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First Name: Gregory

Last Name: Boyington

Birthplace: Coeur d'Alene, ID, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Home of Record: WA

Date of Birth: 04 December 1912

Date of Death: 11 January 1988

Rank: Colonel

Years Served: 1934-1947
Gregory Boyington

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Gregory 'Pappy' Boyington
Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps
Medal of Honor Recipient
World War II

Colonel Gregory 'Pappy' Boyington (4 December 1912 - 11 January 1988) was a U.S. Marine Corps officer and pilot who was a fighter ace during World War II. For his heroic actions, he was awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. Boyington initially flew with the American Volunteer Group in the Republic of China Air Force during the Second Sino-Japanese War. He later commanded the famous U.S. Marine Corps squadron, VMF-214, "The Black Sheep Squadron," during World War II. Boyington became a prisoner of war later in the war.

Gregory Boyington was born on 4 December 1912 in Coeur d'Alene, ID. He grew up in the logging town of St. Maries, ID, and in Tacoma, WA, where he was a wrestler at Lincoln High School. When he was six years old, he took his first flight with Clyde Pangborn who later flew the Pacific non-stop.

In 1930, Boyington entered the University of Washington, where he joined the ROTC and became a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. He was a member of the college wrestling and swimming teams, and at one time held the Pacific Northwest Intercollegiate middleweight wrestling title. Boyington graduated in 1934 with a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering.

Boyington spent his summers working in his home state in a mining camp and logging camp and with the Coeur d'Alene Fire Protective Association in road construction and lookout work. He married shortly after his graduation and worked for Boeing as a draftsman and engineer.

He had grown up using the name Hallenbeck, after his stepfather. But when he decided to apply for flight training, he obtained his birth certificate and learned his father was actually named Charles Boyington, and his parents had divorced when he was an infant. Since there was no record that Gregory Boyington had ever been married, he was free to become a cadet pilot under that name in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Military Career

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, WA. 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 of the same year.

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, FL, for flight training. He was designated a naval aviator on 11 March 1937and transferred to Quantico, VA, 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 USSĀ Lexington and USSĀ 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 returned to the U.S., where he was eventually reinstated in the Marine Corps. Boyington was able to negotiate a Major's commission in the Marines due to a 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 because the commanding officer of a unit is often referred to as "the old man".) It became "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.

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. By 27 December, his record had climbed to 25.

A typical daring feat was his attack on Kahili airdrome 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.) Boyington's wingman Captain George Ashmun was KIA.

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.) 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 Ofuna and finally to Omori. 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.

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. Boyington returned to the U.S. at Naval Air Station Alameda on 12 September 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 showed people consuming alcohol. Prior to his arrival, on 6 September, he accepted his temporary Lieutenant Colonel's commission in the Marine Corps.

Shortly after his return to the U.S. as a Lieutenant Colonel, Boyington was ordered to Washington to receive the Nation's highest award for valor, 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 Boyington 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.

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Marine Squadron 214.

Place and date: Central Solomons area, from 12 September 1943 to 3 January 1944.

Citation: For extraordinary heroism and valiant devotion to duty as commanding officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 214 in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Central Solomon's area from 12 September 1943 to 3 January 1944. Consistently outnumbered throughout successive hazardous flights over heavily defended hostile territory, Maj. 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, Maj. Boyington led a formation of 24 fighters over Kahili on 17 October and, persistently circling the airdrome where 60 hostile aircraft were grounded, boldly challenged the Japanese to send up planes. Under his brilliant command, our fighters shot down 20 enemy craft in the ensuing action without the loss of a single ship. A superb airman and determined fighter against overwhelming odds, Maj. 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.

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, CA. He retired from the Marine Corps on 1 August 1947, and because he was specially commended for the performance of duty in actual combat, he was promoted to full Colonel.

Post-Military Life

Boyington was a tough, hard-living character who was 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.

Many people know of him from the 1970s television show Baa Baa Black Sheep (also known as Black Sheep Squadron), a drama about the Black Sheep squadron based very loosely on Boyington's memoir of the same name, with Boyington portrayed by Robert Conrad. Like Chuck Yeager in the movie The Right Stuff, Pappy had a short walk-on role, as a visiting general during the second season of the show. Many of Boyington's men were very irate over this show, charging it was mostly fiction and presented an overly glamorized portrait of Boyington. At least on the television show, Boyington was depicted as owning a bull terrier dog, named "Meatball." However, he was heard commenting at a 1970s EAA Airshow book signing that if he did have a dog at the time, it wouldn't have been such "an ugly" dog. Boyington frequently informed interviewers and audiences that the television series was fiction, and only loosely related to actual history, calling it "hogwash and Hollywood hokum."

In addition to his autobiography, Boyington wrote a novel about the AVG. Tonya is a spy story with characters that evoked actual individuals, sometimes by transposing the syllables of their names ("Ross Dicky" for Dick Rossi, for example).

While artist depictions and publicity photos often show Boyington with aircraft number 86 "LuluBelle" covered in victory flags, this was not his combat aircraft. In fact, he rarely flew the same aircraft more than a few times. It has been said that he would choose the F4U in the worst shape, so none of his pilots would be afraid of flying their own aircraft.

The 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. The photo was taken while VMF-214 was on R&R, between VMF-214s 1st and 2nd combat tours with Boyington as the Commanding Officer. Although Boyington claimed after the war that the name of the plane in the publicity photo was named "LuluBelle" in light of Bruce Gamble's analysis, it was most likely named "LucyBelle." VMF-214 had previously served two combat tours in the Solomon Islands before Boyington assumed command of the squadron.

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 incident, 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.

In 1957, he appeared as a guest challenger on the TV panel show "To Tell The Truth."

Boyington was an absentee father to three children by his first wife. One daughter (Janet Boyington) committed suicide; one son (Gregory Boyington, Jr.) graduated from the U.S Air Force Academy in 1960 and later retired from the Air Force holding the rank (of) Lieutenant Colonel.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Navy Cross
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ 2 Service Stars
World War II Victory Medal

Naval Aviator Insignia


Airport Renaming

In August 2007, the Coeur d'Alene, ID, airport was re-named the "Coeur d'Alene Airport-Pappy Boyington Field" in his honor. 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. 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 (Boyington's alma mater) during a meeting of the Associated Students of the University of Washington's Student Senate. 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 being memorialized. The story was picked up by some blogs and conservative news outlets, focusing on two statements made by student senators during the meeting. 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."

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. On 4 April 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. In addition to Boyington, it honors Deming Bronson, Bruce Crandall, John D. Hawk, Robert Leisy, William Kenzo Nakamura, and Archie Van Winkle.

Death and Burial

A heavy smoker for years, Colonel Gregory 'Pappy' Boyington died of cancer on 11 January 1988 at the age of 75 in Fresno, CA.

He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on 15 January 1988, in Section 7A, Grave 150 with the full honors accorded to a Medal of Honor recipient, including a missing-man formation flyby conducted by the F-4 Phantom IIs of the Marine detachment at Andrews Air Force Base. Before his flight from Fresno, CA, VMA-214 (the current incarnation of the Black Sheep Squadron) did a flyby. They intended to do a missing man formation, but one of the four aircraft suffered a mechanical problem.

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

Honoree ID: 1304   Created by: MHOH




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