The morning Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington went missing in action, he was leading the “Black Sheep” of Marine Fighter Squadron 214 on a fighter sweep over Rabaul, near Papua New Guinea, crossing 200 miles of enemy waters and territory. A few hazy cloudbanks hung around, similar to most missions.
As they broke through the clouds to attack the Japanese, they were ambushed from above before the rest of their squadron could join the battle.
Pappy’s wingman, Capt. George Ashum, was hit and was being chased down. Pappy did everything he could to get the Japanese to back off and by so doing put his own aircraft in danger.
Ashum’s plane burst into flames and a moment later crashed into the sea.
Pappy’s situation wasn’t much better as he was forced to land in the water.
Wounded, Pappy stayed in the water until dark when he was picked up by a Japanese submarine. The Japanese held Pappy prisoner for 20 months.
While a prisoner of war, Pappy was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions between September 1943, and January 1944.
The medal citation reads that Pappy was consistently outnumbered throughout successive hazardous flights over heavily defended hostile territory. He struck at the enemy with daring and courageous persistence, leading his squadron into combat with devastating results to Japanese shipping, shore installations and aerial forces.
Resolute in his efforts to inflict crippling damage on the enemy, Pappy led a formation of twenty-four fighters against the Japanese on Oct. 17, 1943, and boldly challenged them to send up planes. Under his command, American fighters shot down 20 enemy craft without the loss of a single plane.
The Medal of Honor and Navy Cross were his first combat decorations
Pappy Boyington has 26 confirmed kills and is tied for the top Marine Corps Ace pilot with Capt. Joseph Foss who also received the Medal of Honor for his actions in World War II.
Pappy is a Marine legend and an American hero.
Pappy was born in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Dec. 4, 1912. He wrestled and swam in college and worked in mining and logging camps during summer. He had experience working in road construction and was a draftsman and engineer for Boeing Aircraft Company before joining the Marine Corps.
He started his flying career while still in college. He became a cadet captain of the Reserve Officers Training corps and received his commission as a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery Reserve June 1934. A year later, he enlisted in the Volunteer Marine Corps Reserve and soon was commissioned to second lieutenant.
He didn’t stay long; Pappy wanted to join the fight in China against the Japanese.
He left the Marine Corps in 1941 to fight with the “Flying Tigers,” a volunteer fighter squadron in China. While there, Pappy shot down six Japanese planes, which gave him the lead over other American aces who didn’t join the fight until after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
After he returned to the Marine Corps in 1943, Pappy formed the Black Sheep Squadron. Not only was he a natural pilot, but he was also a skillful leader of his squadron, which he put together largely from replacements and remnants of various units which had moved elsewhere. They gave him the nickname Pappy because he was older than most of the pilots.
It was then that Pappy flew with his squadron on his last mission against the Japanese.
After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pappy was liberated along with other prisoners on Aug. 29, 1945. He died Jan. 11, 1988.
(Some information gathered from Boyington’s autobiography, Baa Baa Black Sheep)