On Dec. 4, 1912 in Coeur d'Alene, a hero was born. He was a young man of modest means who had his first airplane ride at 8 years of age with the legendary Clyde Pangborn; a young man who worked summers in the mines to pay for his education at the University of Washington. It was this same young man who dreamed of being a pilot. Fate took a turn, and when the Chinese government was looking for pilots to fly fighters against the Japanese who were hell bent on destroying China, this young man was at the right place at the right time. That young man was Gregory Boyington, a member of the American Volunteer Group -- The Flying Tigers.
Colonel Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, USMC, was one of America's air heroes -- a fighter pilot and an "Ace" five times over. As a Major, he was the commanding officer of the VMF-214, known as the Black Sheep Squadron during World War II. The Black Sheep flew the thin-skinned Corsair aircraft against the Japanese Zeroes over the Pacific Ocean. Pappy Boyington was a courageous and daring pilot who cared deeply for the men in his command. He was immortalized on TV by Robert Conrad in the series Baa Baa Black Sheep, which ran from 1976-78.
On one mission, Boyington led a formation of 24 fighters over Kahili, continuously circling the airdrome where 60 hostile aircraft were grounded; he boldly challenged the Japanese to send up planes. This action resulted in the downing of 20 Japanese fighters with no losses of American aircraft.
On January 3, 1944, Pappy Boyington shot down his 28th Japanese aircraft and was himself shot down and thought dead until the end of the war. For reasons still unknown, the Japanese never released information about his capture. During his 20 months as a prisoner of war, he was mistreated like many Americans in Japanese hands, although he was among the few pilots not beheaded. Upon his return to America after the Japanese surrender, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
It's time to recognize one of the most famous men of the Inland Northwest. Idaho produced Greg Boyington, and we're proud of it. For several years, members of the community have been trying to convince politicians in Kootenai County to change the Coeur d'Alene Airport to "Pappy Boyington Field."
Have we forgotten what has made America great? Have we forgotten events like Iwo Jima, that desolate island, commemorated in the recent film Flags of Our Fathers, where the United States suffered 26,000 casualties in one battle? Have we forgotten the gallant fight of the 101st Airborne in the Battle of the Bulge? During World War II, many people contributed to the war effort, at home and overseas, and for that they have been called "The Greatest Generation" -- but few among them were awarded the Medal of Honor. Pappy Boyington was a local-born Medal of Honor recipient and a legendary aviator.
Why should we remember Pappy Boyington? Why do so many people believe that he is still relevant today? Because he is one of ours -- the kind of man who represents the Inland Northwest: strong, determined and willing to fight for what is right. It is my sincere hope that the politicians in Kootenai County listen to the will of the people. With Veteran's Day having just passed, it's time for the Kootenai County Commissioner to bestow the honor of adding "Pappy Boyington Field" to the Coeur d'Alene Airport.
Allan Hagelthorn is a retired USAF Pilot who
received the Distinguished Flying Cross for
Heroism during Operation Desert Storm.