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History's Happenings for January 2

Georgia Admitted to Union
1788

(Stay tuned for a write-up on this event.
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Last Moorish Stronghold in Spain Surrenders
1492

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U.S. Opens Door to China
1900

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U.S., Canada Agree to Preserve Niagara Falls
1929

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Japs Shoot Down "Pappy" Boyington
1944

Black Sheep leader Greg "Pappy" Boyington

After leading his famed "Black Sheep" fighter squadron for four months in the battle for the Solomons, Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington was finally cornered by his quarry: He was shot down near the big Jap naval base at Rabaul, New Britain, on January 2, 1944.

Boyington had served with the Flying Tigers in China at the beginning of the war, racking up six kills, and a history of booze and trouble -- including disagreements with Tiger leader General Claire Chennault. Reassigned to stateside, Boyington pulled strings -- including a brazen and successful letter to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox -- to get himself assigned to the Solomons as the Guadalcanal campaign was winding down.

Denied command of an established squadron by local brass concerned about his record, he saw the opportunity to patch together a new squadron from displaced and unassigned pilots hanging around Espiritu Santo, south of Guadalcanal. In order to get his group into the fight, Boyington "stole" a squadron designation -- VMF-214 -- from a retiring squadron, rather than follow channels and apply for a new number from the States.

Contrary to the TV show, the original Black Sheep were not drunks and court martial escapees -- they were capable, if often hastily trained, pilots who had simply not yet been assigned and were champing at the bit to fight Japs. While Boyington's ploy was technically against the rules, his aim was to get these pilots into the war where they were desperately needed. Luckily he had the support of the crusty assistant commander of the First Marine Air Wing, Major General James Moore.

Flying the relatively new and highly capable Chance-Voight F4U Corsair up to their jungle station on the island of Munda, north of Guadalcanal, the pilots decided they needed a name for their squadron to help them stand out from the crowd. Their leader had been told he would never fly again, because of his penchant for trouble and his age -- an ancient 31, which earned him the tag "Pappy" from his men. The pilots themselves had never been trained as a squadron and had been sitting around in dull administrative jobs at Espiritu. What else could they call themselves but "Boyington's Bastards"?

Fortunately, in those more sensible days such a name was unprintable, which defeated the whole purpose. So they changed it to "Black Sheep" and made history. The squadron embarked on its first combat tour in September, 1943, and promptly began to run up a score escorting bombers and strafing enemy positions.

The "fighter sweep", where flights of fighters visit an attack area ahead of troops or bombers to soften up the air defenses, had not been substantially used since the killing fields of World War I. Boyington saw it as an opportunity not only to cut bomber losses in the Solomons campaign, but also a chance to bring up more Zeros for target practice. The brass disagreed and refused to authorize such missions. Pappy got his chance anyway when, in October, 1943, he was late taking off and missed his rendezvous with the bombers he was to protect. So he took his four-plane division to the target ahead of the bombers and pasted it. When the latter arrived and encountered virtually no resistance, the fighter sweep became a standard Marine tactic.

It was on such a fighter sweep over Rabaul that Pappy finally got his. Shot down, his wingman (from this author's hometown) killed in action, Boyington was picked up by a Jap sub and spent the remaining 20 months of the war as a POW. Frantic searches by the Black Sheep did not find evidence of his plane or rescue, so Pappy was MIA and presumed killed until the war ended, meanwhile receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt.

The original Black Sheep flew two combat tours -- about six weeks each -- between September, 1943 and January, 1944, and racked up an astounding tally of 92 air combat kills, plus a lot of probables and ground targets. This for a total of twenty-eight pilots (plus replacements in the second tour). Of those 92, 22 were claimed by Boyington making him, at 28 kills, one of the top aces of World War II. Seven other Black Sheep also made ace. Eleven did not come home.

After the war, Boyington returned an acclaimed hero, but missed most of life's subsequent chances, owing mainly to booze and failed marriages. He recounted his wartime experiences in Baa, Baa, Black Sheep (1958) and was an "advisor" on the not-so-accurate TV show in the '70s. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy."

But the Black Sheep still revere Pappy's combat leadership, and their feats in the air against the enemy are still military headlines.

When the squadron number was sent back to the states in early '44, it had attained such acclaim that VMF-214 continued to be called the "Black Sheep" whenever it was reactivated, and many more pilots came to refer to themselves proudly as Black Sheep, imagining themselves flying with Pappy and his boys.

Nixon Mandates 55 MPH Limit
1974

President Richard M. Nixon

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Betsy Ross Day

This day commemorates the raising of the first truly American flag by the Continental Army in early 1776. In actuality, that flag wasn't what we today understand as the "Betsy Ross" flag -- one containing a circle of thirteen stars in a blue field. Rather it was one of red and white stripes but containing the British Union Jack in the field.

This reminds us that, until circumstances demanded differently in mid-1776, the American colonies hoped to achieve independence within the British Empire.




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