Craig gently reminded me that today is the anniversary of MAJ Gregory Boyington’s final mission in World War II. Shot down on this day in 1944, near Rabaul, he would endure 20 months as a prisoner of the Japanese. His return to the United States would see him bestowed with the highest military award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his record while in command of Marine Fighter Squadron 214.
Pappy Boyington had a somewhat less than traditional career path. A Reserve Coast Artilleryman, and later Marine Reservist, he eventually secured a commission in the Marines and attended flight training, becoming a Naval Aviator in 1937. Late in 1940, he resigned his commission to join the American Volunteer Group, which would come to be famous as The Flying Tigers. Legend has it Boyington was “encouraged” to accept that job to pay off gambling debts.
Boyington left the Flying Tigers in 1942, and was recommissioned in the Marines, and promoted to Major. After service with VMF-121, he was later ordered to command of VMF-214. His service with the squadron would last less than four months, but become the stuff of legend. The Black Sheep Squadron had an enviable combat record, and during this time, Boyington himself had a streak of aerial victories, combined with previous kills, that eventually totaled 26, with the final kill occurring on the same day as his shoot-down.
His Medal of Honor was approved in 1944, but of course, was not presented to him until his repatriation after the war.
MAJOR GREGORY BOYINGTON
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS RESERVE
for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
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.
Of course, most folks of my age group know him from his autobiography, and more so, from the television series very loosely based on his exploits, and starring Robert Conrad.
Boyington was a hard drinker, and somewhat of a character. It’s virtually inconceivable that in today’s military, a man like him would be given the opportunity to command.