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Pappy Tells A Story

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The following weeks were filled with continuous action. Boyington and his squadron rampaged through the enemy formations, whether the Marine Corsairs were escorting bombers, or making pure fighter sweeps. The frustrated Japanese tried to lure Pappy into several traps, but the pugnacious ace taunted them over the radio, challenging them to come and get him. By mid-December , VMF, along with the other Allied fighter squadrons, began mounting large fighter sweeps staged through the new fighter strip at Torokina Point on Bougainville.

Author Barrett Tillman described the state of affairs in the area at the end of December Boyington and other senior airmen saw the disadvantage of [these] large fighter sweeps. They intimidated the opposition into remaining grounded, which was the opposite reaction desired. A set of guidelines was drawn up for future operations. It specified that the maximum number of fighters should be limited to no more than As few aircraft types and squadrons should be employed as possible, for better coordination and mutual support.

This strategy was fine, except that Boyington was beginning to feel the pressure that being a top ace seemed to bring. Joe Foss had already equalled the early ace's total, but was now out of action.

Pappy Boyington, Flying Tiger

Boyington scored four kills on 23 December , bringing his tally to Boyington was certainly feeling the pressure to break Rickenbacker's year-old record. Boyington's intelligence officer, First Lieutenant Frank Walton, wrote of his tenseness and quick flareups when pressed about when and by how much he would surpass the magic A few days before his final mission, Boyington reacted to a persistent public affairs officer. I'd like to get 40 if I could.

The more we can shoot down here, the fewer there'll be up the line to stop us. Later that night, Boyington told Walton, "Christ, I don't care if I break the record or not, if they'd just leave me alone. Like a melodrama, however, Boyington's life now seemed to revolve around raising his score.

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Pappy's agony was about to come to a crashing halt. He got a single kill on 27 December during a huge fight against 60 Zeros. But, after taking off on a mission against Rabaul on 2 January , at the head of 56 Navy and Marine fighters, Boyington had problems with his Corsair's engine. He returned without adding to his score. The following day, he launched at the head of another sweep staging through Bougainville.

By late morning, other VMF pilots returned with the news that Boyington had, indeed, been in action. When they last saw him, Pappy had already disposed of one Zero, and together with his wingman, Captain George M. Ashmun, was hot on the tails of other victims.

The initial happy anticipation turned to apprehension as the day wore on and neither Pappy nor Ashmun returned. By the afternoon, without word from other bases, the squadron had to face the unthinkable: Boyington was missing. The Black Sheep mounted patrols to look for their leader, but within a few days, they had to admit that Pappy was not coming back. In fact, Boyington and his wingman had been shot down after Pappy had bagged three more Zeros, thus bringing his claimed total to 28, breaking the Rickenbacker tally, and establishing Boyington as the top-scoring Marine ace of the war, and, for that matter, of all time.

However, these final victories were unknown until Boyington's return from a Japanese prison camp in Boyington's last two kills were thus unconfirmed. The only one who could have seen Pappy's victories was his wingman, Captain Ashmun, shot down along with his skipper. While there is no reason to doubt his claims, the strict rules of verifying kills were apparently relaxed for the returning hero when he was recovered from a prisoner of war camp after the war.

Pappy and his wingman had been overwhelmed by a swarm of Zeros and had to bail out of their faltering Corsairs near Cape St. George on New Ireland. Captain Ashmun was never recovered, but Boyington was retrieved by a Japanese submarine after being strafed by the vengeful Zeros that had just shot him down. Boyington spent the next 20 months as a prisoner of war, although no one in the U.

He endured torture and beatings during interrogations, and was finally rescued when someone painted "Boyington Here! Aircraft dropping supplies to the prisoners shortly after the ceasefire in August spotted the message and soon everyone knew that Pappy was coming back. Although he had never received a single decoration while he was in combat, Boyington returned to the U.

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With Pappy Boyington gone, several other young Marine aviators began to make themselves known. The most productive, and unfortunately, the one with the shortest career, was First Lieutenant Robert M. Hanson of VMF Although born in India of missionary parents, Hanson called Massachusetts home.


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A husky, competitive man, he quickly took to the life of a Marine combat aviator. During his first and second tours, flying from Vella Lavella with other squadrons, including Boyington's Black Sheep, Hanson shot down five Japanese planes, although during one of these fights, he, himself, was forced to ditch his Corsair in Empress Augusta Bay.

For his third tour, he joined VMF at Torokina. By mid-January, Hanson had begun such a hot streak of kills, that the young pilot had earned the name "Butcher Bob. On 18 January , he disposed of five enemy aircraft. On 24 January, he added four more Zeros. Another four Japanese planes went down before Hanson's Corsair on 30 January. His score now stood at 25, 20 of which had been gained in 13 days in only six missions.

The Adventures Of Pappy Doodah

Hanson's successes were happening so quickly that he was relatively un known outside his combat area. Very few combat correspondents knew of his record until later. Lieutenant Hanson took off for a mission on 3 February The next day would be his 24th birthday, and the squadron's third tour would end in a few days. He was going back home. He called his flight commander, Captain Harold L.

Spears, and asked if he could strafe Japanese antiaircraft artillery positions at Cape St. George on New Ireland, the same general area over which Pappy Boyington had been shot down a month before. Hanson made his run, firing his plane's six. The Japanese returned fire as the big, blue-gray Marine fighter rocketed past, seemingly under control. However, Hanson's plane dove into the water from a low altitude, leaving only an oil slick. Hanson's meteoric career saw him become the highest-scoring Marine Corsair ace, and the second Marine high-scorer, one behind Joe Foss.

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Lieutenant Hanson received a posthumous Medal of Honor for his third tour of combat. And the youngest. Special Subjects. Mersky, U. Naval Reserve. Back to Top.