Born in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho in December 1912, Gregory Boyington sought out the military at age 21. Commissioned a 2nd LT in the U.S. Army Reserve in 1934, serving with the cannon cockers of the 630th Coast Artillery on the Washington coast for 11 months, Boyington was then accepted to the Marine Corps Reserve Aviation Cadet program where he trained from 18 February 1936 to July 1937.
Pappy Aviation Cadet Gregory Boyington taken during his flight instruction at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, 1936
Gregory Pappy Boyington NAS Pensacola Class 88-C standing second from right
After finishing the program, he was granted a regular commission in the Marines, where he served until 27 August 1941 when he resigned his commission with an understanding “that I would be reinstated without loss of precedence when I returned to United States Service,” then left the Corps as a 1st LT to join the American Volunteer Group (Flying Tigers) fighting for the KMT forces in China against the Japanese.
Boyington was a private military contractor of sorts with the original Flying Tigers, operational from December 20, 1941. Note the P-40 Warhawks in the background. Boyington claimed six victories, but that number is unconfirmed with some sources just saying he got two. The Chinese eventually paid him bonuses for 3.5 meatballs at $500 per kill.
Returning home from China in July 1942, he promptly sought to return to the Corps in a flying assignment, after all, there was something of a war on.
This was granted after passing a new flight physical and obtaining several endorsements, on 16 September 1942– some 80 years ago today– as a 1st LT in the USMC Reserve. After fighting with the brass for two weeks over getting a reserve commission when he left on a regular one and being told essentially “we will see,” Boyington went ahead and accepted the appointment on 29 September.
The Corps’ Director of Aviation nonetheless recommended to the Commandant that Boyington’s recommissioning halted, noting his previous stint with the Marines prior to leaving for China did not point to him as becoming a career officer and that Claire Chennault with the Tigers had noted, “This pilot was a capable flyer and would have been of valuable service were it not for his excessive drinking,” despite the fact Boyington was officially credited with at least 2 “kills” in China.
Cooling his heels, Boyington kept the telegrams to Marine HQ rolling.
Finally, on 10 November– the Birthday of the Corps– he was ordered for a second physical at Pasco, Washington (he lived at the time at Okanogan) and, if passed, to proceed to San Diego where he would report to Marine Airwings Pacific for assignment to “active duty in the Aeronautic Organization of the Marine Corps Reserve.” Passing his cough check, Boyington was duly promoted to Major (temporary) in the USMCR on 24 November.
Working through enhanced flying training on the West Coast, he was then appointed in January 1943 to XO of the “Candystripers” of VMF-122 on Guadalcanal, operating F4F Wildcats with the Cactus Air Force at Henderson Field until July of that year. Raised up to become the squadron’s skipper in July, he was there for the unit’s transition to F4U Corsairs.
Soon after, he was made commander of VMF-214 which he joined at Turtle Bay Airfield on Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides in August 1943.
It took roughly a year from the time he was reinstated before he would become the head of VMF-214.
Marine Attack Squadron Two Hundred and Fourteen – VMF 214 (Black Sheep Squadron) on Turtle Bay Fighter Strip, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. They are shown before leaving for Munda, with an F4U in the background, on 11 September 1943. Note, Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, 8th from left, front row. U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-54288.
Flying with his famed “Black Sheep” the elderly — at age 31– “Gramps” Boyington claimed 13 kills in aerial combat over the Solomans between 15 September and 20 October 1943.
Remarkably, an act of Congress (S.1427) was introduced in October 1943 to grant him a regular commission (as a 1st LT). Over time, the Gramps nickname would fade to be replaced by the more lovable “Pappy” and the rest, as they say, is history…