COLONEL GREGORY BOYINGTON, USMCR
Colonel Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, Marine Corps Ace credited with the destruction of 28 Japanese aircraft, was awarded the Medal of Honor "for extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty" while in command of a Marine Fighting Squadron in the Central Solomons Area from 12 September 1943 to 3 January 1944. He was shot down over Rabaul on the latter date, and his capture by the Japanese was followed by 20 months as a prisoner of war.
World War II 1941-1945
Medal of Honor Recipient
Gregory Boyington was born in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on 4 December 1912. He graduated from Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington, and majored in aeronautical engineering at the University of Washington, graduating in 1934 with a Bachelor of Science degree. He was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. Always an athlete, he was a member of the college wrestling and swimming teams, and was a one-time holder of the Pacific Northwest Intercollegiate middle-weight wrestling title.
During his summer vacations he worked in mining camp and logging camps in his home state. One summer, he was employed by the Coeur d'Alene Fire Protective Association in road construction and lookout work.
The famed flyer started his military career while still attending college. As a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps for four years, he became a cadet captain. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery Reserve in June 1934 and served two months of active duty with the 630th Coast Artillery in Fort Worden, Washington. On 13 June 1935 he enlisted in the Volunteer Marine Corps Reserve. He went on active duty that date and returned to inactive duty on 16 July. In the meantime, he had become a draftsman and engineer for the Boeing Aircraft Company of Seattle.
It was on 18 February 1936 that he accepted an appointment as an aviation cadet in the Marine Corps Reserve, and was assigned to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, for flight training. Years before, he first flew when he was only eight years old, with Clyde Pangborn, who later flew the Pacific non-stop.
He was designated a Naval Aviator on 11 March 1937, and was transferred to Quantico, Virginia, for duty with Aircraft One, Fleet Marine Force. He was discharged from the Marine Corps Reserve on 1 July 1937 in order to accept a second lieutenant's commission in the regular Marine Corps the following day.
Detached to the Basic School, Philadelphia, in July 1938, 2dLt Boyington was transferred to the 2d Marine Aircraft Group at the San Diego Naval Air Station upon completion of his studies. With that unit he took part in fleet problems off the aircraft carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown. Promoted to first lieutenant on 4 November 1940, he returned to Pensacola as an instructor the next month.
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" of China. During his months with the "Tigers," he became a squadron commander and shot down six Japanese planes to secure an appreciable lead over other American aces who didn't get into the fight until after 7 December 1941. He flew 300 combat hours before the AVG disbanded.
He returned to the United States in July 1942 and accepted a commission as a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve on 29 September 1942. He reported to active duty at the Naval Air Station, San Diego, on 23 November 1942 and was assigned to Marine Aircraft Wing, Pacific. He was promoted to major (temporary warrant) the next day.
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 in the Solomons with another squadron. The new squadron was made up of a group of casuals, replacements, and green pilots and was dubbed the "Black Sheep" Squadron.
Before organizing the "Black Sheep," Maj Boyington participated in combat at Guadalcanal in April 1943, as Executive Officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 121, but had added no enemy planes to his score. However, during those two periods of intense activity in the Russell Islands-New Georgia and Bougainville-New Britain-New Ireland areas, and nicknamed "Pappy" because of his older age (31) compared to that of his men, added to his total almost daily. During his squadron's first tour of combat duty, Maj Boyington personally shot down 14 enemy fighter planes in 32 days. On 17 December 1943, he headed the first Allied fighter sweep over impregnable Rabaul. By 27 December his record was 25. He tied the then-existing American record of 26 planes on 3 January when he shot down another fighter over Rabaul.
Typical of Maj Boyington's daring feats is his attack on Kahili airdome at the southern tip of Bougainville on 17 October 1943. He and 24 fighters circled the field persistently where 60 hostile aircraft were grounded, goading the enemy into sending up a large numerically superior force. In the fierce battle that followed, 20 of the enemy planes were shot out of the skies. The Black Sheep roared back to their base without the loss of a single aircraft.
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 eight o'clock in the morning. In the ensuing action he was seen shoting down his 26th plane. He then became mixed in the general melee of diving, swooping planes and was not seen or heard from again. Following a determined search which proved futile, Maj Boyington was declared as missing in action. While a prisoner of the Japanese, he was selected for temporary promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
During mid-August 1945, following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent Japanese capitulation, he was liberated from Japanese custody at Omori Prison Camp in the Tokyo area on 29 August and arrived in the United States shortly afterwards.
On 6 September the top ace who had been a prisoner of the Japanese for the past 20 months accepted his temporary lieutenant colonel's commission in the Marine Corps.
At the time of his release, it was confirmed that LtCol Boyington had accounted for the downing of two 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 to his homeland, LtCol Boyington was ordered to Washington to receive the nation's highest 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 he was able to receive it. On 5 October 1945, "Nimitz Day," LtCol Boyington appeared at the White House with a number of other Marines and Naval Personnel and was decorated by President Harry S. Truman.
On the previous day, he was presented the Navy Cross by the Commandant of the Marine Corps for the ace's heroic achievements on the day he was declared missing in action.
Following the receipt of his Medal of Honor and Navy Cross, LtCol Boyington made a Victory Bond Tour. Originally ordered to the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, he was later directed to report to the Commanding General, Marine Air West Coast, Marine Corps Air Depot, Miramar, San Diego, California.
Lieutenant Colonel Boyington was retired from the Marine Corps on 1 August 1947 and, because he was specially commended for the performance of duty in actual combat, was advanced to his final rank of colonel.
Colonel Boyington died on 11 January 1988 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
In addition to the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross, Col Boyington held the American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, American Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.