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WWII: The USMC Black Sheep Squadron's Sioux Commander

Updated on August 12, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has spent 30 years working in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active USAF Civil Air Patrol.

F4U-1A Corsair

This is a photo of four F4U-1As.  In the Solomons of WWII, the Black Sheep had no assigned planes. Boyington was photographed with F4U-1A Corsair 18086 for the news.
This is a photo of four F4U-1As. In the Solomons of WWII, the Black Sheep had no assigned planes. Boyington was photographed with F4U-1A Corsair 18086 for the news. | Source

Honoring WWII Veterans Posthumously

Researching World War II history has been an eye opening experience as I've discovered groups upon groups of servicemen and women, non-military staff and general volunteers that have eventually received the Congressional Medal of Honor in their senior years or later yet - posthumously.

The courageous exploits of one such group was recognized in October 2011 after 70 years of being hidden under a bushel.

Might we not look around today and find groups and individuals that should be paid thanks and appreciation nearer to the dates of their contributions? I am reminded of the South Korean culture in which heroes of a war, the arts, or the Olympics and such are named Living National Treasures and supported by the government in order to pursue their fields of endeavor unhindered by a "day job" and to teach others. How wonderful to do that in the USA. Perhaps some day we will reach that accomplishment, because we are a young country compared to Korea and others, America is not looking toward that goal.

Television Anomalies

Watching Baa Baa Black Sheep reruns on Saturday afternoon TV over a few years, I became interested in this squadron's history in light of so many groups' presentation with the Congressional Medal of Honor in the 2000s and 2010s. How many members of the officers and crew of this United States Marines Fighting Squadron were decorated for their actions with the VMF-214 Black Sheep Squadron? Had their been decorated already or was this yet forthcoming?

Having seen Robert Conrad in the role of Pappy Boyington for years, I never thought about Colonel Boyington (a Major while in the Solomon Islands) as fitting into a designated minority class. This is because I had never seen the Colonel. Finding a set of WWII photos of Boyington surprised me, because they showed features of a Native American.

The television series had left out Colonel Boyington's ethnic heritage as well as most of his controversies.

The series is probably one that came under the eye of the critic Harlan EllisonĀ® in his news/TV-film critic columns later collected into books called Harlan Ellison is Watching and Harlan Ellison is Still Watching and a few others like The Glass Teat, glass referring to the television picture tube.

Ellison decried the political administrations of the 1970s for censoring TV programs to sanitize them of drug and alcohol abuse. However, what Black Sheep Squadron did was to sanitize Boyington, make him Caucasian, and make his crew somewhat of a bunch of drunken misfits - more like F-Troop with alcohol.

The Actor and the Real Boyington

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Solomon Islands

Turtle Bay, Espritu Santo:
Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

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A station for Black Sheep Squadron

Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands

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Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea

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Staging area for Boyington's last mission before capture.

Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

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Captured by the Japanese and interrogated here.

Papua New Guinea:
Papua New Guinea

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Solomon Islands Tour of Duty

Boyington became the Commander of the US Marine's squadron VMF-214, assigned to defend the USA and Allies in action in the air over the Solomon Islands from 1943-1944.

He was only 31 years old when he asked for and accepted command of a group of pilots almost all 10 years younger than himself. This was a group of young men exposed to tough air battles in which they were often outnumbered, but succeeded nonetheless.

Boyington was shot down in January 1944 and captured by Japanese forces. The rest of the Black Sheep Squadron were then ordered to the American aircraft carrier USS Franklin. However, the ship was attacked by a Japanese dive bomber that nearly sank the vessel in March of 1945, killing 39 Black Sheep and many others.

After the Solomons - The Ship That Wouldn't Die

USS Franklin (CV-13) near the Mariana Islands on August 1,1944.
USS Franklin (CV-13) near the Mariana Islands on August 1,1944. | Source

A Clutch of Controversies


Colonel Boyington is credited with shooting down 28 enemy planes in the Pacific while working in China and the Solomon Islands. However, different references state that he earned 26, 27, or 28 "kills." Some writers say that #28 was undocumented, even in Japanese records, while others say that #26 and #27 were not documented well enough.

However, the real discrepancy seems to be in #4, #5, and #6, which were done in China, where the pilots were paid bonuses for each air kill. The Colonel always stuck to his statement that he had shot down 6 Japanese planes himself out of 15 total downed (ref. Bruce Gamble, Back Sheep One). Given Boyington's early and consistent long-term proficiency above other pilots, I believe him. FDR accepted 26 kills in his citation of Boyington for the Congressional Medal of Honor. A combat report of September 1945 stated 28 air kills (ref: Bruce Gamble, ibid.).


In 1960, Colonel Boyington wrote Tonya, a spy novel about actual events during the time he served with The Flying Tigers. Names of characters were disguised with syllable shifting. Warnings accompanying collectors' copies today indicate that the novel is "not for children."


The Colonel had a long standing struggle with alcohol use and with male-female relationships. Many have called him a womanizer. Others state that he was suffering what would become Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and acting out. I think it was a little of both, some bad behavior and the effects of PTSD. The idea that "all Indians are drunks" also had some play among people that did not want Boyington honored in any way.


On WorldNet Daily - Students reject honor to 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' hero. Member of Marines not 'sort of person UW wanted to produce' 2006.

My Observations:

Before becoming a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross, Gregory Boyington was born in Coeur d'alene, Idaho in 1912 (died 1988) and attended the University of Washington in 1930-1934 to earn a degree is aeronautical engineering.

He had served honorably in the ROTC at UW as well. He worked successfully for Boeing for a year and then joined the United States Marine Corps, where he distinguished himself in flight training. He quit to become a WWII volunteer in China (with the Flying Tigers fighting group) as instructor and pilot, then returned to the USMC and the Solomon Islands (Black Sheep Squadron).

Apparently, he flew a desk for a while after China, assigning replacement pilots that he eventually banded together as the Black Sheep. Boyington shot down at least 25 enemy planes before he was captured by the Japanese and held prisoner for almost two years. Released in late August 1945, Colonel Boyington received his medals and resigned his commission to work in aviation.

Boyington died in January 1988 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery as a military honor.

In 2006 a scholarship fund was offered to UW in his name. However, a representative of the student government stated that the offer should be rejected, because "ALL US Marines are not the type of people that the school should honor."

A general public outcry arose against this statement. A second student claimed that UW had enough momuments already to "rich white men" (Boyington was part Native American). A third suggested remembering him for his service and not his combat kills.

Heated discussions took place among members of student government and university administration. During these periods of sharing, it was determined by first-hand witnesses that Boyington had not been rich and was at least 1/4 Sioux, and therefore not a rich white man. Was the student government going to discriminate against Native Americans and the good guys of WWII?

Unfortunately, Boyington apparently knew little of his heritage, except that he was Sioux-Irish.


The student government accepted Boyington for induction into the UW memorial recognition project with several other veterans and unveiled a monument of plaques in their honor on Memorial Day, 2009. A scholarship fund was also opened to honor Colonel Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (see links below).


In the 2000s, the Coeur d'alene, Idaho Airport was asked to change their name to include 'Gregory "Pappy" Boyington Airfield.' Excuses given for rejection of the honor were that the airport would be less safe with his name on it (in the 2000s?) and "anyway, he was not a good role model." After much argument over extended time, in September 2007 the name finally was changed to Coeur d'Alene Airport - Pappy Boyington Field at

Final Honors

At the end of all the discussions, Colonel Boyington kept the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, was inducted into the Medal of Honor Memorial project at the University of Washington, established a scholarship fund, and had his hometown airfield renamed after him. A statute of him has been displayed in photos across the Internet in its clay sculpture full-sized model stage, but I have not seen a completed statue. A bust of the flying ace has been donated, along with other memorabilia, to the current VMF-214 squadron that is still active in the USMC. Despite problems with alcohol and relationships, I think he accomplished in his military service what few others have done.

Colonel Gregory Boyington, Sr. is one of only 28 Native Americans to receive the Congressional Medial of Honor since its inception during the American Civil War. The first was US Army Sergeant Co-Rux-Te-Chod-Ish in 1869 and the last was US Army PFC Charles George in 1954. From 1955 to 2011 - 57 years - there have been none.

Coeur d'alene, Idaho

Coeur d'alene, Idaho:
Coeur d'Alene, ID, USA

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Born in 1912. The local airport carries his name as of 2007.

Okanogan, WA:
Okanogan, WA 98840, USA

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The Boyington family moved here to an apple farm in the 1920s.

University of Washington:
University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98105, USA

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Boyington earned a BS in Aeronautical Engineering in 1934. Inducted into UW Medal of Honor Memorial in 2009.

By Pappy Boyington

Baa Baa Black Sheep: The True Story of the "Bad Boy" Hero of the Pacific Theatre and His Famous Black Sheep Squadron
Baa Baa Black Sheep: The True Story of the "Bad Boy" Hero of the Pacific Theatre and His Famous Black Sheep Squadron
This is as complete a history as can be had to date, of the operations and exploits of the USMC Black Sheep Squadron. 496 pages, illustrated.


Materials used in the above article.

  • Boyington, Gregory. Baa Baa Black Sheep. Bantam. 1977.
  • Commager, Henry S. Solomon Islands Diary (SID). March - November 1943. Simon & Schuster. 2002 [This is an expansion of the original diary from March through early November 1943, called Solomon Islands Diary]
  • e4 productions. Pappy Boyington Field. DVD. 2010.
  • Gamble, Bruce. Black Sheep One: The Life of Gregory "Pappy" Boyington. Novato CA : Presidio Press. 2000.
  • Geranios, Nicholas K. and The Associated Press. The San Francisco Chronicle: 'Pappy' Boyington a black sheep no longer; 20 years after hero's death, his hometown renames its airport. February 10, 2008. ( Retrieved 10/22/2011.)
  • The Last Interview. ( Interview. Retrieved 10/24/2011) See link above.
  • Universal Studios. Baa Baa Black Sheep, Volume I. First half of season one. DVD. 2005.
  • Universal Studios. Baa Baa Black Sheep, Volume II. Second half of season one. DVD. 2007


Ā© 2011 Patty Inglish MS


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    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      Congratulation for an amazing research, information and hub. It is fantastic. I love reading every bit of it.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      @Dahoglund - I knew lettle about the Flying Tigers before I read the books on Boyington. In fact, I knew only that a local small airfield rented hangars to a company named after them. lol

      @dallas93444 - How many of us could take up a Corsair bird-cage open top - or even the bubble top - and provoke enemy planes to take off and chase us? A few. Thanks!

      @Joan - I was blown away by all that I had read before and had never looked for a picture of the Colonel. I have too many things on my to-do list and must set new priorities!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      @FlioraBreenRobinson -

      That is why I liked Clint Eastwood for making a film from the Japanese point of view in WWII and why I read much about the intern camps written about by Japanese inmates and their children. I want more of both sides. Germany and Italy - I need to read more form their perspectives.

      A boss once told me that if I want to know the real stry of current events in USA, to read Canadian newspapers and websites. Some truth to that!

      Some of my UK ancestors migrated or worked their way across America to the West in the early 1800s. They saw a few black cowboys. Others of them fought in the Civil War and saw a few Black and Native American soldiers - not a lot but a few. So I am happy for the diaries I find in museums and special collections that show more of the real history - like diaries of the man that wrote about the drinking of the English at the "First Thanksgiving" because they'd brought beer and no crop seeds on the ship; and how there were no Pilgims there at all.

      As for Boyington - his training and flying records early in his training were far superior to anyone else's. They had to be even more so to gain respect, since he looked Native Amer. (more so when young than when old). Interestingly, he began drinking during or after his training in Pensacola. This happens to too many of our service people. Anyway, I believe his record of 28 after reading the books and the first-hand interviews with others and with him Thanks for commenting!

    • profile image

      Joan Whetzel 

      9 years ago

      Wow, you really found a lot of information on this gentleman. I love reading history, so I really found this article of particular interest. Great hub.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      9 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      I respect your thoroughness, and professionalism. It was a pleasure and informative to read this article.

      Perhaps our zeal to have a 'perfect' hero takes away from our fellow humans - being human, subject to life and its processes... None of us are perfect, but shades and flavors of doing the best we can.

      I salute 'Pappy' Boyington for the courage to take risks and to make a positive difference: in himself and others.

      Up and awesome...

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      9 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Interesting and awesome.I remember watching reruns of that show when I was in the hospital several years ago.I did not know that "Pappy" was part Indian.When I was a kid after the war I remember hearing about the flying tigers,maybe because the comic strip Terry and the pirates was popular.Anyhow a very good hub on an American hero.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      9 years ago

      Dad has a large framed poster of Boyington's plane. I'm never sure when I read history of war activity if it is correct because winning sides write the history and the tendency is to pump up how fabulous the winners' side was. And then there is Hollywood who likes to add individual examples of non-white military personnel in their battle films to say See we have our token black man..


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