b. 04/12/1912 Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. d. 11/01/1988 Fresno, California.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 12/09/1943 - 03/01/1944 Solomon Islands.
Born on December 4, 1912 in northern Idaho at Coeur d'Alene, Boyington is erroneously quoted as being born in 1906. He moved to the logging town of St. Maries at age three and lived there until age twelve, then lived in Tacoma, Washington, where he was a wrestler at Lincoln High School. He took his first flight at St. Maries when he was six years old, with Clyde Pangborn, who later flew the Pacific non-stop.
After graduation from high school in 1930, Boyington attended the University of Washington in Seattle, where he was a member of the Army ROTC and joined the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. He was on the Husky wrestling and swimming teams, and for a time he held the Pacific Northwest Intercollegiate middleweight wrestling title. He spent his summers working in Washington in a mining camp and at a logging camp, and with the Coeur d'Alene Fire Protective Association in road construction. He graduated in 1934 with a B.S. in aeronautical engineering.
Boyington married shortly after graduation and worked as a draftsman and engineer for Boeing in Seattle.
In the spring of 1935, he applied for flight training under the Aviation Cadet Act, but he discovered that it excluded married men. Boyington had grown up as Gregory Hallenbeck, and assumed his stepfather, Ellsworth J. Hallenbeck, was his father. When he obtained a copy of his birth certificate, however, he learned that his father was actually Charles Boyington, a dentist, and that his parents had divorced when he was an infant. Since there was no record that someone named Gregory Boyington had ever been married, he enrolled as U.S. Marine Corps aviation cadet using that name.
Boyington resigned his commission in the Marine Corps on August 26, 1941, to accept a position with the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO). CAMCO was a civilian firm that contracted to staff a Special Air Unit to defend China and the Burma Road. This later became known as the American Volunteer Group (AVG), the famed Flying Tigers in Burma. During his time with the Tigers, Boyington became a flight leader. He was frequently in trouble with the commander of the outfit, Claire Chennault. Boyington was officially credited with 2 Japanese aircraft destroyed in the air and 1.5 on the ground, but AVG records suggest that one additional ground "kill" may have been due to him. (He afterward claimed six victories as a Tiger, but there is no substantiation for that figure, and aircraft destroyed on the ground normally do not count as victories.) In April 1942, he broke his contract with the American Volunteer Group and returned on his own to the United States.
On September 29, 1942, he rejoined the Marine Corps and managed to gain a major's commission. The Marine Corps needed experienced combat pilots and in early 1943, he was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 11 of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and deployed to the South Pacific as Executive Officer of Marine Fighter Squadron 122 operating from Guadalcanal until April 1943. While assigned to VMF-122, Boyington did not gain any victories. He became commander of Marine Fighter Squadron 112 from July to August 1943. In September 1943, he became Commanding Officer (CO) of Marine Fighter Squadron 214, better known by its nickname, the "Black Sheep Squadron."
Boyington received the nickname "Gramps", because at age 31, he was a decade older than most of the Marines serving under him. The name "Gramps" was changed to "Pappy" in a variation on "The Whiffenpoof Song" whose new lyrics had been written by Paul "Moon" Mullen, one of his pilots, and this version was picked up by war correspondents.
Boyington is best known for his exploits in the Vought F4U Corsair in VMF-214. During periods of intense activity in the Russell Islands-New Georgia and Bougainville-New Britain-New Ireland areas, 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.
A typical feat was his attack on Kahili airdrome at the southern tip of Bougainville on October 17, 1943. Boyington and 24 fighters circled the field, where 60 hostile aircraft were based, goading the enemy into sending up a large force. In the fierce battle that followed, 20 enemy aircraft were shot down, while the Black Sheep returned to their base without loss.
Boyington’s squadron, flying from the island of Vella Lavella, offered to down a Japanese Zero for every baseball cap sent to them by major league players in the World Series. They received 20 caps and shot down more than that number of enemy aircraft.
On January 3, 1944, he tied World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker's record of 26 enemy planes destroyed, before he was himself shot down. On that mission, forty-eight American fighters, including four planes 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 eight o'clock AM. He was seen to shoot down his 26th plane, but he then became mixed in the general melee of dogfighting planes and was not seen or heard from during the battle, nor did he return with his squadron. Boyington's wingman, Captain George Ashmun, was killed in action. In later years, Masajiro "Mike" Kawato claimed to have been the pilot who shot down Boyington. He described the combat in two books and numerous public appearances (often with Boyington), but this claim was eventually "disproven," though Kawato repeated his story until his death. Kawato was present during the action in which Boyington was shot down, as one of 70 Japanese fighters which engaged about 30 American fighters.
He spent the rest of the war, some 20 months, in Japanese prison camps. After being held temporarily at Rabaul and then Truk, where he survived the massive U.S. Navy raid known as "Operation Hailstone", he was transported first to funa and finally to mori Prison Camp near Tokyo.
Following the receipt of his Medal of Honor and Navy Cross, 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. He retired from the Marine Corps on August 1, 1947, and because he was specially commended for the performance of duty in actual combat, he was promoted to colonel.
Boyington wrote his autobiography, Baa Baa Black Sheep, published in 1958. He also wrote a novel about the AVG. Tonya is a spy story with characters who evoked actual individuals, sometimes by transposing the syllables of their names ("Ross Dicky" for Dick Rossi, for example).
For extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of Marine Fighting Squadron TWO FOURTEEN in action against enemy Japanese forces in Central Solomons Area from September 12, 1943 to January 3, 1944. Consistently outnumbered throughout successive hazardous flights over heavily defended hostile territory, Major Boyington 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, Major BOYINGTON led a formation of twenty-four fighters over Kahili on October 17, and, persistently circling the airdrome where sixty hostile aircraft were grounded, boldly challenged the Japanese to send up planes. Under his brilliant command, our fighters shot down twenty enemy craft in the ensuing action without the loss of a single ship. A superb airman and determined fighter against overwhelming odds, Major BOYINGTON personally destroyed 26 of the many Japanese planes shot down by his squadron and by his forceful leadership developed the combat readiness in his command which was a distinctive factor in the Allied aerial achievements in this vitally strategic area.
BURIAL LOCATION: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA.
Section 7A, Grave 150