Blog 01/03/2021 - Solomon Island Campaign

MHT Blog January 3, 2021 - Solomon Island Campaign – Air Campaign

“The U.S. Army Air Corps Loses Twice on “Pappy” Boyington”

MHT Salutes Colonel Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, U.S. Marine Corps Ace credited with the destruction of 28 Japanese aircraft, was awarded the Medal of Honor while in command of Marine Fighting Squadron 214 the "Black Sheep" in the Central Solomons Area from 12 September 1943 to 3 January 1944. He was shot down over Rabaul on 3 January and was captured by a Japanese submarine. He spent 20 months as a Japanese prisoner of war. After graduating University of Washington ROTC in 1934 as a Second Lieutenant in the Coast Artillery Reserve with the 630th Coast Artillery in Fort Worden, Washington. The Army wouldn't allow him to enter aviation due to being married so on 18 February 1936, he left the U.S. Army and accepted an appointment as an aviation cadet in the Marine Corps Reserve, and was assigned to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, FL, for flight training. He was designated a Naval Aviator on 11 March 1937, and was transferred to Quantico, VA for duty with Aircraft One, Fleet Marine Force where on 1 July 1937, he accepts a Second Lieutenant's commission in the regular Marine Corps the following day. After The Basic School, 2ndLt Boyington was transferred to the 2d Marine Aircraft Group at NAS San Diego Naval Air Station flying off the aircraft carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown. Promoted to First Lieutenant on 4 November 1940, he returned to Pensacola as an instructor.

First Lieutenant Boyington resigned his commission in the Marine Corps on 26 August 1941 to accept a position with the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company. CAMCO was a civilian organization formed for the protection of the Burma Road. The unit later became known as the American Volunteer Group, the famed "Flying Tigers" in China. During his months with the AVG flying Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks he shot down six Japanese planes to secure an appreciable lead over other American fighter pilots who didn't get into the fight until after 7 December 1941. He flew 300 combat hours before the AVG was disbanded in July 1942 and BGen Chennault informed that all the pilots were to be inducted as Lieutenants in the Army Air Corps, regardless of past affiliation. Pappy did not agree with that as he had a Major’s commission waiting with the Marine Corps as he said, "I was not about to sacrifice my gold wings for dead lead." So the Army missed out on him flying for them a second time! Below Pappy in China:

Upon returning to the United States, Major Boyington joined Marine Aircraft Group 11 of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and became Commanding Officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 214 after a short tour on Guadalcanal in April 1943, as Executive Officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 121. The new squadron was made up of a group of casuals, replacements, and green pilots and was dubbed the "Black Sheep" Squadron flying the new Vought F4U-1 Corsair. Pappy said his Black Sheep would shot down a Japanese aircraft for every ballcap sent to them by the World Series Teams and they did! The pilots wearing the ball caps & six Black Sheep Aces in front:

Nicknamed "Pappy" & "Gramps" because of his older age (31) compared to that of his new pilots, during his squadron's first tour of combat duty, he personally shot down 14 enemy fighter planes in 32 days. Typical of Maj Boyington's daring feats is his attack on Kahili Airdrome at the southern tip of Bougainville on 17 October 1943. He and 24 of his Black Sheep Corsairs circled the field relentlessly where 60 hostile Zero Fighters were stationed, goading the enemy into sending up a large numerically superior force. In the fierce dogfight that followed, 20 Japanese fighter planes were shot out of the sky. The Black Sheep roared back to their base without the loss of a single aircraft. On 17 December 1943, he headed the first Allied fighter sweep over the thought impregnable Rabaul. By 27 December his record was up to 25 kills. On 3 January 1944, 48 American planes, including one division (4 planes) from the Black Sheep Squadron took off from Bougainville for a fighter sweep over Rabaul. Maj Boyington was the tactical commander of the flight and arrived over Rabaul at 8AM. In the ensuing action he was seen shooting down his 26th plane tying the then-existing American record of World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker. He then became mixed in the general melee of diving, swooping, dogfighting planes and was not seen or heard from again. Following a determined search which proved futile, Boyington was declared missing in action (MIA.) 

While a prisoner of the Japanese, he was selected for promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was at Nisson Mills Camp #2 in the Tokyo area after the Japanese capitulation, he was liberated from Japanese custody at Omori Prison Camp on 29 August and arrived in the United States shortly afterwards. At the time of his release, it was confirmed that LtCol Boyington had accounted for downing two additional Japanese planes on 3 January before he himself was shot down. That set his total at 28 planes, which was the highest total for Marines. Shortly after his return, LtCol Boyington was ordered to Washington to receive the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, from President Harry S. Truman.

The medal had been awarded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in March 1944 and held in the Capital until such time his status was confirmed. On the previous day, he was presented the Navy Cross by the Commandant of the Marine Corps for the ace's heroic achievements during the raid in which he was declared MIA. LtCol Boyington retired from the Marine Corps on 1 August 1947 and due to his performance of duty in actual combat, was advanced to his final rank of Colonel. Colonel Boyington died of cancer on 11 January 1988 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Boyington's exploits were rekindled by Baa Baa Black Sheep (later syndicated as Black Sheep Squadron) a television series that aired on NBC from September 23, 1976, until April 6, 1978. It was part WWII military drama, part comedy. Its original premise was based on the experiences of U.S. Marine Corps aviator Greg Boyington and his "Black Sheep Squadron." The series starred Robert Conrad as "Pappy" and Boyington, who was a technical adviser for the series, commented that the show was "fiction based on reality."

A memorial for Boyington at his alma mater was voted down as Class Senator Jill Edwards questioned whether the University of Washington should memorialize a person who killed others, 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 eight UW alumni who received the Medal of Honor passed and was dedicated in 2009 including Boyington; Deming Bronson, 1LT, U.S. Army WWI; Bruce Crandall, LTC (Ret), U.S. Army Vietnam flew 22 helicopter trips into the Ia Drang Valley, Vietnam he was "Snake" (Greg Kinnear) in the movie “We Were Soldiers;” Robert E. Galer, BGen(Ret.), U.S. Marine Corp shot down 11 enemy aircraft during World War II and the Korean War; John D. “Bud” Hawk, SGT, U.S. Army WWII Normandy captured 500 German prisoners while WIA; Robert Leisy, 2LT, U.S. Army Vietnam while mortally wounded, he continued to directing his soldiers, refusing medical treatment until others were cared for; William K. Nakamura, PFC, U.S. Army WWII in Italy twice saved his platoon from German machine gunners before he was killed and Archie Van Winkle, Colonel (Ret), U.S. Marine Corps Korea at the Chosin Reservoir as a SSGT he saved his platoon from being overrun by Communist Chinese although WIA. Luckily, Jill didn't have to learn German & Japanese in Seattle thanks to these men.