Pappy Boyington, Marine Corps VMF 214 Fighter Pilot

World War II came and went, but the legendary Pappy Boyington’s name forever echoes in most newsrooms and debates whenever people decide to take a walk down memory lane and talk about the best fighting units and fighter individuals who existed back then. Of course it is not for nothing because Pappy Boyington left a legacy that no one could beat. In fact he was so good at what he used to do that Robert Conrad found a story line of a movie from his life. Even though he had a black sheep lifestyle, Pappy is one of those heroes whose name will forever live to be remembered. For those who do not know who he was or why people are always fussing over him, read on below to find out all the facts about him.

Initially known as Gregory Hallenbeck, was an American fighter pilot in World War II and was the one who led the renowned VMF 214 squadron in the war leading to many successes that he even received the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross from the government.

A brief overview of his early life

Pappy Boyington was born way back on 4th December 1912 in Idaho, Coeur d’ Alene to be precise and grew in St Maries, and later he moved with his parents to Tacoma Washington where he attended Lincoln High School and later the University of Washington where he emerged with a B.S in aeronautical engineering. As mentioned earlier, Pappy was initially known as Gregory Hallenbeck, but he later dropped the name after he found out that his stepfather was not his birth father. Pappy’s mother had divorced with his birth father while he was still young and later remarried to Hallenback and thus Pappy grew up thinking that he was his birth father. He married his wife Helene at an early age just after completion of his education at the University of Washington, and they got a son in 1934.

Some of his successes in aviation and marine

Pappy did not just wake up as a successful fighter pilot. Instead, he worked his way to success, and after his graduation from the university, he began working as an engineer and draftsman for the Boeing Company and later joined the US Marine corps where he underwent flight training. According to one of the interviews in the early 1950’s he has always had a passion for flying from an early age, and that is what motivated him to join the course. He had his first aeroplane ride when he was only six years old, and since then Pappy was always driven by aeroplanes and anything to do with aviation. Thus his success in that field does not come as a surprise as he had passion.

Joins American Volunteer group

He began as a marine lieutenant, but he later resigned and joined the American volunteer group and went on a mission to defend China against the Japanese. Here is where he first made a name for himself by successfully shooting down six Japanese Planes, and from there he just soared higher and higher. He rejoined the Marine Corps and was promoted to Major among the VM214 Black sheep squadron. During his mission for the American volunteer group, Pappy Boyington had suffered a broken leg, and most surgeons claimed that he could not do it but members of the black sheep squadron rejected any other pilots, and that is how he led the squad to become one of the most successful World War II fighter groups.

Leads the VMF 214 squadron against the Japanese

The 214 unit operated in the Pacific, Solomon Islands to be precise between 1943 and 1944 where Boyington took a daring and suicidal move by leading the group over the enemy’s territory in Bougainville Island where the Japanese airfield was based on. Here he exhibited his prowess and dared the Japanese to come up and fight them. It was one squad against 60 planes battle and the black sheep squadron managed to bring down more than 24 Japanese’s air crafts, and not even one of his group’s planes were shot down. By the time the war ended, Boyington was a household name, and he alone had managed to bring down 28 enemy planes.

However, it was not always sunshine and rainbows because in 1944 his plane was shot down during a raid and even though he managed to land on the water, he was taken prisoner by the Japanese Submarine. He spent the last days of the war as a prisoner, but after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he was set free. Pappy returned to the US in late 1945 where his achievements were recognized, and that is when he received his medal of honorand also received a purple heart and Navy cross for the Rabaul Raid which had led to his capture.


He succumbed to cancer in January 1998 at the age of 75, but his legacy lives on. Even though most people disapprove of his alcoholic lifestyle, there is no denying that Pappy Boyington was one of the best marines and fighter pilots that the United States ever had.

A very good documentary from the History Channel

See the Aviation Shirt that was inspired by Pappy Boyington.

pappy Boyington

Pappy Boyington
Pappy Boyington

Aviation historyPappy boyington

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