 13, 1935, he managed to transfer to the Marine Corps Reserve. He returned to inactive duty on July 16 that 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 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]

Boyington attended the Basic School in Philadelphia from July 1938 to January 1939. On completion of the course, he was assigned 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 November 4, 1940, Boyington returned to Pensacola as an instructor in December.[1]

Flying Tigers

(World War II)

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 firm that contracted to staff a Special Air Unit to defend China and the Burma Road. This later became known as the American Volunteer Group (AVG), the famed Flying Tigers in Burma. During his time with the Tigers, Boyington became a flight leader. He was frequently in trouble with the commander of the outfit, Claire Chennault. Boyington was officially credited with 2 Japanese aircraft destroyed in the air and 1.5 on the ground, but AVG records suggest that one additional ground "kill" may have been due to him. (He afterward claimed six victories as a Tiger, but there is no substantiation for that figure, and aircraft destroyed on the ground normally do not count as victories.) In April 1942, he broke his contract with the American Volunteer Group and returned on his own to the United States.

U.S. Marine Corps

(World War II, "Black Sheep Squadron")

On September 29, 1942, he rejoined the Marine Corps and managed to gain a major's commission.[1] The Marine Corps needed experienced combat pilots and in early 1943, he was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 11 of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and deployed to the South Pacific as Executive Officer of Marine Fighter Squadron 122 operating from Guadalcanal until April 1943. While assigned to VMF-122, Boyington did not gain any victories. He became commander of Marine Fighter Squadron 112 from July to August 1943. In September 1943, he became Commanding Officer (CO) of Marine Fighter Squadron 214, better known by its nickname, the "Black Sheep Squadron."[1]

Boyington received the nickname "Gramps", because at age 31, he was a decade older than most of the Marines serving under him. The name "Gramps" was changed to "Pappy" in a variation on "The Whiffenpoof Song" whose new lyrics had been written by Paul "Moon" Mullen, one of his pilots, and this version was picked up by war correspondents.[1]

Boyington is best known for his exploits in 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, he shot down 14 enemy fighter planes in 32 days. By December 27, his record had climbed to 25.[1]

A typical feat was his attack on Kahili airdrome at the southern tip of Bougainville on October 17, 1943. Boyington 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 more than that number of enemy aircraft.

On January 3, 1944, he tied World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker's record of 26 enemy planes destroyed, before he was himself shot down. On that mission, forty-eight American fighters, including four planes from the Black Sheep Squadron, were sent on a sweep over Rabaul. Boyington was tactical commander of the flight and arrived over the target at eight o'clock AM. He was seen to shoot down his 26th plane, but he then became mixed in the general melee of dogfighting planes and was not seen or heard from during the battle, nor did he return with his squadron. Boyington's wingman, Captain George Ashmun, was killed in action.[1] In later years, Masajiro "Mike" Kawato claimed to have been the pilot who shot down Boyington. He described the combat in two books and numerous public appearances (often with Boyington), but this claim was eventually "disproven," though Kawato repeated his story until his death. Kawato was present during the action in which Boyington was shot down, as one of 70 Japanese fighters which engaged about 30 American fighters.[2]


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 submarine was sunk 13 days after picking him up.) 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. After being held temporarily at Rabaul and then Truk, where he survived the massive U.S. Navy raid known as "Operation Hailstone", he was transported first to Ōfuna and finally to Ōmori Prison Camp near Tokyo. During that time he was selected for temporary promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel. A fellow American prisoner of war was Medal of Honor recipient submarine captain Richard O'Kane.[1] At Ōfuna Boyington was interned with the former Olympic distance runner and downed aviator Louis Zamperini.[3]

On August 29, 1945, after the atomic bombs and the Japanese capitulation, Boyington was liberated from Japanese custody at Omori Prison Camp. Boyington returned to the United States at Naval Air Station Alameda on September 12, 1945, 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 shown people consuming alcohol.[4] Prior to his arrival, on September 6, he accepted his temporary lieutenant colonel's commission in the Marine Corps.[1]

Post World War II
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 colonel.[1]

Later life[edit]

Boyington was a tough, hard-living character known for being unorthodox. He was also a heavy drinker, which plagued him in the years after the war, and possibly contributed to his multiple divorces. He freely admitted that during the two years he spent as a P.O.W. his health improved, due to the enforced sobriety. He worked various civilian jobs, including refereeing and participating in professional wrestling matches.[1]

TV series[edit]

Many people know him from the mid-1970s television show Baa Baa Black Sheep, a drama about the Black Sheep squadron based very loosely on Boyington's memoir, with Boyington portrayed by Robert Conrad. Like Chuck Yeager in the movie The Right Stuff (1983), Pappy had a short walk-on role, as a visiting general for two episodes in the first season ("The Deadliest Enemy of All: Part 2" and "The Fastest Gun") and one episode in the second season ("Ten'll Get You Five") of the show. Many of Boyington's men were irate over the show, charging it was mostly fiction and presented a glamorized portrayal of Boyington. On the television show, Boyington was depicted as owning a bull terrier dog, named "Meatball". However, he was heard commenting at a 1970s Experimental Aircraft Association air show book signing that if he did have a dog at the time, it wouldn't have been such "an ugly" dog. Boyington frequently told interviewers and audiences that the television series was fiction and only slightly related to fact, calling it "hogwash and Hollywood hokum".[5]


Boyington wrote his autobiography, Baa Baa Black Sheep, in 1958.[6] He also 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][7]


While paintings and publicity photographs often show Boyington with aircraft number 86 "LuluBelle" covered in victory flags, he had not flown this in combat. In fact, he rarely flew the same aircraft more than a few times. Reportedly, he would choose the F4U in the worst shape, so that none of his pilots would be afraid to fly their own aircraft.[1]

A 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. It was taken while VMF-214 was on R&R, between VMF-214s first and second combat tours with Boyington as the commanding officer. Though Boyington claimed after the war that the name of the plane was "LuluBelle", according to Bruce Gamble's analysis, it was most likely called "LucyBelle". VMF-214 had previously served two combat tours in the Solomon Islands before Boyington assumed command of the squadron.[1]

Museum Corsair[edit]

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 occasion, 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]

TV appearance[edit]

In 1943, he appeared for an interview for NBC News.[citation needed] On December 18, 1955, he appeared as a guest contestant on the television panel show To Tell The Truth. Kitty Carlisle knew that contestant #2 was Boyington after he responded that he had met Dr. Soong. Dr. Soong was also known as Madam Chang, the wife of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of China.[citation needed]


Boyington had three children by his first wife. One daughter (Janet Boyington) committed suicide;[8] one son (Gregory Boyington, Jr.) graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1960 and later retired from the Air Force, holding the rank of lieutenant colonel.[9]


A heavy smoker for years, Boyington died in his sleep, possibly from cancer complications, on January 11, 1988 at the age of 75 in Fresno, California.[10]

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.[11] Before his flight from Fresno, VMA-214 (the current incarnation of the Black Sheep Squadron) did a flyby. They intended to perform a missing man formation, but one of the four aircraft suffered a mechanical problem.[citation needed]

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

Military decorations and awards[edit]

Boyington's military awards include:

Naval Aviator Badge.jpg
A light blue ribbon with five white five pointed stars
Bronze star
Bronze star
Silver star
Naval Aviator insignia
1st row Medal of Honor Navy Cross Purple Heart Medal
2nd row Presidential Unit Citation w/ bronze service star Prisoner of War Medal American Defense Service Medal w/ bronze service star
3rd row American Campaign Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ silver campaign star World War II Victory Medal

Medal of Honor[edit]

Boyington's Medal of Honor citation reads:

"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


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.



Personal honors[edit]

Boyington's personal honors include:

Airport renaming

In August 2007, the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho airport was renamed the "Coeur d’Alene Airport–Pappy Boyington Field" in his honor.[13] 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.[14] 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 World War II was raised and defeated at the University of Washington[15] (Boyington's alma mater) during a meeting of the Associated Students of the University of Washington's Student Senate.[16] Some people did not believe the resolution's sponsor had fully addressed the financial and logistical problems of installing a memorial, and some were questioning the widely held assumption that all warriors and acts of war are automatically worthy of memorialization. The story was picked up by some blogs and conservative news outlets, focusing on two statements made by student senators during the meeting.[17] One student senator, Ashley Miller, said that the UW already had many monuments to "rich, white men" (Boyington was of Sioux ancestry and not rich); another, Jill Edwards, questioned whether the UW should memorialize a person who killed others, 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."[18]

After its defeat, 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.[19] 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.[20] In addition to Boyington, it honors Deming Bronson, Bruce Crandall, John D. Hawk, Robert Leisy, William Kenzo Nakamura, and Archie Van Winkle.[21]

Naval Aviation Hall of Honor

Boyington was inducted into the Naval Aviation Hall of Honor at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, in 1994.

See also[edit]


 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 "Colonel Gregory Boyington, USMCR". Who's Who in Marine Corps History. History Division, United States Marine Corps. Archived from the original on 2013-06-17. Retrieved 2007-10-21. 
  2. ^ "Kawato Masajiro: The man who didn't shoot down Pappy Boyington", The Warbird's Forum. (retrieved April 11, 2006)
  3. ^ As recounted by Boyington in his book Baa baa, black sheep.
  4. ^ Reed, Lost Black Sheep, p.86-7.
  5. ^ Bates, Tom (December 1986). "Black Sheep of the South Pacific". SOF's Action Series II (6: Valor) (Omega Group, Ltd.). pp. 56–57. 
  6. ^ Boyington, Gregory "Pappy" (1958). Baa Baa BlackSheep. Wilson Press. ISBN 978-0686111092. 
  7. ^ Boyington, Colonel Gregory (1960). Tonya: A Novel (First ed.). The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. ASIN B00225DQ20. 
  8. ^ Gamble, Bruce. Black Sheep One: The Life of Gregory "Pappy" Boyington. p. 423. 
  9. ^ "Marine Ace ‘Pappy’ Boyington, North Idaho native, dies at 75". The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA: Cowles Publishing Company). 1988-01-12. p. 5. Retrieved 2014-02-26. 
  10. ^ Folkart, Burt A. (12 Jan 1988). "Flying Ace Pappy Boyington, Who Shot Down 28 Zeros, Dies at 75". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  11. ^ "Boyington, Pappy Gregory". 
  12. ^ "Medal of Honor recipients". World War II (A–F). United States Army Center of Military History. June 8, 2009. Retrieved June 8, 2009. 
  13. ^ Curless, Erica (August 8, 2007). "Coeur d'Alene Airport gets new name". The Spokesman Review. Retrieved 2007-08-09. 
  14. ^ Nicholas K. Geranios (2008-02-09). "Film tracks effort to honor 'Black Sheep' figure". Associated Press/USA Today. 
  15. ^ "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)
  16. ^ Boyington memorial — A word from the Senate, The Daily, February 17, 2006. (retrieved February 24, 2006)
  17. ^ Flickinger, Christopher. "Marines Not Welcome at University of Washington", Human Events ", February 20, 2006.
  18. ^ UW Senate minutes
  19. ^ "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.
  20. ^ "Honoring the men behind the Medals of Honor with ceremony, exhibit ", University of Washington News, 10 November 2009.
  21. ^ "New University of Washington memorial honors alumni who hold the Congressional Medal of Honor ", University of Washington News, 10 November 2009.

Further reading[edit]

  • Boyington, Gregory (1990) [1958]. Baa baa, black sheep. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-26350-1. OCLC 2124961. 
  • Ford, Daniel (2007). Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941-1942 (Updated and rev. ed.). New York: Smithsonian Books/Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-124655-5. OCLC 76481585. 
  • Gamble, Bruce (2000). Black Sheep One, The Life of Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (Hardcover ed.). California: Presidio Press. ISBN 0-89141-716-8. 
  • Gamble, Bruce (2000). Black Sheep One, The Life of Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (Paperback ed.). California: Presidio Press. ISBN 0-89141-801-6. 
  • 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 0-89141-644-7. 
  • 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 0-89141-825-3. 
  • 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[edit]