Gregory Pappy Boyington was born on December 4th, 1912. Boyington was initially a US Marine Corps aviator with the Pacific fleet before being recruited by the legendary "Flying Tigers" (1st American Volunteer Group) in the Republic of China Air Force in Burma during the beginning of the United States involvement in World War II.
In September 1942, Boyington rejoined the Marine Corps, and in early 1943, he deployed to the South Pacific and began flying combat missions as a Marine F4U Corsair fighter pilot. In September 1943, Boyington took command of Marine fighter squadron VMF-214 ("Black Sheep”), and soon received the nickname "Gramps", due to his extreme old age of 31, and was a decade older than most of the Marines serving under him. The name "Gramps" was eventually changed to “Pappy”, and remained so for the remainder fo the war.
Already having achieved the status of Fighter Ace with the Tigers...During periods of intense activity in the Russell Islands, Boyington added to his total almost daily. During his squadron's first tour of combat duty, he shot down 14 enemy fighter planes in 32 days. By December 27, his record had climbed to 25. On January 3, 1944, Pappy tied World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker's record of 26 enemy planes destroyed. 28 if you include his six kills he claimed with the Flying Tigers.
On that 3rd of January mission, forty-eight American fighters, including four aircraft from the Black Sheep Squadron, were sent on a sweep over Rabaul. Boyington was tactical commander of the flight and arrived over the target at 0800. Squadron members watched as Pappy was seen to shoot down his 26th plane, but moments afterwards, he became engaged in a furball with multiple enemy aircraft. That was the last time Pappys plane was seen during the mission..., nor did he return with his squadron.
Following a search by American forces, Boyington was declared missing in action (MIA). Pappy had been picked up by a Japanese submarine where he became a POW for the remainder of the war. After being held temporarily at Rabaul and then Truk, Pappy was then transported first to Ōfuna and finally to Ōmori Prison Camp near Tokyo. At Ōfuna, Boyington was interned with the former Olympic distance runner and fellow downed aviator lieutenant Louis Zamperini.
After the War, Boyington returned stateside where Boyington was ordered to Washington to receive the nation's highest honor — 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 he could receive it. On October 4, 1945, Boyington received the Navy Cross from the Commandant of the Marine Corps for the Rabaul raid. On October 5, "Nimitz Day," he and some other sailors and Marines who were also awarded the Medal of Honor, were presented their medals at the White House by President Harry S. Truman.
Boyington flew West on January 11, 1988, at the age of 75. Boyington was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on January 15 in plot 7A-150 with full military honors accorded to a Medal of Honor recipient. During the aerial ceremony, silence was broken as four F-4 Phantom IIs of VMFA-321 "Hells Angels" of the Marine Air Reserve Training Detachment (MARTD) flew overhead in the missing man formation.
After the burial service for Boyington, one of his friends, Fred Losch, looked down at the headstone next to which he was standing, that of boxing legend Joe Louis, and remarked that "Ol' Pappy wouldn't have to go far to find a good fight.”
There is a famous story that still circulates about Pappy and his Black Sheep...
During the Second World War, St. Louis Cardinals manager Billy Southworth received a unique handwritten request.
It seems that a commander of a Marine fighter squadron in the Pacific made an offer to Southworth that he could not refuse. If the St Louis Cardinals sent baseball caps to his squadron based in the South Pacific, he and his pilots would guarantee to shoot down one Japanese fighter for each cap received.
Southworth agreed, and sent a box of 20 caps to the island of Vella Lavella. By early 1944, Southworth learned that the Marine Squadron had splashed 48 Zeros, and that number was still climbing. The Cardinals manager later discovered that the Commander that made the request, was none other than Maj. Gregory "Pappy" Boyington and the squadron was no less than the famed VMF-214 "Black Sheep Squadron."