If you’re a Marine Corps aviator, you’ve probably heard stories about Colonel Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, one of the service’s greatest pilots. Boyington’s exploits during World War II became so famous that they were turned into a TV show.
But behind the scenes, his leadership has greatly assisted the Allies in the Pacific, and it is this persistence that has earned him the Medal of Honor.
Boyington was born on December 4, 1912 in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. His parents divorced when he was very young, so he grew up with his mother and stepfather, Gregory Hallenbeck, who raised him with the surname Hallenbeck.
Boyington’s interest in theft began early in life. He built model airplanes as a child and even convinced famous stuntman Clyde Pangborn to take him for a ride with a friend when Pangborn was performing at a nearby flight show.
The Hallenbecks moved Boyington and his half-brother, William, to an apple farm in Tacoma, Washington, when he was 12. After high school, the teenager went to Washington University, where he swam, wrestled, and competed in the ROTC. every four years.
Boyington graduated in aeronautical engineering in 1934 before serving in the Army Coast Artillery Reserve. At one point, he married his college girlfriend, Helen Clark. The two had three children, Gregory Jr., Janet and Gloria. He also started working as an engineer for Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle.
About a year later, Boyington enlisted in the Volunteer Marine Corps reserve. It was then that he realized he wasn’t really a Hallenbeck. According to his mother, Boyington had always assumed that Gregory Hallenbeck was his biological father, they never told him otherwise. But he needed his birth certificate to join the Marines, and that’s when he found out his real father was Charles Boyington. He also learned that he couldn’t become an air cadet if he was married, so he decided to enlist as Boyington, a name that had no record of his marriage.
A busy career begins
Boyington was eventually appointed as a Naval Aviation Cadet, officially obtaining his pilot wings on March 11, 1937. He served in Quantico, Va., Before being commissioned with the Marine Corps in July 1937.
Four years later, however, he resigned from that commission to accept a position with the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company, a civilian organization. CAMCO became the American Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers, a unit of US military airmen sent to aid China in its fight against Japan, which was trying to expand its empire across the Pacific.
The Flying Tigers were deployed to Burma in the summer of 1941. By the time the United States joined World War II after the Pearl Harbor attacks, Boyington was serving as a squadron commander and had been unofficially credited with have shot down several Japanese planes over China.
Boyington returned to the United States in July 1942 when the Flying Tigers were disbanded. He was reinstated in the military in September 1942, this time as an active-duty first lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve. He was promoted to major a month later.
Boyington was returned to the Pacific and served as the executive officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 121 in the spring of 1943, after the Guadalcanal campaign ended. That’s when he earned his nickname “Pappy,” because at 31, he was almost a decade older than most of the men who served under him.
In the fall of 1943, Boyington took command of the new Marine Fighting Squadron 214. Dubbed the “Black Sheep Squadron,” the unit flew F-4U Corsair fighters during their campaign to seize bases in the Solomon Islands. power stations. Their main objective: to isolate an enemy stronghold in Rabaul, New Britain.
Leading the pack
Between September 12, 1943 and January 3, 1944, Boyington led his pilots on several daring flights over heavily defended enemy territory that crippled navigation, land facilities, and the Japanese air force.
On October 17, the major led a formation of 24 fighters over Kahili airfield on Bougainville Island. They circled the airfield, challenging the Japanese to send any of the 60 planes that were grounded there. In the action that followed, 20 Japanese planes were shot down, while no Navy planes were lost.
During his three months at the helm of VMF 214, Boyington destroyed more than two dozen Japanese planes. His leadership helped develop combat readiness within his command, which has been credited with being a distinguishing factor in Allied aerial achievements over this region of the Pacific.
Sadly, Boyington was shot down over Rabaul on January 3, 1944. He was picked up by a Japanese submarine and spent 20 months as a prisoner of war, of which US officials were only informed. At the end of the war. Boyington, who was promoted to lieutenant colonel during his captivity, was released from a prisoner of war camp in Tokyo on August 29, 1945.
When Boyington returned to the United States, his last two “murders” on the day of his disappearance over Rabaul were quickly confirmed. That brought the total number of Japanese planes he shot down to 28, the highest number of any Navy aces during the war, according to the University of the Marine Corps.
On October 5, 1945, Boyington joined several other Marines in a ceremony at the White House to receive the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman. The great honor was bestowed on him posthumously by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in March 1944, but now that he was alive he could receive it in person.
After participating in a Victory Bond tour, Boyington continued his career in the Marine Corps, first at Quantico, then at the Marine Corps Air Depot in San Diego. He retired on August 1, 1947 and was promoted to his last rank of colonel.