To Tell the Truth has made a bit of a comeback lately, airing on ABC and hosted by Anthony Anderson. But did you know the show’s earlier run featured one of the top heroes of the United States Marine Corps?
We’re talking about Colonel Gregory Boyington, better known as “Pappy.” Boyington’s reputation as an ace is beyond question: He had 28 kills, making him the “ace of aces” for the United States Marine Corps. His exploits even hit the small screen in the 1970s with the TV series Baa Baa Black Sheep, starring Robert Conrad.
Throughout his career, Boyington wasn’t exactly the most ideal officer, but he did have natural skills as a fighter pilot. Consequently, he was among those recruited to join the American Volunteer Group slated to fight for China against Japan in the Second Sino-Japanese War. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Boyington flew missions with the Flying Tigers, scoring six kills.
According to a Marine Corps biography, his nickname came from the fact that at 31 — older than most of the pilots he commanded. Boyington would go on to lead VMF-214, a squadron that would be called “The Black Sheep,” given their motley nature. VMF-214 soon became a terror for the Japanese.
Advancing platoons of Marines, including bazookamen, flamethrowers, automatic riflemen, and sharpshooters find low-flying Marine “Corsair” fighter-bombers flying to their aid. (Photo from Smithsonian)
While the pilot episode of Baa Baa Black Sheep featured Boyington’s squadron luring the Japanese by posing as unescorted bombers (shades of Operation Bolo, a masterpiece pulled off by Robin Olds, another World War II ace), Boyington did once actually taunt Japanese pilots into a fight over Kahili (near where Isoroku Yamamoto was shot down) — and the Black Sheep racked up 20 kills with no losses.
Boyington was shot down on Jan. 3, 1944. In typical fashion, he downed two enemy planes before they shot his Corsair down. He survived internment at the Otami prison camp, which also held Medal of Honor recipient Richard O’Kane, the CO of USS Tang (SS 306). After his appearance on the episode of To Tell The Truth (shown below), Boyington released his memoirs, entitled Baa Baa Black Sheep. He died in 1988.(Kyle Cowden | YouTube)