Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (December 4, 1912 - January 11, 1988) was a fighter ace of the US Army Air Corps in World War II.
Boyington, who was born in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, flew with the American Volunteer Group (the "Flying Tigers") before the entry of the United States into the war. He is unofficially credited with 6 victories from this period.
Boyington is best known for his exploits in the Pacific theatre, flying the Vought F4U Corsair. He commanded the U.S. Marine Corps Corsair squadron VMF-214, better known by its nickname, the "Black Sheep". He amassed a further 20 victories before being shot down by Japanese aircraft on January 3, 1944. He spent the rest of the war in a Japanese prison camp.
Upon returning home, he received the Medal of Honor.
Boyington was a tough, hard-living character who was known for being unorthodox. He was also an alcoholic, which plagued him in the years after the war, and contributed to multiple divorces.
Many people know him from the 1970s television show Baa Baa Black Sheep, a drama about the Black Sheep squadron based very loosely on Boyington's memoir of the same name. Like Chuck Yeager on The Right Stuff, Pappy had a short walk-on role as a visiting General during the second season of the show.
While artist depictions and publicity photos often show Boyington with aircraft number 86 ("Ma Belle") covered in victory flags, this was not his combat aircraft. In fact, he rarely flew the same aircraft more than a few times. It has been said that he would choose the F4U in the worst shape, so none of his pilots would be afraid of flying their own aircraft.
AVG Victory Claims
There is some controvery surrounding Major Boyington's AVG victory claims. His official CAMCO bonus account only accumulated 3.5 bonus claims (for enemy aircraft destroyed), of which only 2 were confirmed air to air victories.
According to Bruce Gamble, Boyington felt that the board that officially credited him with kills overlooked claims from a raid in Chiang Mai.
Here is how Boyington probably calculated his score:
Confirmed air to air victories: 2 (this is what the US military officially acknowledges normally)
Chiang Mai Raid: 3.75 (15 shooters destroyed divided by 4 shooters)
He then rounded it up to 6, and convinced the Corps to officially acknowledge it. This was probably good for the Corps' image during the final days of the tour as Boyington neared the record of 26 victories held by Joe Foss and Eddie Rickenbacker. He ultimately tied the record on the same mission in which he was shot down.
Boyington insisted on the term "victories" rather than "kills", and was known to lose his temper over the issue.