Monolith
8May/20Off

A Real Black Sheep: Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington

From the series: Heroes of the Solomons


If ever there was a larger-than-life, comic book-worthy action hero, it was US Marine Corps fighter ace, ‘Pappy’ Boyington, writes Roderick Eime

Boyington was born in Idaho on 4 December 1912 and took his first flight at the tender age of six. Not with some rogue barnstormer, mind you, but with Clyde Pangborn, a man who would later perform numerous daring feats including a trans-Pacific flight in 1931.

Clearly impressed with this experience and naturally drawn to military service, Boyington was an aviation cadet with the Marine Corps Reserve at the age of 23. By 28 he was a first lieutenant instructing at Pensacola, Florida.

A noted wrestler at college, he soon became known as a hard-drinking but likeable roughneck always sailing close to the edge of trouble. He had a certain charm, especially with the ladies, and a knack for upsetting his superior officers.

 Curtis P-40B Warhawks of the 'Flying Tigers'

Looking for an escape as much as an opportunity, Boyington signed on with the famous volunteer air force, the ‘Flying Tigers’, and was soon in the air flying missions in P-40s over Burma under the command of "Colonel" Claire Lee Chennault. Many will remember John Wayne playing Capt. Jim Gordon in the famous, Oscar-nominated 1942 movie about the covert American operation. But Boyington, despite a (disputed) tally of six Japanese kills, was up to his usual antics and fell foul of Chennault who threw him out of the Flying Tigers. The two would never reconcile.

Even with such a chequered record, the US Marine Corps needed combat-ready fighter pilots and by early 1943, Boyington was on Guadalcanal as Executive Officer (XO) of Marine Fighter Squadron 122. It wasn’t until September that Boyington put together a team of hand-picked, unassigned pilots and reformed Marine Fighter Squadron 214. The first suggested name of ‘Boyington’s Bastards’ was dismissed by the USMC’s PR and instead became known as ‘The Black Sheep Squadron’.

VMF-214 in baseball mode

Astride the potent F4U Corsairs with their new black bar insignia and pre-ordained reputation, VMF-214 set about tearing up the Japanese invaders, which they did with great aplomb. In less than three months, the renegade unit destroyed or damaged over 200 Japanese planes, half of them in air-to-air combat, as well as sinking ships and bombing shore installations. A Presidential Unit Citation was quickly bestowed on them for extraordinary heroism in battle and they became a minor sensation, grabbing headlines back home in the US. They even bet major league baseball players they could down a Zero for every cap they were sent.

After this first triumphant tour of duty in which Boyington had amassed over a dozen kills, the 26 pilots left their base at Munda and headed for Sydney and the once famous Australia Hotel for a period of serious R&R. The ornate and prestigious hotel opened in 1891 and once stood where the massive MLC Centre now stands in Martin Place.

Doubtlessly hung over, they returned to the Solomons for a second tour but just five days before it too was over, Boyington was ambushed by overwhelming numbers of Japanese fighters near Rabaul and shot down. He recalls this moment in his autobiography, ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’.

"I threw everything in the cockpit all the way forward - this means full speed ahead - and nosed my plane over to pick up extra speed until I was forced by water to level off. I had gone practically a half a mile at a speed of about four hundred knots when all of a sudden my main gas tank went up in flames in front of my very eyes. The sensation was much the same as opening the door of a furnace and sticking one's head into the thing."

With his aircraft hopelessly damaged and he himself wounded by the explosion, Boyington baled out. Despite efforts by his men to locate him, he was plucked from the sea by a Japanese submarine and packed off as a POW through a series of camps, ending up in Yokohama at war’s end.

‘Pappy’ Boyington was repatriated after the war and received the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross in his new rank as a colonel, but it wasn’t long until he was creating mayhem again, bouncing from job to job and drinking too much. Also a heavy smoker, his run of good fortune expired on January 11, 1988. Gregory Boyington, fighter ace and flawed American hero was dead at the age of 75.

The real Pappy Boyington makes a cameo appearance as as General Harrison Kenlay in the TV Series 'Baa Baa Black Sheep'

His autobiography, written in 1958, attracted the attention of NBC television producers and a series of the same name was aired between 1976 and 1978 with Boyington played by co-director Robert Conrad. The series was set on a fictional island called Vella la Cava, which obviously referred to their one time base at Vella Lavella (Barakoma) where traces of the airfield can still be seen.

Apart from Barakoma airfield on Vella Lavella, VMF-214 under Boyington was also based at Banika Island in the Russell Islands Group, Henderson and Munda before moving to their final location on Bougainville.

====

For visits and WWII tours of Munda, contact Agnes Lodge

Agnes Lodge Ltd
www.agneslodge.com.sb
Munda
Solomon Islands
Phone: (677) 62133
Fax: (677) 62190
E-mail: mundamagic@agneslodge.com.sb

The story was originally published in Solomons Airlines Magazine
https://issuu.com/rodeime/docs/36-47_solomons_issue_67

1Apr/20Off

Bob Gurney, the hero of Alotau


We remember a pioneering Australian aviator who was crucial to the development of air operations in Papua New Guinea. Roderick Eime recalls the exploits of Charles 'Bob' Gurney.

4Nov/19Off

Marshall Islands: Death of a Prince


The namesake of one of Europe’s most famous military commanders lies upside down in a lagoon at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Roderick Eime recalls the extraordinary life and death of this famous warship.

4Nov/19Off

Lieutenant Colonel Harold Bauer: The Legend of ‘Indian Joe’


Vanuatu's Bauer Field in Vila was named after a charismatic hero, Medal of Honor recipient and US Marine Corps fighter ace. Roderick Eime remembers the man.

United States Marine Corps Captain (CPT) Harold William Bauer. Official Portrait. By November of 1942, Captain Bauer was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was awarded the Medal of Honor.

It’s easy to forget the ferocious battles that took place across the Pacific region from 1942 to 1945. Every nation in the region was embroiled in a fight to the death, caught between the giant protagonists, the USA and Japan.

13Oct/19Off

Escape from PNG: The Bulldog Track

Longer, higher, steeper, wetter, colder and rougher than Kokoda


The Bulldog Track

How a bunch of fugitive old miners and tradesmen discovered a vital supply route and survived one of WWII great escapes.
Roderick Eime learns about The Bulldog Track from the book by actor, Peter Phelps.

The legend of the Kokoda Track has long since entered the annals of Australian folklore. The decisive and protracted battle marked a turning point in the war against the invading Japanese but, despite its unarguable importance, the Kokoda Campaign runs the danger of overshadowing many other significant battles and exploits.

6May/19Off

Sattelberg: A VC for Australia’s toughest soldier


Thomas Currie "Diver" Derrick, VC, DCM

One of Australia’s true war heroes was a poet and butterfly collector.

The annals of Australian military history are chock full of tales of heroism and derring-do and every so often a new hero arises from these vast volumes. Words: Roderick Eime

Thomas Currie ‘Diver’ Derrick was one such soldier who rose to ‘rock star’ status among the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in WWII but has since faded from our memories.

26Jun/17Off

Australian migration of the Goldrush era (1851-60)


Europe in the mid 19th century was shambles. If it wasn’t famine and disease, it was unemployment and insurrection sweeping across France, Germany, Italy and even parts of Britain.

America too was effected, the throngs of immigrant refugees upsetting the delicate political balance in the lead-up to the catastrophic civil war that would forever divide the nation.

Filed under: History Continue reading
19Jan/17Off

Did an Australian adventurer and spy forewarn of the attack on Pearl Harbor?


Battleship USS West Virginia sunk and burning at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. In background is the battleship USS Tennessee.

by Roderick Eime

The story begins aboard the 1929 round-the-world flight of the German airship, LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin.

A truly international contingent of media and privileged guests are enjoying the lavish facilities of Germany’s luxury airship as they complete their ground-breaking three week journey around the planet.

16Jul/16Off

Amelia Earhart Mystery: the theory that just won’t go away


Amelia Earhart, who served as a consultant in the Department of the Study of Careers for Women at Purdue from 1935 to 1937, strides past her Lockheed Electra. Purdue Libraries' Earhart collection. (File photo)

The Amelia Earhart mystery has gripped the imagination for almost 80 years and despite numerous searches and millions of dollars, no conclusive evidence has yet been found.

Many theories have been put forward over the years and just as many discounted, but one just keeps coming back. The idea that Earhart was forced down and captured by the Japanese in the Marshall Islands is as unpalatable as it is incredulous. But one researcher, Mike Campbell, makes a compelling case for this proposition.

8Nov/15Off

Historic aircraft wreck found. Is this the Wildcat of US ace, James E Swett?


On my last trip to the Solomon Islands in October, I was fortunate to make my first dive on some of the historic aircraft wrecks that litter the harbour near Tulagi in the Florida Islands.

I was introduced to Bob Norton, a Kiwi ex-serviceman and the new proprietor of the Raiders Hotel in Tulagi, a quaint and peaceful waterfront hotel in the little former British pre-war colonial capital in the Florida Islands, across Iron Bottom Sound from Honiara.