By Dave Schwab
At this year’s Memorial Day ceremony at the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial at 6905 La Jolla Scenic Drive South at 2 p.m. Monday, a WWII legend, the late Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, famed Black Sheep Squadron leader, will be honored.
Boyington, who died in 1988, was one of the most flamboyant fighter pilots of World War II: hard drinking and hard brawling, he flaunted the rules and hid the fact that he was married from the military brass so that he could be a pilot, according to Wikipedia information provided by the Mount Soledad association.
But in the air Boyington soared higher than any other Marine pilot, distinguishing himself as the leader of the famed Black Sheep Squadron, a force he assembled himself. The squadron of Corsair pilots was credited with destroying or damaging 203 enemy planes, and produced eight fighter aces with 97 air-to-air kills, 22 of them by Boyington.
“No doubt, this guy set the record with 28 kills, and he was also with the Flying Tigers (American aviators defending China against Japan in WWII),” said Bob Phillips, Mount Soledad honorary trustee regarding Boyington’s selection as honoree this year. “One of the goals each time is to find somebody who is media-worthy and who will have a connection with history.”
Boyington’s son, Gregory, of Oakland, will participate in the ceremony honoring his father whose black granite plaque will be added to the Veterans Memorial Walls.
Pappy will be remembered by a member of the VMA-214 squadron based in Yuma, consisting of AV-8B Harrier (V/STOL) jets.
Boyington’s 1958 memoir, “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” recounted his military career and became the basis for a television series starring Robert Conrad that aired from 1976 to 1978.
In a White House ceremony on Oct. 5, 1945, President Harry S. Truman presented Gregory “Pappy” Boyington with the Medal of Honor. The day before, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Alexander Vandegrift, presented Boyington with the Navy Cross.
But Boyington was never impressed with his citations, once remarking, “Show me a hero, I’ll show you a bum.”
The Memorial Day program will feature keynote speaker Vice Admiral James Zortman, USN (Ret.), former Commander, Naval Air Forces, along with music by the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Marine Band Brass Quintet.
Also participating will be the Marine Color Guard Camp Pendleton, MCAS Miramar Marine Honor Guard, and an aircraft fly-over by San Diego Salute T-34 Performance Team, conducting the “Missing Man” formation.
KCBQ radio host and syndicated columnist Mark Larson will serve as master of ceremonies.
The Memorial Day ceremony typically draws 900 to 1,000 attendees including City, State and National officials, officers of the 75 veterans organizations in San Diego County, Medal of Honor recipients and the general public.
There are now over 3,000 black granite plaques on the Memorial Walls honoring veterans from the Revolutionary War to the current conflicts in the Middle East. Plaques include a picture of the veteran with a brief summary of their military experience.