Gregory “Pappy” Boyington (4 December, 1912 – 11 January, 1988) was an American combat pilot who was a United States Marine Corps fighter ace during World War II. He received both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.
Boyington was initially a P-40 Warhawk fighter pilot with the legendary “Flying Tigers” (1st American Volunteer Group) in the Republic of China Air Force in Burma at the end of 1941 and part of 1942, during the military conflict between China and Japan, and the beginning of World War II.
In September 1942, he rejoined the Marine Corps (had been an aviator before the war). In early 1943, he deployed to the South Pacific and began flying combat missions as a Marine F4U Corsair fighter pilot. In September 1943, he took command of U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadron VMF-214 (“Black Sheep”).
On 3 January, 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.
Boyington was shot down into the Pacific Ocean after downing one of the enemy planes. He was captured by a Japanese submarine crew and was held as a prisoner of war for more than a year and a half. He was released shortly after the surrender of Japan, and a few days before the official surrender documents were signed.
The television series Baa Baa Black Sheep was inspired by Boyington and his men in the “Black Sheep” squadron. It ran for two seasons in the late 1970s.