Although they’re half a world away from Idaho, the Marine fighter pilots serving with the Black Sheep Squadron have been following efforts to rename the airfield at the Coeur d’Alene Airport after the squadron’s legendary founder, Gregory “Pappy” Boyington.
The airport was renamed Coeur d’Alene Airport/Pappy Boyington Field last month after Boyington, a fighter ace and Medal of Honor recipient who was born in Coeur d’Alene and went on to lead the Black Sheep Squadron during World War II.
The Black Sheep Squadron – officially known as Marine Attack Squadron 214 – has been deployed to the western Pacific since January. But the pilots and support personnel were given a lift by news of the renaming, the squadron’s executive officer, Maj. Jason E. Waldron, wrote in an e-mail interview from Okinawa.
“The entire squadron was notably proud when told of the renaming,” said Waldron, a fighter pilot from Glen Ellen, Calif.
Under Boyington’s command, the Black Sheep pilots flew F4U-1 Corsairs and were credited with destroying or damaging 203 Japanese aircraft. Today’s squadron flies in AV-8B harrier jets, which are capable of taking off from short runways or amphibious ships, Waldron said. Although the planes have gone from propeller to jet propulsion, the mission of supporting Marines on the ground remains relatively unchanged, he said.
Early next year the squadron is expected to return to its base in Yuma, Ariz. Waldron said he and the other fliers hope their flight plans eventually include a stop in Coeur d’Alene.
“There may be possibilities for the Black Sheep to land at Boyington Field once we return from our deployment,” Waldron wrote.
Boyington died nearly 20 years ago of cancer, but his exploits continue to loom large over the Black Sheep Squadron, according to Waldron.
“He is as well-respected and revered as any Marine officer who has ever worn the eagle, globe and anchor,” he said.