Col. Pappy Boyington - Pilot USMC
Colonel Pappy Boyington was a United States Marine Corps aviator and the commanding officer of VMF 214 USMC Black Sheep Squadron.
Colonel Boyington led one of the most successful squadrons in all of World War II. During his combat career with the Flying Tigers, and the Black Sheep Squadron, he successfully shot down 28 Japanese aircraft. The Black Sheep squadron shot down 94 enemy fighters, and had a total of 203 enemy aircraft either destroyed, probably destroyed, or damaged in only 12 weeks of combat.
"Pappy" as he was affectionately known by his men, was shot down on a mission in which he and his wingman attacked a flight of 10 Japanese Zero's and were jumped by 20 more enemy fighters. He was subsequently captured and spent the duration of World War II, over 20 months, as a prisoner of war in Japanese prison camps.
After Boyington's release, he was presented the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Truman, which had been awarded to him be President Roosevelt while he was listed as MIA.
It was before dawn on January 3, 1944, on Bougainville. I was having baked beans for breakfast at the edge of the airstrip the Seabees had built, after the Marines had taken a small chunk of land on the beach. As I ate the beans, I glanced over at row after row of white crosses, too far away and too dark to read the names. But I didn't have to, I knew that each cross marked the final resting place of some Marine who had gone as far as he was able in this mortal world of ours.
Before taking off everything seemed to be wrong that morning. My plane wasn't ready and I had to switch to another. At last minute the ground crew got my original plane in order and I scampered back into that. I was to lead a fighter sweep over Rabaul, meaning two hundred miles over enemy waters and territory again.
We coasted over at about twenty thousand feet to Rabaul. A few hazy cloud banks were hanging around-not much different from a lot of other days.
The fellow flying my wing was Captain George Ashmun, New York City. He had told me before the Mission: "You go ahead and shoot all you want, Gramps. All I'll do is keep them off your tail." This boy was another who wanted me to beat that record, and was offering to stick his neck way out in the bargain. I spotted a few planes coming through the loosely scattered clouds and signalled to the pilots in back of me :"Go down and get to work." George and I dove first. I poured a long burst into the first enemy plane that approached, and a fraction of a second later saw the Nip pilot catapult out and the plane itself break out into fire. George screamed out over the radio: "Gramps, you got a flamer!" Then he and I went down lower into the fight after the rest of the enemy planes. We figured that the whole pack of our planes was going to follow us down, but the clouds must have obscured their view. Anyway, George and I were not paying too much attention, just figuring that the rest of the boys would be with us in a few seconds, as was usually the case. Finding approximately ten enemy planes, George and I commenced firing. What we saw coming from above we thought were our own planes-but they were not. We were being jumped by about twenty planes.
George and I scissored in the conventional thatch weave way, protecting each others blank spots, the rear ends of our fighters. In doing this I saw George shoot a burst into a plane and it turned away from us plunging downward, all on fire. A second later I did the same thing to another plane. But it was then that I saw George's plane start to throw smoke, and down he went in a half glide. I sensed something was horribly wrong with him. I screamed at him: "For God's sake, George, dive!"
Our planes could dive away from practically anything the Nips had out there at the time, except perhaps a Tony. But apparently George had never heard me or could do nothing about it if he had. He just kept going down in a half glide. Time and time again I screamed at him: "For God's sake, George, dive strait down!" But he didn't even flutter an aileron in answer to me.
I climbed in behind the Nip planes that were plugging at him on the way down to the water. There were so many of them I wasn't even bothering to use my electric gun sight consciously, but continued to seesaw back and forth on my rudder pedals, trying to spray them all in general, trying to get them off George to give him a chance to bail out or dive - or do something at least.
But the same thing that was happening to him was now happening to me. I could feel the impact of enemy fire against my armour plate, behind my back, like hail on a tin roof. I could see the enemy shots progressing along my wing tips, making patterns.
George's plane burst into flames and a moment later crashed into the water. At that point there was nothing left for me to do. I had done everything I could. I decided to get the hell away from the Nips. I threw everything in the cockpit all the way forward - this means full speed ahead - and nosed my plane over to pick up extra speed until I was forced by water to level off. I had gone practically a half a mile at a speed of about four hundred knots, when all of a sudden my main gas tank went up in flames in front of my very eyes. The sensation was much the same as opening the door of a furnace and sticking one's head into the thing.
Though I was about a hundred feet off the water, I didn't have a chance of trying to gain altitude. I was fully aware that if I tried to gain altitude for a bail-out I would be fried in a few more seconds.
NOTE: I found this article quite some time back. It came from the web and I copied it thinking it may be of interest to somebody. Please be aware that it is probably copyright as it came from another source, now unknown.