We’re having a spell of what is like our Indian Summer and it’s very pleasant. But oh how the time hangs heavy these days and nights. No matter how we try to avoid it – the subject of the trip home comes to the front. I use the word ‘avoid’ in the wrong sense perhaps. But we just end up by becoming very aggravated and impatient. The officers with the very high points want to get going. Fellows with about as many points as I are anxious for them to get going, too, for when they do – we get to the top of the list – presumably – and we go home next. If the plans for getting a million men home in the next 3 months is going to work, there will have to be a tremendous speed up around here – for at present, there’s no one moving at all.
I got a letter from my folks yesterday and it was a pleasure to read their reaction to VJ night. It made me happy to realize they could stop their acute anxiety over Lawrence. They’re impatient, too, for my return home, dear; I never realized how much – because on the whole – Dad A has shown more restraint in his letters than I thought he was capable of. Anyway – he said he got ‘partly drunk’ on VJ nite – whatever partly drunk means. And even my mother took a few, he wrote – and that is really something.
I started this at 0930 and didn’t get very far before being interrupted. Rather than take a chance of letting that happen again, I want to tell you right now, sweetheart, that I love you very very much and I don’t want you to forget that for a moment! It’s so darned difficult to express myself – the way I feel – in writing. One would think that after almost 22 months of practice – I’d be accomplished in the art of describing my emotions in relation to you, darling. But it becomes increasingly difficult, probably because my feelings in all that time have far surpassed my ability to write expressively. No matter how you look at it, though, I love you dearly – and darling you’ll just have to take those words for their full meaning.
News, again, from here is nil; not even a poor rumor has developed in the past 48 hours. So we go on playing Bridge, seeing the movies and playing Tennis. Night before last we went to the French movies. It was good – “La Vie Boheme” – but straight drama, without the music. It was well done – and my opinion of French movies at the moment – is high.
I’ve been appointed a member of a General Court Martial Board that meets in this town in the next few days. The cases are usually interesting – but it ties up a whole day – for days at a time. There’s no way of getting out of it, however – so I’ll have to take it.
I hope to hear from you today, sweetheart. I still don’t know whether that trip to Canada developed – or not. For now, dear – so long, love to the folks – and
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|Gregory "Pappy" Boyington|
4 December 1912 - 11 January 1988
Boyington resigned his commission in the Marine Corps in August of 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 time with the “Tigers” he became a flight leader where he frequently clashed with ranking commanders.
In 1942, Boyington returned to the Marine Corps and became the Executive Officer of VMF-121 operating from Guadalcanal and later became commanding officer of Marine Fighter Squadron 214, which became known as “The Black Sheep Squadron.” At the age of 31, he was more than 10 years older than most of his men, so they first nicknamed him “Gramps,” which later became “Pappy.” During the squadron’s first tour of combat “Pappy” shot down 14 enemy fighters, and by the end of the year the number climbed to 25. Between his tour in China and Burma and later action in the South Pacific, Boyington shot down 28 planes - a World War II record for a Marine pilot. But the day of his 28th kill, 3 January 1944, was also the day he was shot down by a Japanese Zero fighter and was picked up by a Japanese Submarine. He spent the rest of the war as a Prisoner of War.
The following is an excerpt from Boyington's autobiographical novel, Baa Baa Black Sheep, describing his final combat mission.
It was before dawn on 3 January 1944, on Bougainville.
I was having baked beans for breakfast at the edge of the airstrip the Seabees had built, after the Marines had taken a small chunk of land on the beach. As I ate the beans, I glanced over at row after row of white crosses, too far away and too dark to read the names. But I didn't have to, I knew that each cross marked the final resting place of some Marine who had gone as far as he was able in this mortal world of ours.
Before taking off everything seemed to be wrong that morning. My plane wasn't ready and I had to switch to another. At last minute the ground crew got my original plane in order and I scampered back into that. I was to lead a fighter sweep over Rabaul, meaning two hundred miles over enemy waters and territory again. We coasted over at about twenty thousand feet to Rabaul. A few hazy cloud banks were hanging around-not much different from a lot of other days. The fellow flying my wing was Captain George Ashmun, New York City. He had told me before the mission: "You go ahead and shoot all you want, Gramps. All I'll do is keep them off your tail." This boy was another who wanted me to beat that record, and was offering to stick his neck way out in the bargain.
I spotted a few planes coming through the loosely scattered clouds and signaled to the pilots in back of me: "Go down and get to work." George and I dove first. I poured a long burst into the first enemy plane that approached, and a fraction of a second later saw the Nip pilot catapult out and the plane itself break out into fire. George screamed out over the radio: "Gramps, you got a flamer!"
Then he and I went down lower into the fight after the rest of the enemy planes. We figured that the whole pack of our planes was going to follow us down, but the clouds must have obscured their view. Anyway, George and I were not paying too much attention, just figuring that the rest of the boys would be with us in a few seconds, as was usually the case. Finding approximately ten enemy planes, George and I commenced firing. What we saw coming from above we thought were our own planes - but they were not. We were being jumped by about twenty planes. George and I scissored in the conventional thatch weave way, protecting each others blank spots, the rear ends of our fighters. In doing this I saw George shoot a burst into a plane and it turned away from us plunging downward, all on fire. A second later I did the same thing to another plane. But it was then that I saw George's plane start to throw smoke, and down he went in a half glide. I sensed something was horribly wrong with him. I screamed at him: "For God's sake, George, dive!"
Our planes could dive away from practically anything the Nips had out there at the time, except perhaps a Tony. But apparently George had never heard me or could do nothing about it if he had. He just kept going down in a half glide. Time and time again I screamed at him: "For God's sake, George, dive strait down!" But he didn't even flutter an aileron in answer to me.
I climbed in behind the Nip planes that were plugging at him on the way down to the water. There were so many of them I wasn't even bothering to use my electric gun sight consciously, but continued to seesaw back and forth on my rudder pedals, trying to spray them all in general, trying to get them off George to give him a chance to bail out or dive - or do something at least. But the same thing that was happening to him was now happening to me. I could feel the impact of enemy fire against my armor plate, behind my back, like hail on a tin roof. I could see the enemy shots progressing along my wing tips, making patterns.
George's plane burst into flames and a moment later crashed into the water. At that point there was nothing left for me to do. I had done everything I could. I decided to get the hell away from the Nips. 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.
Though I was about a hundred feet off the water, I didn't have a chance of trying to gain altitude. I was fully aware that if I tried to gain altitude for a bail-out I would be fried in a few more seconds.
On 29 August 1945, Boyington was liberated from the Omori Prison Camp and eventually returned to the United States. For some reason, the Japanese did not want Boyington's whereabouts known to the Allies, so they never reported his capture. The Marines listed him as missing in action, but many thought he died in the crash. Through a fellow POW, he was able to send a code word to his mother that he was still alive. But for the rest of America, when his camp was liberated the Medal of Honor winner seemed to come back from the dead. On 12 September 1945 he was reunited with 21 former members of “The Black Sheep Squadron.” After returning to the United State Lieutenant Colonel Gregory “Pappy” Boyington was awarded the Medal of Honor, and on 4 October1945 he received the Navy Cross from the Commandant of the Marine Corps. “Pappy” Boyington retired from the Marines in 1947.
Pappy's alcohol addiction plagued him throughout his life. As leader of the "Black Sheep Squadron", Boyington was a flamboyant commander, a darling of war reporters and a heavy drinker. According to one memoir, he would get raging drunk and try to wrestle other pilots - who were usually 10 or more years his junior. His addiction, he once wrote, was "no doubt the most damning thing in my character." In his post-war years Boyington went through a series of lurid, broken marriages and bounced from one job to another: beer salesman, stock salesman, jewelry salesman, wrestling referee. Liquor was always present. According to his son, Alcoholics Anonymous helped, but he never completely licked his addiction.
Today, many people are familiar with “Pappy” Boyington only because of the 1970’s TV Show “The Black Sheep Squadron,” which was very loosely based on Boyinton’s memoir. Robert Conrad portrayed Boyington on the TV Show. However,Boyington was often critical of the TV show, reminding interviewers and audiences that the TV show was fiction and “Hogwash.”
Boyington reportedly visited the National Air and Space Museum’s Gaber Preservation Center while a F4U Corsair similar to the one he flew was being restored. He autographed the aircraft with a marker in one of the wheel wells. Today that Corsair is on display at the National Air and Space Museum’s, Stephen D. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport. Sharp eyed visitors may be able to see the autograph as the plane hangs from the rafters. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington died in Fresno, California on 11 January 1988 from complications of cancer. He is resting in Section 7 of Arlington National Cemetery.
Here is a newsreel about "Pappy" which includes his arrival after his liberation and a few words about his ordeal.