Gregory Boyington was born on December 4, 1912 in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Boyington started his military training in college, as a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps in which he became a cadet captain. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery Reserve in June 1934, and served two months of active duty with the 630th Coast Artillery at Fort Worden, Washington. On June 13, 1935, he joined and went on active duty in the Volunteer Marine Corps Reserve. He returned to inactive duty on July 16 in the same year.
On February 18, 1936, Boyington accepted an appointment as an aviation cadet in the Marine Corps Reserve. He was assigned to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, for flight training. He was designated a naval aviator on March 11, 1937, then was transferred to Quantico, Virginia, for duty with Aircraft One, Fleet Marine Force. He was discharged from the Marine Corps Reserve on July 1, 1937 in order to accept a second lieutenant's commission in the regular Marine Corps the following day.
He was sent to The Basic School in Philadelphia in July 1938. On completion of the course, Boyington was transferred to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Group at the San Diego Naval Air Station. He took part in fleet problems off the aircraft carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown. Promoted to first lieutenant on November 4, 1940, Boyington returned to Pensacola as an instructor the next month.
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 organization that contracted to staff a Special Air Unit to defend China and the Burma Road. The unit later became known as the American Volunteer Group (AVG), the famed Flying Tigers of China. During his months with the "Tigers", Boyington became a flight leader. In the spring of 1942, he broke his contract with the American Volunteer Group and returned to the United States, where he was eventually re-instated in the Marine Corps. Boyington wrangled a major's commission in the Marines, which were in great need of experienced combat pilots. He was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 11 of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, where he became Executive Officer of VMF-121 operating from Guadalcanal. Later, he became Commanding Officer of Marine Fighter Squadron 214, better known by its nickname, the "Black Sheep Squadron."
Boyington is best known for his exploits flying 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, the major shot down 14 enemy fighter planes in 32 days. By December 27, his record had climbed to 25.
He tied the American record of 26 planes on January 3, 1944 over Rabaul, but was shot down himself later the same day. The mission had sent 48 American fighters, including one division of four planes from the Black Sheep Squadron, from Bougainville for a fighter sweep over Rabaul. Boyington was the tactical commander of the flight and arrived over the target at eight o'clock in the morning. In the ensuing action, the major was seen to shoot down his 26th plane. He then became mixed in the general melee of diving, swooping planes and was not seen or heard from again during the battle, nor did he return with his squadron. Following a determined but futile search, Boyington was declared missing in action. He had been picked up by a Japanese submarine and became a prisoner of war. 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 Ōfuna and finally to Ōmori Prison Camp near Tokyo. During that time he was selected for temporary promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
During mid-August 1945, after the atomic bombs and the Japanese capitulation, Boyington was liberated from Japanese custody at Omori Prison Camp on August 29. Boyington returned to the United States at Naval Air Station Alameda on September 12, 1945 and where he was met by 21 former squadron members from VMF-214. Prior to his arrival, on September 6, he accepted his temporary lieutenant colonel's commission in the Marine Corps.
Shortly after his return to the U.S., as a lieutenant colonel, Boyington was ordered to Washington to receive the nation's highest honor — the Medal of Honor — from the President. The medal had been awarded by the late president, Franklin D. Roosevelt in March 1944 and held in the capital until such time as he could receive it. On October 4, 1945, Boyington received the Navy Cross from the Commandant of the Marine Corps for the Rabaul raid; the following day, "Nimitz Day," he and other sailors and Marines were decorated at the White House by President Harry S. Truman. 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.
Gregory Boyington died on January 11, 1988 at the age of 75 in Fresno, California, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on January 15, 1988.
Medal of Honor citation
Action Date: September 12, 1943 - January 3, 1944; Service: Marine Corps Rank: Major; Company: Marine Fighting Squadron 214 (VMF-214) Regiment: Marine Air Group 11 (MAG-11); Division: 1st Marine Aircraft Wing
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, United States Marine Corps Reserve, for extraordinary heroism and valiant devotion to duty at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of Marine Fighting Squadron TWO HUNDRED FOURTEEN (VMF-214), Marine Air Group ELEVEN (MAG-11), FIRST Marine Aircraft Wing, in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Central Solomons Area from 12 September 1943 to 3 January 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 24 fighters over Kahili on 17 October and, persistently circling the airdrome where 60 hostile aircraft were grounded, boldly challenged the Japanese to send up planes. Under his brilliant command, our fighters shot down 20 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.
Navy Cross citation
General Orders: DGP: Serial 00699 (Approved SofN May 25, 1944) Action Date: January 3, 1944; Service: Marine Corps; Rank: Major Company: Marine Fighting Squadron 214 (VMF-214); Regiment: Marine Air Group 11 (MAG-11) Division: 1st Marine Aircraft Wing
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (0-5254), Major, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer and a Pilot of Marine Fighting Squadron TWO HUNDRED FOURTEEN (VMF-214), Marine Air Group ELEVEN (MAG-11), FIRST Marine Aircraft Wing, during action against enemy aerial forces in the New Britain Island Area on 3 January 1944. Climaxing a period of duty conspicuous for exceptional combat achievement, Major Boyington led a formation of Allied planes on a fighter sweep over Rabaul against a vastly superior number of hostile fighters. Diving in a steep run into the climbing Zeros, he made a daring attack, sending one Japanese fighter to destruction in flames. A tenacious and fearless airman under extremely hazardous conditions, Major Boyington succeeded in communicating to those who served with him, the brilliant and effective tactics developed through a careful study of enemy techniques, and led his men into combat with inspiring and courageous determination. His intrepid leadership and gallant fighting spirit reflect the highest credit upon the United States Naval Service.
C o p y r i g h t (C) 2 0 1 7 – H e a t h R o b i s o n / I d a h o H e r o e s . o r g