Gregory Boyington was born in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in December 1912 and had a familial connection to the Brule Sioux tribe. During his childhood, he took his first flight with Clyde Pangborn, who later became the first pilot to fly over the Pacific Ocean non-stop.
Boyington was a wrestler at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington, until he graduated in 1930. In 1934, he graduated from the University of Washington, where he received a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering. During his time in college, he was a member of Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and became a cadet captain. Upon graduating, he worked for the Boeing Company as a draftsman and engineer.
Due to his experience with the Army ROTC in college, he commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Reserve in June 1934. During this time, he served two months of active duty with the 630th Coast Artillery at Fort Worden, Washington.
He joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve on June 13, 1935, and later joined active duty in March 1937. In January 1939, he transferred to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Group at San Diego Naval Air Station. Boyington promoted to first lieutenant on Nov. 4, 1940, and he returned to Pensacola, Florida, as an instructor in December 1940.
In April 1942, Boyington resigned from his commission in the Marine Corps after accepting an offer to join the American Volunteer Group (AVG), better known as the Flying Tigers. He later returned to the Marine Corps as a major.
In September 1943, he served as commanding officer of Marine Fighter Squadron 214, the “Black Sheep Squadron.” Boyington was 31 at the time and older than the other pilots. His peers called him “Gramps” and “Pappy.” Boyington scored 26 victories against the Japanese, until they shot him down over the Pacific and captured him. For the next 20 months, Boyington was a prisoner of war. At the end of the war, forces liberated him from a prison camp.
He returned to the U.S. as a lieutenant colonel, and in March 1944, he received a Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman. Boyington later received a Navy Cross and a Purple Heart.
Following his retirement from the Marine Corps on Aug. 1, 1947, he wrote an autobiography, “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” in 1958. His memoir loosely inspired the mid-1970s television show “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”
He died of cancer on Jan. 11, 1988, in Fresno, California. His fourth wife, Josephine, two adult children and eight grandchildren survived him. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery and received full military honors.
We honor his service.
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