Colorful Ace of the Pacific
|Gregory "Pappy" Boyington.|
Gregory Boyington was born in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on 4 December 1912. He took his first flight at an extremely young age for the era, six years old, when he went up with Clyde Pangborn. He later attended the University of Washington in Seattle, where he was in the ROTC. His love of aviation kindled by that early flight, Boyington graduated in 1934 with a degree in aeronautical engineering. He soon found an office job at local employer Boeing and got married.
Using an unusual workaround - he found out that his real father was not his supposed dad and thus assumed his real father's last name - Boyington evaded restrictions against married men being trained to fly under the Aviation Cadet Act. He eventually wound up as a 2nd Lt. in the Marine Corps and became an instructor at Pensacola.
Pappy did not particularly enjoy teaching, and when an opportunity arose to join the Flying Tigers in China, he leaped at it and resigned his commission. Technically, he became a civilian employee of a front company called the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO), but in reality, he was a fighter pilot for the American Volunteer Group (AVG) in a full-blown shooting war (while the rest of the US was at peace).
Soon a flight leader, Boyington began showing a rebellious streak that never left him, clashing with his superior Claire Chennault. He claimed six victories over the Japanese during his year and a half with CAMCO, finally leaving in April 1942, though records from the time credit him with two air kills and around two on the ground (various records differ, officially he is granted six victories with the AVG).
It was 1942, the United States finally was in a hot war and needed every pilot available, and Pappy Boyington - perhaps the most experienced fighter pilots in the US - spent the summer parking cars for a living. It was an incongruous situation that finally resolved itself after his application to rejoin the Marine Corps was granted on 29 September 1942. Not only was his application granted, but he was promoted to Major. He took command as Executive Officer of Marine Fighter Squadron 122 on Guadalcanal in early 1943, just as the Japanese were leaving the island. However, experienced Japanese forces remained based just to the north, and constant battles erupted over the "Slot," the narrow north-south shipping passage north of Guadalcanal that is formed by the Solomon Islands. Later that year, Boyington became CO of Marine Fighter Squadron 214, the one that became immortalized due to his leadership as the "Black Sheep Squadron."
|Vella Lavella airstrip, home of Pappy's squadron, used 1943/1944 and thereafter abandoned to the sun and the wind.|
|Chance-Vought F4U-1 of the famous VMF-214 Blacksheep squadron.|
|Pappy Boyington with his squadron in 1944.|
|Pappy Boyington greeted by Harold Stassen upon his release from prison camp.|
|President Truman awards Pappy Boyington with the Medal of Honor.|
"You came here to be entertained by some sideshow freak, I know. You want to hear about the time when my foot was bleeding so badly that I had to roll my Corsair onto its back to make my blood last longer. How I continued shooting down Japs upside-down against overwhelming odds. Yes, you'd love to have me dramatize the race between running out of ammunition and running out of life's blood.
But I know the only reason I should be here tonight. And I would like to inform you of the only reason you should be here.
It is not to pay homage to a so-called war hero, because he would have been helpless without the financial assistance of slobs like you. So, in closing, I'm going to remind all of you slobs to continue to invest in War Bonds.
Thank You."The speech, while honest, truthful and even a bit clever to dispassionate modern eyes, was a fiasco for the conservative event and times. It forced Pappy to come to terms with his drinking problem and ultimately solve it. Boyington turned to various other occupations over the years, including refereeing professional wrestling.
|Simon Oakland, Robert Conrad and Dana Elcar on the "Black Sheep" set. I can't be the only one who noticed the remarkable resemblance between Simon Oakland and the real Pappy Boyington.|
|Dee Tatum, right, with Lyle Talbot in Robert Lippert's "Mask of the Dragon" (1951). Purely coincidentally, Talbot in this role bore an uncanny resemblance to Pappy Boyington, who Tatum apparently did not meet until years later.|
The thing about Pappy Boyington is that not only was he a war hero, but we can learn something important from his life. He was not some mythical figure, but a real person with faults and vulnerabilities. A man with minimal writing skills, he managed to complete both his autobiography and a novel that are absolutely readable and indeed distinguished by their sincerity and obvious personal embarrassment at his own foibles. By opening up, he damaged his personal reputation, as now everyone wrongfully qualifies his life achievements as being overshadowed by personal problems when that is the case with virtually everyone - none of us is perfect.
|My ancient, dog-eared copy of Pappy's autobiography, released in paperback while his television series was running. It's a great read.|