“Pappy Boyington Field” is a film that tells the story of the grass-roots effort to honor WWII hero Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, who earned the Navy Cross and the Medal of Honor for his leadership of the Black Sheep Squadron in the Pacific during World War II.
The film follows members of his hometown of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho who battled against bureaucracy to name an airfield after this extraordinary hero.
Boyington flew initially with the American Volunteer Group in the Republic of China Air Force during the Second Sino-Japanese War. He later commanded the famous U.S. Marine Corps squadron, VMF-214 “The Black Sheep Squadron” during World War II.
The Black Sheep Squadron amassed an impressive record of victories against the Japanese. Pappy Boyington was credited with 26 victories, until he was himself shot down over the Pacific and captured by the Japanese. He spent 20 months as a Prisoner of War, and was listed as Missing in Action for the duration of the war. Upon his liberation from the prison camp at the end of the war, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
In his memoir, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Boyington portrays himself as a tough, unorthodox, hard-living character. He was also a heavy drinker, which plagued him in the years after the war, and possibly contributed to his multiple divorces. He himself, freely admitted that during the two years he spent as a P.O.W. his health improved, due to the enforced sobriety.
Brad Schaeffer in his article, ‘Pappy’ Boyington Almost Shot Down by the P.C. Craze? writes:
“Believe it or not, it took several years and a mammoth grass-roots effort from several Marine veterans groups, Pappy’s family members, and even the weight of celebrities like Col. Oliver North (USMC Ret.) and actor Robert Conrad (who played Boyington in the 1970s series “Baa Baa Black Sheep” to convince the town council to even consider a vote on the motion let alone get it passed.
In 2007, after several years of controversy, the airport was finally renamed Pappy Boyington Field.
Gonzalez’s film, which leads off with interviews of aging Marine veterans from Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima and morphs into a tale of denying one of their comrades the recognition he earned because he did not pass a personal litmus test of what is a “good example” set by men far removed from the war and its impact, provides yet another small piece of the puzzle of what has gone awry with America.
Although today when visiting Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, you do indeed fly into Pappy Boyington Field, showing that people, if organized and determined, can still have a voice as to the direction of their community and nation.
Director Kevin Gonzalez states on the film’s website:
“One does not undertake a story about a Medal of Honor recipient without a tremendous sense of responsibility to the subject.
I was inspired by the many Veterans involved in the campaign, because they are heroes in their own right. In the film I’ve tried to capture the essence of what a Medal of Honor recipient means to people, and how that sentiment fueled their resilience in this fight.
How many towns can say that a Medal of Honor recipient was born here? It seemed like such an innocuous issue on the surface, so I couldn’t understand why there was a controversy. I then decided to document the story as it unfolded, not knowing how long it would continue or how it would end. There are many themes I explore in this story, but at its core, the film offers a unique perspective on local community activism.
The struggle against bureaucracy seemed universal to me whether a community wants to honor a Librarian, a Fireman, or in this case a Fighter Pilot…the people should have a voice in a decision about a public commemoration.”
Resources and Photo Credits:
Documentary website: Pappy Boyington Field: A Campaign to Honor a Hero
Pappy’ Boyington Almost Shot Down by the P.C. Craze? Brad Schaeffer Breitbart