Black Sheep One is the first biography of legendary warrior and World War II hero Gregory Boyington. In 1936, Boyington became an aviation cadet and earned the "wings of gold" of a naval aviator. After only a short period on active duty, however, he was "encouraged" to resign from the Marine Corps due to his unconventional behavior. Remarkably, this inauspicious beginning was just the prologue to a heroic career as an American fighter pilot and innovative combat leader. With the onset of World War II, when skilled pilots were in demand, he became the commander of an ad hoc squadron of flying leathernecks. Led by Medal of Honor winner Boyington, the legendary Black Sheep set a blistering pace of aerial victories against the enemy.
Though many have observed that when the shooting stops, combat heroes typically just fade away, nothing could be further from the truth for Boyington. Blessed with inveterate luck, the stubbornly independent Boyington lived a life that went beyond what even the most imaginative might expect. Exhaustively researched and richly detailed, here is the complete story of this American original.
Anyone over 50 should recognize the name: leading the WWII Marine Fighting Squadron 214Athe air and ground fighting Black SheepABoyington ("Black Sheep One") racked up the most hits in the Marines, earning the Medal of Honor before being shot down over Japanese territory in 1944. Presumed dead, he spent 20 months in a prisoner-of-war camp, and was released at war's end to the surprise of the nation. Twelve years later, his memoir Baa Baa Black Sheep hit bestseller lists, and six years after that, the book became a hit TV series starring Robert Conrad. Retired naval flight officer Gamble, who has already penned an account of the squad's exploits, here narrows his focus to its most famous exponent. The results are less than heroic. Black Sheep's appeal was in its raciness for its time (in one scene quoted here, Boyington is on his knees "in front of two very gorgeous gams"); one purpose of this book seems to be to fill in the blanks and innuendo, and to detail some years better lost. It's unclear that anyone still cares about these matters, though, and the same is true of the numbing familial detail of the first chapters. But Boyington's military exploits are still of interest to buffs, and here Gamble's expertise comes to the fore. If Boyington, who died in 1988 at 76, had a tendency to fudge or exaggerate, Gamble carefully sets the matter of his actual achievements straight, and they remain impressive. Veterans of the war and fans of the show may want the full story here, but since Gamble assumes Boyington's status rather than rehabilitates it, few others will tune in. (Dec.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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March 03, 2003
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Excerpt from Black Sheep One by Bruce Gamble
> 1 > > > > Rough and Tumble > > > > The vista that greeted Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as they trekked > through Lolo Pass was breathtaking. Leading a congressionally funded > expedition across the Bitterroot Range of the Rocky Mountains in September > 1805, they became the first known whites to admire the soaring granite > peaks and swift, cold rivers of what would later become the panhandle of > Idaho. It had taken them sixteen months to come this far, and another year > would pass before they returned to their own civilization. Meanwhile, the > Shoshone Indians who guided them through the mountains surely saw the > white men's presence as a sign that more would follow. > > More did, just a trickle, barely noticeable at first. French trappers and > missionaries arrived from Canada, giving their descriptive names to some > of the tribes, the Nez Perce and Coeur d'Alene among them. For years the > hardy trappers and devout reformers were the only newcomers to venture > into the unforgiving mountains, but other settlers were eventually drawn > by the promise of abundant resources and spectacular beauty. Then came the > Civil War, after which the westward expansion mushroomed, precipitated by > the joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads in 1869. > The banging home of a ceremonial gold spike completed an engineering feat > that changed the Indians' ways forever--and changed the land. > > From the transcontinental railroad a network of tracks spread across the > West like a crazy web. Adventure seekers, industrialists, and immigrants > looking for the American Dream rode the rails and wagon trails to newly > accessible regions. The seekers surveyed vast regions of timber, found > gold and silver, discovered bonanzas of natural bounty; the industrialists > found ways to exploit these finds and extract the riches from the land. As > the railroads brought more people, the towns grew in proportion, requiring > ever greater quantities of lumber. > > In 1902, a trained timber estimator named Joseph Boyington left his > children in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and moved to the "stovepipe" of Idaho, > not far from the trail blazed by Lewis and Clark. The surrounding > mountains held an enormous belt of white pine, reputedly the largest stand > in the world, providing plenty of opportunity for a "timber cruiser" such > as he. If a landowner wished to sell acreage to a lumber company, > Boyington could determine how much usable timber it held, depending on the > size of trees the company wanted to log. By traversing the property at > specified distances, or "chains," and counting the trees meeting the > desired diameter, he could estimate the total board feet of lumber and > assess its value. > > The lure of opportunity brought Boyington to Dalton Gardens, a peaceful > neighborhood of small farms and apple orchards north of Coeur d'Alene. > Back in Eau Claire, he had farmed and was proprietor of a wholesale feed > and flour business in addition to estimating lumber. A wife named Hannah > had been with him at one time, though for the past fifteen years she had > not been listed as a member of his household. Of his four children, the > three youngest remained in Eau Claire to work or complete their education; > the eldest left for Evanston, Illinois, and enrolled in the school of > dentistry at Northwestern University. > > This was Charles Barker Boyington, born on August 31, 1875. He completed > his schooling in 1897, then clerked in Eau Claire until a bookkeeping job > took him to Montana for a few years. After a visit to Eau Claire, he left > again in 1902 to pursue a doctor of dental science degree. Three years > later--making him nearly thirty--he collected his diploma in a ceremony at > the