Eagle Profile

Marine Colonel “Pappy” Boyington is the greatest living ace in the Vought F4U Corsair and winner of the Medal of Honor. Born in Idaho in 1914, he was an ROTC cadet while in college and entered the Coastal Artillery as a second lieutenant soon after graduation. He transferred to the Marine Corps Reserve in 1935 and was released to inactive duty until 1936 when he accepted an appointment as an aviation cadet. Boyington completed flight training the following year and flew with the Marine Corps until August 1941 when he resigned his commission to join the American Volunteer Group (AVG) in China. While with the famed Flying Tigers, he became a squadron commander, flew over 300 combat hours, and shot down six Japanese aircraft.

The AVG disbanded in July 1942, and Boyington was soon reinstated as a major in the Marine Corps. In August 1943, he formed Fighter Squadron VMF-214 to fly Corsairs in the Pacific Theater. He manned his unit with misfits, leftouts, replacements, and “green” pilots, all of which contributed to the now famous name “Black Sheep Squadron.” Called “Pappy” by his younger subordinates, Boyington quickly proved his skills as a commander and whipped his Black Sheep into a tough combat unit that destroyed 18 enemy aircraft on their first combat mission, which was over the Japanese-held island of Bougainville. On that mission, “Pappy” scored five aerial victories and, within just 32 days, shot down a total of 14 enemy planes.

In January 1944, he was reported missing in action after leading his unit on a fighter sweep over heavily defended Rabaul. Although it was not known until the end of the war, Boyington had been shot down and taken prisoner. He remained a POW for 20 months until his release on 29 August 1945. After Boyington’s return home, President Truman awarded him the Medal of Honor for heroic actions as commander of the Black Sheep Squadron. Colonel Boyington retired from the Marine Corps in 1947.

Years Honored:


1985 Lithograph

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On his last combat mission, flown on 3 January 1944, "Pappy" Boyington led 48 fighters on a strike against Rabaul. In the dogfight that ensued, he quickly flamed a Japanese Zero--his 26th victory of the war. As he and his wingman attacked and destroyed another fighter each, they were jumped by 20 additional enemy fighters. In the deadly and swift action, "Pappy's" wingman was hit hard and rolled into a steep dive toward the ocean. The crippled Corsair immediately attracted a number of Japanese fighters. Without regard for his own safety, Boyington dived after the enemy fighters. While kicking his rudder back and forth and spraying the enemy aircraft with bullets, he scored his 28th victory. However, during the battle, his own plane was hit repeatedly as he tried in vain to save his wingman. Soon after "Pappy" leveled off from his dive at 100 feet above the ocean, his big fighter burst into flames, forcing him to bail out. He was picked up by a Japanese submarine and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner.