|Serving under Boyington|
Three of the surviving members of the original Black Sheep Squadron talk about their commander, the legendary Greg 'Pappy' Boyington.
|Marine Corps then and now|
Harry Johnson, original member of the Black Sheep Squadron under the command of Maj. Gregory "Pappy" Boyington during World War II, talks about the differences between the squadron then and now.
|How to become an Ace|
Original Black Sheep Squadron pilot Ed Harper , who served under legendary commander Greg 'Pappy' Boyington, explains how one became a WWII Ace fighter pilot, and how enemy 'kills' were counted.
|Living legacy of VMF214|
Three of the five surviving members of the original Black Sheep Squadron, VMF214, met with current squadron members at their hanger at MCAS-Yuma Thursday (4-14-11).
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VMF 214 hosts reunion with three original pilots
The past met the present Thursday for Marine Attack Squadron 214 — known as the Black Sheep.
Three of the famed squadron's original pilots from World War II spent the day with its current pilots and squadron members as part of a reunion.
Attending were Jim Hill and Ed Harper, each of whom served both combat tours with the Black Sheep, and Harry Johnson, who is credited with shooting down the last enemy plane for the squadron. Also in attendance was Greg Boyington Jr., the son of the squadron's legendary commander.
“This will most likely be the last opportunity to get these legends together in one place alongside today's Black Sheep,” said Lt. Col. Robert Schroder, current squadron commanding officer. “We are very excited to have the squadron history come alive with these World War II heroes as well as additional squadron legends to include former commanding officers representing almost seven decades of squadron history.”
Arguably the most famous World War II squadron, VMF-214 is forever linked with its commanding officer, Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, who also formed the squadron. The squadron fought in the Solomon Islands from August 1943 through January 1944.
The Black Sheep shot down 94 Japanese planes and counted eight aces, in addition to Boyington. Boyington died in 1988.
Hill, Harper and Johnson spoke about a number of subjects during about an hourlong news conference held inside the squadron's hangar, including their personal experiences during the war and even the 1970s television based on the squadron.
“This place is so plush. This is like a palace,” Johnson said laughingly when asked about the squadron's modern-day hangar. “The Marine Corps was a tent somewhere that smelled really bad.”
Harper credited Boyington for all of the squadron's success, saying it wouldn't have been as successful as it was during the war had it not been for him.
“He was a fine man. He was a fine leader. He shot down plenty of enemy planes. We were lucky to have him,” Harper said.
“He made the squadron what it was. Without him we wouldn't have gotten the recognition we did. He made young pilots brave, if you could do that.”
Harper, who shot down one enemy aircraft and two probables on fighter sweeps over Kahili and Rabaul in October 1943, also addressed the subject of the popular television series “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” which was very loosely based on a portion of Boyington's career. Harper said while it was a terrible program, it probably served a purpose.
“It wasn't even true. It had women in it and we never saw any women.”
Harper also talked about unconventional Boyington was compared with other fighter pilots of the time, and how that influenced the pilots who served under his command. He explained that while the philosophy among most fighter pilots of the time was not to get separated from your wingman in an aerial dogfight, that wasn't Boyington's style.
“He seemed not to have any fear,” Harper said. “He would say if you find something to shoot at, go shoot at it. Don't worry about my butt, I will take care of it myself.”
Hill, who was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses and 12 Air Medals in his flying career, talked about how the squadron got its name, saying they originally wanted to call themselves Boyington's Bastards, but the media wouldn't print it.
Eventually they gave in, he said, and changed the name to the Black Sheep, adding that “it was better anyway.”
He also talked about the unusual way the squadron was formed, explaining that it was formed from a pool of replacement pilots and unassigned combat veterans. Typically when a squadron was formed, pilots are assigned and trained together before ever becoming active.
“We were just thrown together,” said Hill, who was one of the 28 original Black Sheep pilots taken from that pool. “Usually pilots work together in a squadron and then go overseas.”
Hill, who still occasionally speaks at air shows, said he is surprised about all the notoriety he and the squadron still receive to this day. He compared the Black Sheep and their combat record to another group of famous WWII pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen.
“One squadron in the Marine Corps did as much damage as all of their squadrons combined,” Hill said.
Almost all of the pilots had previously been with other squadrons, according to Hill, and he said he felt it made a difference.
“To a man we all felt like there was something really special about VMF-214 that we did not experience with other squadrons. We were a close-knit unit from the get-go. We really operated as a team.”
Incidentally, after VMF-214 was broken up after its third rotation, many of the pilots, including Hill, Harper and Johnson, were transferred to VMF-211, the Wake Island Avengers, which is also now stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854.