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January 3, 1944 - Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (right) is shot down near Rabaul. Attending the University of Washington, Boyington majored in aeronautical engineering. In 1935, he joined the Marine Corps and began flight training the following year. Earning his wings, he proved a highly skilled pilot, but struggled with drinking and discipline when on the ground. Leaving the USMC in 1941, he joined the American Volunteer Group (Flying Tigers) in China. Flying against the Japanese, he claimed six kills (this number is disputed) before returning the United States in mid-1942. With World War II raging, he was accepted back into the USMC and given the temporary rank of major. After brief stints with various squadrons in the Solomon Islands, he worked to form VMF-214 by combining unassigned pilots with unused aircraft. Flying under the moniker "Black Sheep," the squadron performed admirably through fall of 1943 with Boyington scoring numerous kills. On January 3, 1944, Boyington downed his 26th aircraft tying Eddie Rickenbacker's American record. On the same mission, he claimed two more kills before being force to ditch. Captured by the Japanese, he spent the remainder of the war in POW camps. For his heroics in late 1943 he was awarded the Medal of Honor and then the Navy Cross for the January 3 mission. Returning home after the war, he continued to struggle with drinking and left the Marines in 1947. He rose to prominence again in the 1970s with the filming of the television show Baa Baa Black Sheep which presented a fictionalized portrayal of the squadron's exploits. Boyington died in 1988 of cancer.

World War II - Aces:

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command


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