On this day in 1944, Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, World War II ace and leader of Marine Fighter Squadron 214, the infamous “Black Sheep,” downed three Japanese aircraft during his final combat mission of WWII. This feat brought his total number of downed enemy planes to 26, tying the mark in aviation history set by Army Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, who downed 26 planes in World War I.
During his last mission, Boyington made several flights through hostile enemy fire over Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. His aircraft went down during the ensuing dogfight.
A Japanese submarine recovered the downed Marine from the wreckage and transported him to the first of many prisoner of war camps he would see during the remainder of the war. While at these camps he was often beaten, interrogated and nearly starved.
After approximately 20 months as a POW, Boyington was rescued and returned to the United States where President Harry S. Truman decorated him with the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross.
The late President Franklin D. Roosevelt had awarded Boyington the Medal of Honor during his captivity, and the medal was held at the Capitol until he could he receive it.
As stated in the citation, he was also commended for his outstanding leadership abilities: “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.”
Boyington retired Aug. 1, 1947, as a colonel.
During his time in and out of the service, the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross recipient left his mark on the Corps. It is that same dedication to duty and fighting spirit that continues to uphold the legacy of Marine Corps aviation.
Article by Cpl. Andrea Dickerson, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing