Gregory ‘Pappy’ Boyington, the cantankerous World War II flying ace and Medal of Honor winner, was born on December 4th in 1912. He’d be 99 years old today, if he hadn’t died in 1988.
He was lucky to make it that far. He shot down 26 Japanese planes over the Solomon Islands in 12 weeks of some of the hottest fighting of the war — until he himself was shot down.
From his Medal of Honor citation:
For extraordinary heroism and valiant devotion to duty as commanding officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 214 in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Central Solomons area from 12 September 1943 to 3 January 1944… Resolute in his efforts to inflict crippling damage on the enemy, Maj. 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, Maj. 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.
According to one memoir, he would get raging drunk and try to wrestle other pilots–who were usually 10 or more years his junior. In fact, he got his nickname ‘Pappy’ because he was so much older than the men he commanded.
He was shot down on January 3, 1944, in the same dogfight in which he’d just bagged his 26th Japanese fighter. He was picked up by a Japanese sub and spent the rest of the war in prison camps. He was being held in one near Tokyo when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war.
A few months later he was back in Washington, D.C., picking up the Medal of Honor he’d been awarded in 1944.
See our Pappy Boyington biography »