Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Once They Were Eagles: The Men of the Black Sheep Squadron

Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 232
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Once They Were Eagles
    Book Description:

    " Marine Corps Fighter Squadron 214 was hastily organized in the field during World War II to meet the urgent need for another combat squadron in the South Pacific. The squadron, self-named the "Black Sheep," went on under the leadership of the swashbuckling "Pappy" Boyington to become the most famous in Marine Corps history. Now comes the true story of the Black Sheep Squadron and the men who wrote its record in the Pacific skies. Once They Were Eagles tells how and why the squadron was formed, provides brief sketches of every member, and creates a vivid picture of the exciting but deadly aerial sorties over the South Pacific. Frank E. Walton located the thirty-four survivors of the fifty-one original Black Sheep. In a unique series of interviews, former "Eagles" share their recollections of those days of high adventure and their experiences in the years to follow.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4402-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vii)
  3. Map of Black Sheep Combat Area
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. x-xii)
    Wallace M. Greene Jr.

    This is the exciting story of eighty-four days in the life of a famous Marine Corps fighting squadron during the battle with the Japanese for control of the South Pacific. It is an account of a group of fifty-one men commanded by a very unusual but talented combat ace, who in a very short time destroyed twenty-eight enemy planes and in turn was finally shot down himself to become a prisoner of war for twenty months and to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

    When Frank Walton called me from Honolulu to tell me about this book, I recalled my...

  5. Part One: The Black Sheep Squadron in Combat

    • 1 Recollection
      (pp. 1-3)

      It is five minutes of five on a black tropical morning. The darkness is relieved at infrequent intervals by brief flashes of lightning, which momentarily bathe our air-field in blue-white light. Even at this hour the air is warm, moist. A smell of decaying vegetation drifts out of the thick jungle that presses in against the airstrip. All around me are deep shadows of the high dirt revetments along the taxiways lined by tall coconut palms. I can hear the cough and rumble of the engines on our fighting planes; I can see the spitting blue flames of their exhausts....

    • 2 The Time, the Place, the People, and the Plane
      (pp. 4-6)

      The Black Sheep Squadron sprang into being almost overnight, like Minerva from the skull of Jupiter. Almost overnight, too, they became a legend in the annals of Marine Corps history: youth-suddenly-become-men who blazed a brilliant arc across the skies of the South Pacific.

      “There is a tide in the affairs of men,” said Shakespeare, “which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.” The military situation, the development of a combat plane capable of meeting the Japanese Zero on equal or better terms, the fortuitous availability of a mix of combat-experienced and fresh new pilots, and the presence of a...

    • 3 The Squadron Commander
      (pp. 6-8)

      Normally, a Marine fighter squadron was formed in the States, given organizational and operational training as a unit, and then shipped overseas intact with its administrative staff and maintenance sections as well as its aircraft, flight echelon, and equipment.

      But Halsey needed another Marine squadron right now, and no organized unit was available.

      The solution was suggested by Major General James Moore, Assistant Commanding General of the First Marine Air Wing. The Wing was based at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, some 600 miles south of Guadalcanal. A Marine fighting squadron, VMF 214, had just completed a combat tour...

    • 4 The Intelligence Officer
      (pp. 9-12)

      I became a member of the Black Sheep by a circuitous route. As sergeant in charge of War Traffic Control Planning for the Los Angeles Police Department, I was draft exempt. But by mid-1942, as I read of the Japanese advances in the South Pacific, it was obvious that the war was already the biggest show on earth and destined to get bigger. I believed that the place for every able-bodied man was in the service. My wife, Carol—not one of those weeping “don’t leave me” types—was fully in agreement.

      Volunteering for service, I was appointed a first...

    • 5 The Pilots
      (pp. 13-18)

      That night the squadron gathered in the hut of Don “Mo” Fisher, a gentle, 240-pound giant of a lad who had interrupted his pre-med training at the University of Florida after three years in order to join the Marine Corps. Don always knew the ins and outs of the supply business. Out of nowhere he’d managed to round up ten cases of beer and plenty of hamburgers.

      Mo was as lazy as they come. His hut looked as though a herd of hobos had lived in it for a month and moved out. Bottles and remnants of food were scattered...

    • 6 Going into Action
      (pp. 19-23)

      On 11 September 1943, Boyington called us together.

      “We’re leaving tomorrow for our first combat tour.”

      Everyone jabbered excitedly for a few moments and then quieted as he spoke again:

      “We’re going to Cactus (code name for Guadalcanal) and then on up to the Russell Islands. We’ll fly 20 planes up. The rest of you will fly up on a SCAT (military transport) plane.”

      The remainder of the day was spent gathering final bits of equipment, packing our gear, and storing most of it with the Group Quartermaster. We were taking only a handbag each for a six-weeks combat tour....

    • 7 “Zeros Spilled Out of the Clouds”
      (pp. 23-29)

      At one o’clock in the afternoon of 16 September 1943, Pappy Boyington taxied to the end of the white coral runway, gunned his engine, and sped out over the blue waters of the bay off the Russell Islands. Twenty-three other Black Sheep followed in smooth order. The 24 planes got off the ground in just seven minutes.

      This was to be a strike on Ballale, a strategically located island in the bay off southern Bougainville. Its airfield was operational, and the whole island was solid with antiaircraft positions. Black Sheep pilots were to act as high cover for Marine torpedo...

    • 8 Munda
      (pp. 29-40)

      In the evening, Boyington and his pilots went over the lessons learned from the Ballale action.

      Later, an operations officer came in and told us that we were to move to Munda the next day. At 7:30 A.M., five of us left in a transport plane, while the rest of the Black Sheep took off to search for Ewing. They were to land at Munda on their return.

      Munda, on New Georgia, was an example of the costs of war. One entire end of the island had been leveled by bombs, artillery, and naval gunfire. A few splintered stumps were...

    • 9 I Got That Old Feelin’
      (pp. 40-42)

      “I got that old feelin’,” Quill Skull Groover told me on the morning of 23 September, as we were discussing the day’s scheduled strike on southern Bougainville.

      Groover’s “old feelin”’ was as sure a forecaster as your grandpa’s rheumatism. This Georgia boy’s “feelin”’ forecast aerial combat action, and we had already come to respect it.

      This morning, he must have had the feelin’ pretty strong. Only two and a half hours later, with a broken right arm and leg, he fought his bullet-riddled Corsair 150 miles back to our base and landed it raggedly on the coral strip. He was...

    • 10 Zeros Snapped at Their Heels
      (pp. 43-45)

      On Sunday, 26 September, we sent 11 Black Sheep to Bougainville as high cover for a Marine torpedo bomber strike on the Japanese antiaircraft positions near Kahili Airdrome. The Marine bombers thoroughly plastered the target, then joined up and headed for home. As they did so, the fight began. Seven Black Sheep attacked and scattered a dozen Zeros that were harassing the bombers, sending one down smoking.

      The other four Black Sheep, with Moon Mullen leading, ran into real trouble—some 20 Zeros. Rollie Rinabarger, in Mullen’s second section, found his engine heating up and could not stay in position....

    • 11 The Squadron Comes of Age
      (pp. 45-50)

      On 29 September our men were out hunting again, although the weather was not good. I noticed a civilian sitting near our ready tent and learned that he was George Weller, a war correspondent for the ChicagoDaily News.He was en route to MacArthur’s command in Australia but had been weathered in at Munda.

      Seeing an opportunity to get the Black Sheep some of the recognition they deserved, I invited him into our ready tent and opened the diary of biographical information I’d collected on each of our pilots. Three of our Black Sheep were Chicago boys, I told...

    • 12 A Change in Tactics
      (pp. 50-57)

      Around Munda, some of the pilots were developing a feeling of futility in our missions to Bougainville. Flying regular bomber escort, our fighter pilots would beat off the Zeros that attacked the bombers. Next day, the enemy fighters would be out again in full force.

      Trying to protect the bombers while tangling with enemy fighters was like trying to box with one hand tied. Our planes were confined to the small escort area, while the enemy had the whole sky in which to maneuver. We were pecking at them and knocking them down, but not nearly fast enough.

      Before Bougainville...

    • 13 “Your Steeplechase Is Over”
      (pp. 58-62)

      Waiting for a lull in the celebration, I told the pilots that our relief was in and that we were scheduled to leave the next morning. With a whoop, they pounced on Doc Reames.

      “How about unlocking that medicine cabinet of yours, Doc? It’s time for a party,” they shouted.

      And Doc didn’t have to be urged. We moved out of our tents and gathered in a big Quonset hut (a recent innovation at Munda) that night. We drowned out the lizards and tree toads as we sat, naked, on our canvas cots, babbling about the day’s action, singing, and...

    • 14 Sydney
      (pp. 63-70)

      Daily, the tales grew wilder of that wonderland to the south, Australia, where the food was fresh and varied; the liquor excellent and plentiful; the girls beautiful and plentiful, too.

      Ah, Australia, where everything was upside down—where it was summer when it was supposed to be winter and vice versa; where it was spring in the fall and fall in the spring. Land of peculiar animals: the duckbilled platypus, the kangaroo, the koala bear.

      Australia, where you had to pay $6.00 not to vote. Where the men are pretty tough customers but don’t let their “cobbers” (pals) down. Where...

    • 15 New Black Sheep
      (pp. 70-74)

      We got back to camp at Espiritu Santo about ten in the morning. Most of the boys promptly hit the sack and spent the rest of the day there. Having a good time had been tiring.

      The next morning we were surrounded by a group of dewy-eyed second lieutenants, fresh from the States.

      “What was Sydney like?” they asked.

      “Oh, it was O.K.,” Bragdon told them, then deadpanned, “Coming back was rough, though. We ran into bad weather and began to lose altitude. We pitched over everything loose on the plane, but she was still losing altitude, so we had...

    • 16 Trouble at Home Base
      (pp. 74-79)

      Hearing that we were to go north in six days for our second combat tour, Boyington worked the pilots hard, breaking the new men in on Black Sheep tactics and formations, organizing the divisions, and indoctrinating them with the Black Sheep approach to aerial combat: aggression.

      No one had been in any trouble since our cleanup episode, so it was an unworried Boyington who went to the Group Commander's office in response to a summons. He carne back to our hut with a long face.

      “I’m not going back with you,” he said.


      “The Colonel asked me how the...

    • 17 Vella Lavella
      (pp. 79-83)

      Vella Lavella was a lovely little island, solidly covered by jungle and coconut groves except where the airstrip, roads, and camp areas had been cleared. The runway had been built by the simple expedient of blasting out the coconut trees and then grading down the surface dirt to the firm coral underneath. It lay along the southeastern coast of the island, bounded on one side by coconut trees and on the other by the clear, warm waters of Vella Gulf. From there, we could look directly out to Kolombangara, some 35 miles away, rearing its 6,000-foot peak into the clouds....

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 18 A Change in Boundaries
      (pp. 84-88)

      The boys were more anxious than ever to get into some aerial combat. We all wondered why we weren’t hitting Rabaul, which was now within fighter range. Rabaul’s five airdromes were loaded with enemy planes, but they were staying in their own back yard. We asked why our planes couldn’t go, but no one seemed to know the answer, and almost everyone was content to wait for orders. Not Boyington.

      In typical fashion, he climbed into a plane one morning and flew down to Air Command Headquarters at Munda to find out. It was 12 December, eight days after his...

    • 19 Crescendo
      (pp. 89-94)

      Things were getting rough over Rabaul now. The Nips were throwing everything they could round up into the air battle, in a desperate effort to stave off our advance.

      Rabaul was the keystone to the entire Southwest Pacific. If we were able to neutralize it, any threat to Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomons would be permanently eliminated. The enemy would have to pull in their horns all the way back to the Philippines and the Marianas. They weren’t going to give up easily.

      In spite of the furious deadly battle that he was so brilliantly spearheading, Boyington was happy....

    • 20 Finale
      (pp. 94-102)

      On 2 January 1944 the weather was good. Boyington led 36 Marines and 20 Navy fighters to Rabaul. Only three of our Black Sheep accompanied him.

      After they’d gone, Doc and I rubbed our hands. This, we thought, wasthe daywhen Pappy would break the record.

      It was not the day.

      When they got back, I found that the four Black Sheep had attacked 15 Zeros but shot down only one, and that score was made by Rope Trick Losch, bringing our squadron total to 88. Boyington never got a shot. His engine was throwing oil so badly that...

  6. Part Two: The Black Sheep Forty Years Later

    • Frank Walton Police Officer and Diplomat:
      (pp. 105-108)

      Following the Black Sheep reunion in Washington in 1980 on the occasion of the Corsair induction ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, it took me another two years to meet and talk with each of the Black Sheep (I criss-crossed the country twice from Maine to California and from Washington to Florida); to have some 60 hours of tapes transcribed; to do additional research; to get the material assembled.

      They were nostalgic years, journeying back 40 years to those stirring, eventful days and filling the gaps in the participants’ lives between then and now. I’ll start with...

    • John Bolt Barrister and Fisherman
      (pp. 108-110)

      New Smyrna Beach, Florida, population 14,000, is about a dozen miles south of Daytona. Here, in an office not far from the remains of a sixteenth-century Spanish fort, John Bolt carries on a busy law practice. Behind the desk in his office, silver-haired, dressed in a business suit, the slender, soft-spoken Bolt bears no resemblance to the intrepid, aggressive combat pilot he once was. Yet he is a jet/prop ace, the only one the Marine Corps has had. He shot down six Zeros with the Black Sheep, and followed that up by scoring six MiG kills during the Korean War....

    • John Begert Farmer, Stockbroker, Golfer
      (pp. 111-114)

      Accounting for 20 percent of the nation’s wheat output, Kansas ranks as one of our chief agricultural states. Topeka, the state capital, is a city of some 120,000 near its eastern boundary. It lies on Interstate Highway 70, a few miles south of the Potawatomie Indian Reservation.

      I drove out to John Begert’s old family home on the western outskirts of Topeka, part of a farm that has been in the family for years. One wall of his den is covered with Black Sheep memorabilia; shelves on another wall are filled with gold trophies—John is a four-handicap golfer.


    • Ed Harper Corporation Executive
      (pp. 115-117)

      I visited Ed Harper at McDonnell Aircraft Company’s building at Lambert—St. Louis International Airport. Security at the entrance was tight. Signs warned that no photographic or recording equipment was allowed in the building and that all briefcases were to be left at the security desk.

      Had my briefcase been inspected, the two cameras and two tape recorders would have caused instant panic among the security people. Fortunately, Ed Harper had enough clout to assure them that I would be under his constant surveillance, and the guards reluctantly issued me a pass without opening the case.

      Harper is vice-president, and...

    • Henry Miller Estate Lawyer
      (pp. 117-120)

      Henry “Notebook” Miller drove over to meet me at the hotel at Philadelphia’s International Airport. I recognized his tall, square figure at once. As he strode toward the door, briefcase under his arm, he resembled a Harvard professor on the way to a lecture. True to his nickname, he brought with him an extensive file of data concerning missions, flight hours, aircraft numbers, and dates.

      Miller came to us as flight officer, moved up to executive officer, and took over as squadron commander after Boyington was shot down.

      “In your first aerial combat, were you scared?”

      “No, I don’t think...

    • Fred Losch Business Tycoon
      (pp. 120-123)

      I interviewed Fred “Rope Trick” Losch in his plush home in Altadena, California, not far from plant headquarters of the building materials firm he built from scratch into a $40,000,000-a-year business. We sat at the bar in the huge Spanish-style house.

      Fred has put on several pounds since the days when he weighed about 120 in his stocking feet but has kept his friendly, outgoing disposition, his love of life with a heart as big as all of California.

      “When December 7th came along, I was out bow-and-arrow hunting on my folks’ farm in Pennsylvania. My brother said: ‘You’d better...

    • Fred Avey Golfer
      (pp. 125-126)

      Fred Avey drove out to meet me at my hotel at Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport. “Lighthorse” Fred would have to be termed “Heavyhorse” Fred now. Although he appeared hale and hearty, he was no longer the slender, dapper lad; his 20-inch waist had perhaps doubled. He had been both the oldest and the smallest of the Black Sheep pilots: six weeks older than Boyington, and 10 pounds lighter than the next smallest.

      “How’d you get into the Black Sheep?” I asked.

      “My first squadron went home, and I was in limbo. The Black Sheep took four of us from Squadron 213....

    • Rufus Chatham Petroleum Engineer and Merchant
      (pp. 126-127)

      Austin, Texas, where Rufus “Mack” Chatham lives, was the capital before Texas even became a state. The pleasant city of 350,000 lies in rolling hills about 160 miles west of Houston. Its major claim to fame, besides being the home of Chatham, is that the LBJ Library is located there on the campus of the University of Texas. I drove over from Houston and was flagged down by Mack in front of his comfortable home near the center of town.

      Although minus a little hair, Chatham was still lean as a whippet, still had the dry wit and low-key, diffident...

    • Ned Corman Airline Pilot
      (pp. 128-131)

      Still slim and dapper though graying at the temples, Ned Corman visited me in my apartment in Honolulu. He had recently reached mandatory retirement age with Pan Am after having flown 35 years for that airline, his last few years as Captain in 747s on the Pacific routes: Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia.

      Ned’s high school graduating class in Walker Township, Pennsylvania, consisted of four boys and four girls. He went on to Penn State, graduating in 1942 with a major in agronomy. The youngest son, raised on a farm, it looked as if he would come back...

    • Henry Allan McCartney Citrus Grower:
      (pp. 131-132)

      In order to see Hank McCartney, I drove the 100 miles from Orlando’s airport to Vero Beach, a pleasant retirement community close to Florida’s famous Indian River citrus industry. Vero Beach, population 16,000, has an additional claim to fame as home of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ spring training camp.

      Hank bought 80 acres of property at the right time, developed it over a number of years and through hard work into a profitable citrus grove, and sold out in 1979. He’s a respected and active member of his community and so genteel that the information operator could find neither a...

    • Marion March Mechanical Engineer
      (pp. 133-135)

      Marion J. “Rusty” March was one of the older pilots in the Black Sheep Squadron. A 1938 graduate of Stanford University in mechanical engineering, he had already started on a career when a friend talked him into becoming a Marine Corps flyer. He was an instructor at Corpus Christi, Texas, when the war commenced.

      Now retired after 20 years of service with Santa Clara County as a mechanical engineer, he lives in San Jose, California. He drove up to meet me in San Francisco.

      Rusty had joined us just before our second tour.

      “I was scared from the first flight...

    • Robert McClurg Businessman and Sportsman
      (pp. 135-137)

      Bob McClurg picked me up at the Syracuse airport and drove through a snowstorm to his magnificent estate in a wooded glen at Cedarville Ridge, New York. The pungent odor of pine needles from a brightly lighted tree in the corner of the sunken living room, and the sparkle and crackle of the log in the fireplace, emphasized that Christmas was not far away. The picture window looked over a snow-covered porch where birds were dinner guests in feeders. The living Christmas-card view continued down a slope and through the trees into a canyon, where a stream meandered through the...

    • William Heier Professor
      (pp. 137-139)

      William D. “Junior” Heier commenced his wartime service with the RCAF because he had only a high school education, and the U.S. required two years college for its airmen.

      Junior retired from the U.S. Marine Corps 20 years later as a Lieutenant Colonel with a master’s degree in accounting controllership. Eighteen months after that, he had his doctorate in management. Now he is a professor of management at Arizona State University in Tempe, a pleasant city of about 100,000.

      Two and a half hours after I left Chicago’s four-degree weather, he picked me up at the sunny Phoenix airport and...

    • Jim Hill Sales Executive
      (pp. 140-141)

      Tall, slender, energetic Jim Hill drove over from his home in Skokie to meet me at the hotel at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Other than a slight graying at the temples, he didn’t look a whole lot different from before.

      “I’d originally intended to make a career of the Marine Corps. But then the war was over; I’d been overseas for a year, back in the States for six months, and back out again for another six. They were talking about adding another year to that if I became a regular. I figured that was too long to be away from...

    • Henry Bourgeois Business Planner
      (pp. 141-144)

      Henry Bourgeois met me at Newark Airport.

      Hank could not only fly like an eagle; he had the eyes of an eagle. The rest of the squadron acknowledged that he could spot enemy planes many seconds before anyone else did. That capability undoubtedly saved a lot of lives, giving his flight that slight position advantage so vital in aerial combat.

      His eagle eyes have dimmed now, but he is still alert and energetic, very much the business executive as Director of Business Planning for Kearfott Division of the Singer Corporation. “I’m also a farmer now,” he said. “We bought 90...

    • Alfred Johnson Travel Agent
      (pp. 144-146)

      Al “Shorty” Johnson drove from his office through the snow to talk to me at Bob McClurg’s home in Syracuse, New York. Al owns a successful travel agency which, in addition to making him a comfortable living, has afforded him the opportunity to travel over most of the world. Al is still alert, energetic, and as quip-tongued as he was with the Black Sheep.

      “The day after Pearl Harbor, I went across the street from where I worked to sign up for the Army Air Corps. I filled out quite a few piles of papers. I thought I was another...

    • Tom Emrich Airline Pilot and Real Estate Developer
      (pp. 147-149)

      W. T. “Long Tom” Emrich is an internationalist. A commercial airline pilot (a Captain with TWA), he had better than a girl in every port: he had property in every port—or at least in Spain, Arizona, and Hawaii. He’s been flitting from one to the other since he retired from TWA in 1981 and is now president of Global Enterprises, a firm that’s developing an area in Colorado.

      Tom talked to me in my apartment in Honolulu. He has lost most of the beautiful head of hair that was his pride and joy, but he is still erect and...

    • Chris Magee Free Spirit
      (pp. 149-152)

      Chris “Wildman” Magee was perhaps the ultimate combat fighter pilot. Utterly fearless and totally aggressive, he had the knack of knowing where the action was, plus complete mastery of the airplane; he could make it do things no other pilot could. His record of nine Zeros was exceeded in our squadron only by Boyington’s total.

      Maggie turned out to be one of the most difficult Black Sheep to locate. When I finally found him, I understood why. He’d had a most colorful career.

      After the war, he’d joined the Israeli Air Force during their war of independence. Following that service...

    • Rollie Rinabarger Electrical Contractor
      (pp. 153-155)

      To reach Rollie Rinabarger’s home in Tulelake, California, I drove north from San Francisco almost to the Oregon border, then turned east through a national wildlife refuge, home of some two million waterfowl. I passed thousands of ducks, geese, swans, and other water species, as well as quail, pheasant and deer.

      Tulelake, population 900, is situated in the center of a major rice-growing area, where the clean air is cooled by the 4,000-foot altitude. Hunting and fishing are excellent; local residents usually have a side of venison in their freezers. Nearby is the hundreds-of-years-old Lava Beds National Monument containing ancient...

    • Gelon Doswell Contract Negotiator
      (pp. 155-157)

      Gelon H. “Corpuscle” Doswell, still looking as though he could use some plasma, might benefit from some of Rinabarger’s invigorating mountain climate. Instead, he lives in a town where the altitude is only 22 feet: Ocean Springs, Mississippi, an almost 200-year-old Gulf Coast resort that has become an artists’ colony.

      I interviewed Doswell in my hotel room in New Orleans during the Marine Corps Aviation Convention. He’d put on some weight, was still pasty-faced, and wore his hair in a Marine Corps brush cut.

      “The Black Sheep were pretty much the same as other squadrons except that they seemed closer...

    • Ed Olander Politician and Entrepreneur
      (pp. 157-158)

      “Big Old Fat Old Ed” Olander has slimmed down considerably since his days with the Black Sheep. He was on vacation in Hawaii, and I interviewed him in my Honolulu apartment.

      After being released from active duty, Ed went back to his home town of Northhampton, Massachusetts, and carved out a distinguished career. He started a building materials business, which he still owns. He served two terms as Northhampton’s mayor; he was a member of his Community Hospital board for 18 years, nine of them as president; and he is now on the board of directors of a national bank....

    • Harry Johnson Manufacturer and Boatman
      (pp. 159-160)

      Harry “Skinny” Johnson drove the nearly 400-mile round trip from his home in Birmingham to meet me in Nashville. Like Yankee Doodle Dandy, Harry was born on the fourth of July. At six feet, two inches, he was one of the taller Black Sheep, and he was still distinguished looking. He might have been a banker.

      I asked why he had chosen the Marines after he received his commission.

      “There was this Marine Captain with all the ribbons. He said, ‘If you want to have tea at three o’clock and lace on your drawers, you stay in the Navy. But...

    • Bruce Matheson Professional Marine and Accountant
      (pp. 160-164)

      After serving 30 years in the Marine Corps, Bruce Matheson has retired to a comfortable life in Kailua, Hawaii, on the other side of the island of Oahu from Waikiki. Daily runs on the beach have kept his weight about the same as in our Black Sheep days; he still has his hair, with a few flecks of gray. One of the original members of our choral society, he is still musically inclined: he has an organ in his home, and he sings with a choral group and in the chorus of both the Honolulu Opera Company and the Honolulu...

    • Glenn Bowers Wildlife Manager
      (pp. 164-167)

      Glenn Bowers is one of those rare persons who had his sights fixed on his career goal early in life and managed to achieve that goal. He had completed three years as a zoology and biology major at Penn State when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. After his release from active duty, he returned to Penn State to obtain both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and then started to work for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Commencing as a wildlife biologist, he worked his way up to the Division of Research, then to Deputy Director, and for the past 18...

    • Herb Holden Banker
      (pp. 167-168)

      To meet Herb Holden, I drove some 500 miles from Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, to Pipe Stem Resort State Park, West Virginia, where he was spending the weekend with his family and some friends.

      Herb entered the Navy V-5 program in the spring of 1942, after graduation from Williams College, and was shipped to Espiritu Santo in time to join our second combat tour.

      “I’d heard what the Black Sheep and Boyington were doing and was glad to join, but mainly, I wanted to get started on the combat tour. My first flight? Damn right I was scared. I was looking for...

    • Sandy Sims Artist
      (pp. 169-170)

      Sanders S. “Sandy” Sims drove out to talk to me at my hotel at Philadelphia’s International Airport. Sandy and his wife had recently moved to Philadelphia after spending the bulk of the previous 25 years in Europe.

      His has been a fascinating career. At war’s end, he returned to Philadelphia where he had been born and raised. A fine athlete, he was a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic Field Hockey Team. He worked for a time in a savings bank and then, finding it boring, went to work for a friend who had a hosiery business, which was still...

    • Perry Lane Electrical Engineer and FAA Official
      (pp. 171-173)

      Perry Lane lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, a city of some 70,000, not far from the Massachusetts border. It took me about two hours to drive there from Logan International Airport in Boston.

      Big, easygoing Perry had put on some weight and lost some hair but was as friendly as ever; his welcoming smile was wide, his handshake firm. He had been born and raised in Rutland, Vermont, scarcely a sleeper-jump west; his accent signals his Down East heritage. We sat in comfortable chairs in his living room as I turned his thoughts back to those Black Sheep days when...

    • Burney Tucker Architect
      (pp. 173-175)

      Nashville, Tennessee, dates back to 1779, when a band of pioneers cleared an area along the Cumberland River and built a stockade for a fort. A few months later, several families arrived by boat to settle the area. Now, Nashville is a thriving metropolis of some half a million people; its Grand Ole Opry is world famous; about an hour’s drive south is Lynchburg, home of the best sipping whiskey in the world: Jack Daniels. Famous Tennesseeans include Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett, David Farragut, and Sam Houston.

      To these can be added Black Sheep Burney Tucker, with four Japanese planes...

    • Al Marker Printer and Humanitarian
      (pp. 175-178)

      Sonoma, where Al Marker has his lovely home, is steeped in tradition. The town of some 6,000 is the site of the flag raising in June 1846 that proclaimed California a republic. The Stars and Stripes replaced it in July of that year.

      Sonoma is in the heart of wine country; there’s one high-quality winery just up the road, and nearby is the Sonoma State Historic Park containing the well-preserved home of General Vallejo, the city’s founder. Close by are the home of macho author Jack London, and the Jack London State Historic Park.

      Although one of the youngest Black...

    • James M. Reames Doctor
      (pp. 178-180)

      Doctor James M. “Happy Jack” Reames drove up to Altadena from his home in Whittier to meet me at Fred Losch’s place.

      At the time Doc was tapped to become Flight Surgeon for the Black Sheep, he had been attending casualties being evacuated from Guadalcanal on hospital planes. He was a natural for the squadron position. He had graduated from Navy Flight Training and Aviation Medicine courses at Pensacola, so he was both a doctor and a pilot; at 26 he was barely older than most of the pilots so they could understand one another.

      Reames possessed a gentle, compassionate,...

    • Don Fisher Real Estate Appraiser and Bon Vivant
      (pp. 180-183)

      Don “Mo” Fisher picked us up at Savannah’s airport and drove my wife and me to Beaufort, South Carolina, a lovely old city of 14,000. The Fishers live just outside of town in Port Royal, a community of 2,000. Their plush Spanish-style home, a two iron shot from Parris Island, is built over the remains of an old fort, overlooking Spanish Point and the scenic waterway leading into Beaufort’s waterfront area. There’s a steady stream of boats drifting past his patio window.

      Fisher’s hair is grayer and his forehead higher, but he is still big, vigorous, affable, friendly, and outgoing,...

    • Denmark Groover Trial Lawyer
      (pp. 183-184)

      Denmark “Quill Skull” Groover drove 400 miles round trip from Macon to Savannah, Georgia, to meet me for dinner. A busy trial lawyer, he had to be in court the next morning to defend a woman who had stabbed her husband. Groover’s hair is no longer coal black; he has less of it and it no longer sticks out. Today he looks distinguished.

      He became a flyer, he said, because “I got seasick if I rode in a boat, and I didn’t want to wander through the mud.”

      Commissioned in December 1942, he was shipped overseas in mid-1943. I asked...

    • Bill Case Business Consultant and Philosopher
      (pp. 185-187)

      Bill “Casey” Case picked me up at the Seattle/Tacoma International Airport. Although his hair is now graying and has receded somewhat, he is still alert and energetic, his frame compact and well maintained. We took the ferry to Bainbridge Island where Bill lives, a small bedroom community lying in Puget Sound between Seattle and Bremerton. We talked of old times, sitting in the den of his comfortable home.

      “I’d taken Civilian Pilot Training in college, and went into flight training a couple of months before Pearl Harbor. My first combat tour was at Guadalcanal with Marine Fighter Squadron 122. I...

    • Gregory Boyington Entertainer
      (pp. 188-190)

      Gregory “Pappy” Boyington has traveled a rocky, roller-coaster road since those days when he made Marine Corps and aerial combat history with the Black Sheep in the South Pacific.

      He’d been picked up by a Japanese submarine after he was shot down on 3 January 1944, and spent the remaining 20 months of the war in Japanese prison camps.

      Released by U.S. forces, he was an international hero, acclaimed all over the world. He had an opportunity to grab life’s brass ring.

      I recall sitting with him in the steam room of the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco during...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 191-192)

    These were the Black Sheep, a cross section of America. In response to our country’s call, the 51 young men came from 23 states across the nation, from Vermont to California, and from Washington to Florida. From a variety of backgrounds, they meshed into a smooth, deadly combat team that wrote a glorious page in Marine Corps and American history.

    It was a time of high adventure. The Black Sheep had the support of the American people. No janefondas or ramseyclarks carped in the background or gnawed, ratlike, at that support.

    The key word that keeps coming up in all...

  8. Appendixes

    • Appendix A Roster, Boyington’s Black Sheep
      (pp. 194-196)
    • Appendix B Marine Fighting Squadron 214—lnformation for the Duty Officer
      (pp. 196-199)
    • Appendix C Marine Fighting Squadron 214—Notice to Pilots (to be added to from time to time)
      (pp. 199-201)
    • Appendix D Air Intelligence Fighter Command Barakoma—Strafing and Searches
      (pp. 202-202)
    • Appendix E Briefing for Rabaul Fighter Sweep (17 December 1943)
      (pp. 203-204)
    • Appendix F Request That Black Sheep Squadron Be Kept Intact
      (pp. 205-206)
      Henry S. Miller
    • Appendix G Accomplishment Record of Boyington’s Black Sheep Squadron
      (pp. 206-208)
  9. Index
    (pp. 209-213)