Colonel Gregory “Pappy” Boyington was a World War II Marine Corps pilot whose daring exploits and unmatched skill in the skies earned him the highest honors of valor, the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. Boyington’s courage and leadership during the Pacific Campaign showcased the resilience and determination that defined the Greatest Generation.
His journey into military aviation began at the University of Washington, where he enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Graduating as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in 1934, Boyington’s early career included various assignments, but it was in the Pacific theater that he would make his mark.
Boyington is perhaps best known for his command of the “Black Sheep Squadron” (VMF-214), a unit of Marine fighter pilots renowned for their tenacity and combat prowess. Flying the Vought F4U Corsair, Boyington and his squadron engaged in some of the most intense aerial battles of the war against the Japanese forces.
Boyington’s extraordinary heroism and leadership during the Battle of Vella Gulf in 1943 led to the first of his two Navy Cross awards. However, it was during a subsequent mission over the Pacific that he solidified his place in history. On January 3, 1944, Boyington’s squadron engaged a large formation of Japanese aircraft over the Pacific. In the ensuing dogfight, Boyington downed several enemy planes but was eventually shot down himself.
Surviving the crash, he spent 20 months as a prisoner of war in Japanese captivity. Boyington’s resilience and refusal to be broken by his captors only added to the legend surrounding him. His actions during this period contributed significantly to his later award of the Medal of Honor.
The Medal of Honor was awarded to Boyington for his extraordinary heroism and indomitable spirit during his captivity. His citation reads, in part, “His great personal valor and indomitable spirit in the face of almost certain death reflect the highest credit upon Colonel Boyington and the United States Naval Service.”
After the war, Boyington faced personal challenges, including struggles with alcoholism, but he eventually overcame them. He continued to serve in various capacities, and his autobiography, “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” published in 1958, brought his wartime experiences to a wider audience.
Colonel Gregory “Pappy” Boyington passed away on January 11, 1988, leaving behind a legacy of courage, leadership, and unwavering dedication to duty. His contributions to the Marine Corps and the Allied victory in the Pacific remain an enduring symbol of the sacrifices made by those who served during World War II.