Greg Pappy Boyington

The following is about the life of Greg Pappy Boyington, World War II ace and leader of the infamous Black Sheep Squadron.

One of the most famous of "Ace" Marine fighter pilots during World War II was Greg "Pappy" Boyington. With a "Bad Boy" reputation and an uncanny knack of being able to get into trouble but an extraordinary skill as a fighter pilot he would end his career as the highest scoring ace in the United States Marine Corps.

Born in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho on December 4, 1912 but growing up on an apple farm in Okanagan, Washington, Boyington joined the military during the height of the Great Depression. He earned his pilot's wings in 1935 and was a Marine Corps instructor pilot in 1941. He was also divorced, a father of three children and close to being kicked out of the service with a dishonorable discharge.

Luckily for Boyington, fate in the form of Claire Chennault stepped in. Chenault was an ex-army fighter who was putting together a secret group of men (all with the approval of the U.S. Government) to help the Chinese in their long-term war with Japan.

Chennault's group would become the American Volunteer Group (AVG) and Boyington as well as many other American pilots would make a name for themselves flying the Curtiss P-40 Warhawks that would become famous as the "Flying Tigers." The AVGs would fly numerous missions against the Japanese from their bases in Burma and southern China for about one year. In fact, they would continue with their "volunteer" work seven months after the attack at Pearl Harbor. Boyington would end his AVG career by downing six Japanese planes.

The AVGs would eventually become part of the U.S. Army Air Force but Boyington chose to return to the Marine Corps. It was a tough fight for Boyington to get reinstated as a Marine Corps officer but in January 1943 he succeeded. In May of that year he was sent to Guadalcanal to be a member of Fighter Squadron VMF-222 but his proclivity for fistfights and drinking would have him eventually sent to New Zealand to "recuperate."

After his four-month stay in New Zealand, Boyington was sent to the Solomon Islands and the base at Espiritu Santo. It was here that he became a legendary fighter pilot and squadron leader.

Having received no squadron assignment of his own, Boyington worked to build one himself. Adopting the unused Marine designation of VMF-214 he assembled a group of men that would be forever known as "The Black Sheep Squadron."

The Black Sheep were a mixture of other unassigned pilots and a group of "misfits" that were close to being discharged for disciplinary actions. It was from this group Boyington received his nickname of "Pappy" since he was ten years or more older than any of the other Black Sheep.

Over the next three months the Black Sheep Squadron would become famous for having downed 94 Japanese aircraft while also destroying over one hundred more upon the ground. Of these 94 Japanese "kills" Boyington would have nineteen himself. Five of these would even be done in one day.



On January 3, 1944 fate would again step in as Boyington and the Black Sheep began a mission to hit a Japanese base on the Island of New Britain. The Squadron ran into a large number of Japanese fighters and even though Boyington was able to shoot down three of them himself, an enemy Ace would soon be on his tail. This Japanese Ace was Masajiro Kawato who had victories to his own name and by the end of the day would become famous for shooting down one of the American's top Aces, Greg Boyington.

After the squadron's air battle, no one could say whether Boyington had survived but an intense search hadn't turned up any sign up him. Assumed dead but listed as missing in action, he was "posthumously" awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.

Unknown to the military, Boyington had actually survived the crash and been picked up by a Japanese submarine that took him to New Britain. For the next twenty months the Japanese in Ofuna, Japan would hold Boyington as a prisoner of war but not as a regular prisoner.

As a "special" prisoner, no mention of Boyington's captivity would reach the Red Cross or his family. Boyington and the rest of this category of prisoners would suffer endless beatings, torture, interrogations and starvation. Within a few months Boyington had lost ninety pounds but finally received a little luck.

He was eventually placed on KP duty where he was befriended by a Japanese grandmother who helped him to steal food and most probably saved his life. Surviving as he could, Boyington was eventually repatriated in 1945 AFTER the American occupation of Japan had begun.

As a war hero who seemed to be back from the dead, Boyington was promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel and the Marine Corps decided to cash in on his media popularity. They set up speaking tours for Boyington that coincided with their sell of bonds. On the last night of one of these tours though Boyington showed up drunk and belligerent.

Eventually he would be discharged as a full colonel in 1947 but his civilian life would not be a happy one for some time. Battling alcoholism for years, he would hold a number of different jobs until becoming a pilot for an airline in the mid 1950s. In 1957 his name would again be a household word as his autobiography, "Ba Baa Black Sheep" would be published.

He again became famous when NBC turned his autobiography into a made for TV movie starring Robert Conrad and then into a popular series with Boyington as a "consultant."

Living out his life in Fresno, California, Greg "Pappy" Boyington would die of cancer on January 11, 1988 and be buried at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

© High Speed Ventures 2011