The Kootenai County Commission voted Tuesday to rename the county-owned airport after World War II Medal of Honor recipient and North Idaho native Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, after more than a year of controversy.
The new name is Coeur d’Alene Airport/Pappy Boyington Field.
To say thanks, the veteran Marines in the audience roared “hooah,” a military expression of strength and confidence.
Commissioners Todd Tondee and Rich Piazza voted for the proposal, which was pushed by local Marine veterans. They said Boyington was a “hero’s hero,” and that his name could spark an interest in history and the veterans who fought for their country.
“He’s a reason why we’re not speaking Japanese or German today,” Piazza said.
Commission Chairman Rick Currie’s continued his long-standing opposition, but he abstained instead of voting against the proposal.
Currie said the Airport Advisory Board, consisting of pilots and local business people, unanimously opposed the change because they believe it could cause confusion and raise safety concerns with pilots. Currie said he agreed with the board.
“I don’t want to cloud this issue anymore than it has been,” he said before abstaining.
Both Tondee and Piazza countered the alleged safety concerns and said they called the Federal Aviation Administration to inquire about accidents that have occurred at other airports that have a different name for the airfield.
“He knew of none,” Tondee said of the FAA official’s response. “There are tons of (such airports) all over the U.S.”
Piazza added that six airports in Idaho have airfields with different names.
The Marine Corps League Pappy Boyington Detachment 966 will pay the cost, perhaps $1,000, to put up new airport signs and maybe a memorial to Boyington.
Bob Rohrscheib, commandant of the local detachment, said the job is half done.
“The other half is actually getting the Airport Board to do the planning and getting us involved in the signage,” Rohrscheib said, adding he has no idea how long that might take.
Airport Manager Greg Delevan said he hasn’t seen a plan for changing signs.
“My preference would have been to make the name as simple as possible, and I believe that would be Coeur d’Alene Airport,” Delevan said. “Coeur d’Alene is a geographical district and recognizable. … I would prefer to keep it simple and find another way to recognize our war heroes.”
Currie is the only commissioner who heard the veterans’ initial proposal to honor Boyington. The previous commission never acted on the request, infuriating many veterans and attracting some national attention, including from the Distinguished Flying Cross Society and news pundit Oliver North.
County officials never offered a reason why they hadn’t made a decision, but many think the reluctance to change the name had to do with Boyington’s years of fighting and drinking.
Tondee and Piazza took office in January, giving the veterans renewed hope.
At a June presentation to the commission, Rohrscheib said Boyington likely would have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
After a childhood spent in Coeur d’Alene, St. Maries and Tacoma, Boyington went on to become one of the nation’s most decorated wartime fliers. He’s credited with shooting down 26 planes in the Pacific theater and served as the commanding officer of the famed Black Sheep Squadron.
Boyington was shot down during his last combat mission and spent 20 months as a prisoner of war in Japan. He was freed when the war ended and was awarded the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.
According to a January 1988 newspaper article about Boyington’s death, he returned in September 1945 to Okanogan, Wash., where his stepfather and mother lived. Then Boyington moved to California, where he was an executive with Eastside Breweries before becoming the vice president of a manufacturer of aircraft and missile components.
He died in 1988 at age 75 in Fresno, Calif., survived by his wife, two children and eight grandchildren.