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"Pappy" Boyington's Aviator Wings and Wrist Watch


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WWII ace's belongings donated to Marine station

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010 1:02 a.m. MST By James Gilbert, Yuma Sun




YUMA, Ariz. — When retired Air Force officer Greg Boyington Jr. decided to preserve some of his famous father's possessions, he said the choice of what to do with them was an easy one. He gave them to a squadron assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. "It just seemed to me that is where they belonged," said Boyington, who flew the F-4 Phantom in Vietnam. "They were just sitting in a box in a drawer here at my home."


Arguably the most fabled Marine Corps fighter squadron is VMF-214, and it is forever linked with its legendary leader, Maj. Greg Boyington, better known by his nickname of "Pappy." Greg Boyington's father, a World War II ace who shot down 28 enemy Japanese planes, was a prisoner of war and a Medal of Honor winner, also formed the legendary Black Sheep Squadron in 1943. The squadron, composed of 49 replacement and inactive pilots, shot down in 84 days of combat 98 Japanese planes over Kahili, Bougainvilla and Rabaul in the South Pacific and annihilated or damaged at least 130 other enemy aircraft on the ground.


The modern-day Black Sheep have been based at MCAS Yuma since 1987. Boyington recently added to its rich history by donating his father's golden aviator wings to the squadron. In addition to the aviator wings, Boyington gave his father's wristwatch to the squadron. In the early 1980s, the Sieko watch company released a special edition watch that was given to all of the living Medal of Honor winners. Boyington's watch was the 34th one issued. "My father wore that watch for a number of years," Boyington said. "Then I used to wear it occasionally to my fighter pilot reunions."


Retired Lt. Col. Jim Hill, one of the five living members of the squadron's original 49 pilots, thought Boyington's gesture was very appropriate. "It was mighty nice of him," said the 90-year-old Hill, who served two tours of duty with the Black Sheep with "Pappy" as his commanding officer. Lt. Col. Robert Schroder, the squadron's current commander, said the squadron is very rooted in "Pappy" Boyington's legacy and that it was an honor to receive some of the items that signified him as the hero that he was.


Boyington had contacted the squadron in October about giving the base his father's items and offered to have them shipped to the air station, which Schroder would not let him do. "Absolutely not, because this was such a big deal for us," Schroder said. "We told him we would come and get them." Schroder said when Boyington gave them the items, he requested that they be incorporated in the squadron's activities, which they have already done.


According to the Schroder, as of Nov. 10 the squadron has implemented some new traditions that honor Boyington's request. He said the squadron's commander will wear the watch during change-of-command ceremonies, the Marine Corps Birthday Ball and other special occasions. As for the golden aviator wings, the privilege of wearing them for special occasions will always fall to the squadron's newest pilot. "Imagine being a new aviator and being handed Boyington's wings," Schroder said.


The first modern-era Black Sheep pilot to wear those wings was Capt. Srivatsan Santhanam, of Fairlawn, N.J., who wore them during the Marine Corps Ball celebrating the Corps' 235th birthday earlier this month. "It was pretty awesome. I had only been in the squadron a week and was told I get to wear 'Pappy's' wings," Santhanam said. "I was like, 'Wow, I showed up at the right time.'" Hill said VMF-214 was actually three different squadrons that all used the same squadron number and that Boyington was its second commanding officer. The first VMF-214 was nicknamed the Swashbucklers and fought in mid-1943 in the Solomons campaign under Maj. George Britt, flying Wildcats and then Corsairs. The pilots from the squadron claimed 20 aerial victories and included two aces.


The famed Black Sheep squadron was its second formation and fought above the Northern Solomons and Rabaul from August 1943 through January 1944. The squadron shot down 98 Japanese planes and counted eight aces in addition to Boyington.

The third VMF-214 was a carrier-based squadron that flew off the USS Franklin against Japan in late 1944-1945. "It was the original squadron that became famous," Hill said. "Other squadrons picked up on our name over the years."


The aviator wings and watch aren't the only items that belonged to "Pappy" that Boyington has given to the squadron. About 20 or so years ago, Boyington said, he gave a saber that belonged to his father to the squadron. According to Boyington, when his sister lived in Spokane, Wash., a woman came to her home saying she bought the saber at a garage sale. The woman noticed later that it had the name Boyington etched into the blade and tracked his sister down because she wanted to return it to the family. "Somehow it had gotten away from the family," Boyington said. "She wouldn't take any money for it, either." That saber, along with a bust of Boyington, is on display outside the commanding officer's office.

Schroder said he considers it an honor to command VMF-214 because of its proud legacy. He added that he tells Marines who are new to the squadron that it is their "lucky day" when they join.


Rest of story: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/7000871...ation.html?pg=3

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  • 5 weeks later...

That's great that they started the tradition of having a young pilot wear Maj. Boyington's wings. I can't imagine a greater honor for a naval aviator.

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