Pappy Boyington

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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

Combat pilot Gregory “Pappy” Boyington served in the United States during World War II. He was a fighter ace with the United States Marine Corps and received the Medal of Honor as well as the Navy Cross. He is from Idaho and has always wanted to fly. Boyington enlisted while still a college student for military training, and in 1934 he was appointed a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Reserve. The 630th Coast Artillery was his last assignment before he joined the US Marines. Boyington received aviation instruction throughout the course of the following six years, earning the title of Naval Cadet in 1937, and then was sent to naval sites all over America. Boyington left the Marine Corps as World War II started, and in late 1941 and early 1942, he was enlisted by the storied “Flying Tigers” for action in China, Burma, and Japan. After America declared war on the Axis powers in 1942, he returned to the Marines, and in 1943 he started flying an F4U Corsair. He received a promotion and assumed command of Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-214 a few months later. He was taken prisoner of war after his plane was shot down in January 1944. He was released in 1945 after Japan gave up. After going back home, he lived a turbulent life until his passing in 1988. From 1976 to 1978, a television series based on his book “Baa Baa Black Sheep” was broadcast.

Early Childhood & Life

Charles and Grace Boyington welcomed Pappy Boyington into the world on December 4, 1912, in Coeur d’Alene, an American city in northwest Idaho. His family moved to St. Maries, a logging community when he was three years old. He lived there for the next 12 years before moving to Tacoma, Washington. He excelled in athletics, particularly wrestling, while a student at Lincoln High School in Washington.

When he was six years old, he had the chance to fly with Clyde “Upside-Down” Pangborn in St. Maries. He had never taken an aircraft before. In 1930, after finishing high school, he enrolled at Seattle’s University of Washington. He joined the Army ROTC and the fraternity Lambda Chi Alpha while he was there. Along with continuing to wrestle at the university, he also joined the swimming team. He even briefly held the middleweight wrestling championship of the Pacific Northwest Intercollegiate.

He did seasonal employment in Washington at logging and mining camps over the summer. Additionally, he had a brief road construction job with the Coeur d’Alene Fire Protective Association. He earned a B.S. in aeronautical engineering in 1934.

At the university, he fell in love and got married to Helen Clark. Soon after his graduation, they got married. Boyington found employment in Seattle as an engineer and draftsman, so the couple relocated there. In the spring of 1935, he aggressively pursued a career in aviation and applied for flight instruction through the Aviation Cadet Act.
He soon learned that married men would not be allowed to enroll in the seminar. Growing up, he had gone by the name “Gregory Hallenbeck,” thinking Ellsworth J. Hallenbeck was his biological father. It turned out that shortly after his birth, his parents had divorced. Then, he understood that a “Gregory Boyington” had never been married before. He took advantage of the chance, changed his name to “Gregory Boyington,” and enlisted in the army.

Choosing a Military Career

Boyington enlisted in the Army ROTC while he was still in college and eventually attained the rank of cadet captain. In June 1934, he started working as a second lieutenant in the US Army Coast Artillery Reserve after finishing his training. He was then sent to serve two months on active duty at Fort Worden, Washington, with the 630th Coast Artillery.

On June 13, 1935, Boyington received his commission in the US Marine Corps. A month later, he was declared inactive. On February 18, 1936, he was appointed an aviation cadet in the Marine Corps Reserve, and for flight instruction, he was dispatched to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. He was officially recognized as a Naval Aviator on March 11, 1937.

His initial assignment as a Naval Aviator was with Aircraft One, Fleet Marine Force, in Quantico, Virginia. On July 1, 1937, he obtained his Marine Corps Reserve discharge papers, and the next day, he was named a second lieutenant in the regular Marine Corps. He then attended The Basic School in Philadelphia from July 1938 to January 1939 to continue his education.

He participated in naval drills off the aircraft carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown once the training was thorough and served with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Group at the San Diego Naval Air Station. Prior to his resignation from the Marine Corps on August 26, 1941, Boyington was also appointed as an instructor in Pensacola in December 1940.

Boyington began working for the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO) in the middle of 1941. CAMCO had been commissioned to create an aviation unit to protect the Burma Road and China. The American Volunteer Group (AVG) or Flying Tigers became the name of this group (in Burma). Boyington has never been tasked with leading a flight before. Even though he had a tense relationship with Claire Chennault, the outfit’s leader, he nonetheless managed to destroy two Japanese aircraft in the air and 1.5 on the ground (six, according to his autobiography).

Months before his contract with the team was set to expire, in April 1942, he quit the Tigers. On September 29, 1942, he returned to the US and joined the Marine Corps. He first flew in the South Pacific with Marine Aircraft Group 11 of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. He advanced through the ranks in the following months to become the CO of Marine Fighter Squadron 214, also known as the “Squadron of the Black Sheep.

He was at least ten years older than the men that served under him, earning him the nickname “Gramps” from them. After a new rendition of “The Whiffenpoof Song,” which was written by Paul “Moon” Mullen, one of the Black Sheep, the nickname was changed to “Pappy.” Later, war reporters started to like this.

He flew the Vought F4U Corsair with VMF-214 for the majority of his career, which is when he achieved his best successes as a fighter pilot. In the regions of Bougainville, New Britain, and New Ireland as well as the Russell Islands, New Georgia, he shot down numerous enemy aircraft. He oversaw the Black Sheep during a raid on the Kahili airdrome, which is located at the southernmost point of Bougainville, on October 17, 1943. During this operation, the unit circled an adversary airfield to induce them to respond. Boyington and his fighters attacked a unit of 60 hostile aircraft in the ensuing combat. Without losing a single plane, they made it back to the base after taking down 20.

Boyington and his men threatened to destroy a Japanese Zero plane for each World Series baseball cap they obtained from major league players. Although they received 20 caps, they shot down many more enemy planes than that. Boyington and renowned World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker both recorded 26 enemy aircraft destroyed. He stated that his total was 28, including the ones he eliminated while playing for the Tigers.

Boyington and his crew fought the enemy over Rabaul during that mission, which took place on January 3, 1944, and he was ultimately shot down. He suddenly found himself in the center of the overall dogfight as the tactical commander of the entire aircraft. Captain George Ashmun, his wingman, died on that particular day.

Numerous theories exist about the person who ultimately brought Boyington down. Masajiro “Mike” Kawato, who was present that day over Rabaul as an enemy pilot, made the most noteworthy assertion. But it has now been proven false.

The American military started looking for him after he vanished, but by that time a Japanese submarine had found him. He would be a prisoner of war for the ensuing 20 months. Boyington was held in the Truk and Rabaul prison camps before being moved to the Mori Prison Camp, which is located close to Tokyo.

Japan gave up after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obliterated. Boyington was let free on August 29, 1945, and returned to the United States on September 12. Twenty-one former VMF-214 squadron members greeted him as he returned home.

Boyington embarked on a Victory Bond Tour after receiving the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross. On August 1, 1947, he officially retired from the Marine Corps with the rank of colonel.

Recognition & Achievements

President Franklin D. Roosevelt first presented Pappy Boyington with the Medal of Honor in March 1944, and it was preserved in the White House until Boyington could pick it up. Roosevelt died, however, in April 1945. Finally, President Harry S. Truman presented him with the Medal of Honor on October 5, also known as Nimitz Day, at the White House.

He received the Navy Cross for the Rabaul attack on October 4, 1945, from the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Additionally, he was awarded the Purple Heart, the Prisoner of War Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation with a 3/16″ bronze star, the American Defense Service Medal with a 3/16″ bronze star, and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with a 3/16″ bronze star “World War II Victory Medal, Silver Star, and American Campaign Medal.

He was honorably admitted posthumously to the Naval Aviation Hall of Honor in 1994.

Individual Life

With Helen, Pappy Boyington had three kids: Gregory Jr., Janet, and Gloria, two daughters. When he returned from his time with the Tigers in 1941, he divorced her and claimed she had neglected the kids.
Frances Baker, a native of Los Angeles, was his second wife, whom he wed on January 8, 1946. On October 28, 1959, he wed Delores Tatum, following their divorce. Together, they adopted a child. In 1978, he wed Josephine Wilson Moseman of Fresno in his fourth union.

Boyington had smoked all of his life and had battled cancer since the 1960s. He passed away peacefully on January 11, 1988, in Fresno, California. At 75 years old, he was. On January 15, Boyington was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with all the respect due to a recipient of the Medal of Honor.

In August 2007, the Coeur d’Alene Airport-Pappy Boyington Field moniker was adopted for the Idaho airport in his honor. It was dedicated to him a month later.

Making a Difference in Popular Culture

He had his autobiography, “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons in 1958. From September 23, 1976, until April 6, 1978, NBC broadcast the TV show with the same name. American actor Robert Conrad played Boyington.


He briefly engaged in the professional wrestling scene after leaving the Marines, taking part in matches as both a wrestler and a referee.

Boyington went into the cockpit of a freshly repaired F4U Corsair during a trip to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility and attempted to start the engine “for old time’s sake.” Later, he used a magic marker to sign his name on the aircraft. The NASM Dulles Annex still has the Corsair on display.

Pappy Boyington’s Net Worth

Pappy is one of the wealthiest and most well-known pilots. Pappy Boyington’s net worth is roughly $1.5 million, according to our analysis of data from sources like Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.