Two fighter jets from the U.S. Marines’ famed Black Sheep squadron landed today at the Coeur d’Alene Airport/Pappy Boyington Field, coming at long last to recognize the airport’s renaming in honor of their most famous member.
When executive officer Maj. Toby Moore and Capt. Dave Caribardi zoomed over in their gray AV-8B Harriers, it was the final acknowledgment for dozens of veterans on the ground who lobbied the Kootenai County commissioners for more than a year to get the airport renamed for Boyington, a Coeur d’Alene native.
“This is a very special event. I hope it illustrates the gravity of the history,” said Kevin Gonzalez, a member of Marine Corps League Pappy Boyington Detachment 966, who also made a documentary about Boyington. “I think it’s so special the community rallied to recognize a Coeur d’Alene-born Medal of Honor recipient.”
The Kootenai County Board of Commissioners voted in August 2007 to rename the airport for Boyington, and a dedication ceremony was held a month later.
“It’s good to see (they) finally made it here. It’s just one more feather in our cap,” said Rich Piazza, a former county commissioner who cast one of the two yes votes. Sitting Commissioner Todd Tondee cast the other vote in favor.
The Black Sheep squadron has wanted to visit for some time, but hasn’t been able to due to weather or deployments, said Moore, who said he started checking the weather 10 days ago to make sure it would be clear for the four-hour flight. The jets stopped in Nevada to refuel and will depart Saturday morning.
“You don’t realize when you’re in the squadron, the history,” said Moore. “We’ve been trying to get up here for a while.”
The two pilots were joined by four members of the squadron’s grounds crew who flew up commercially for the ceremony. They included Sgt. Maj. Lenny Maldonado, Sgt. Mike Somers, Staff Sgt. Robert Kirtley and Lance Cpl. Brian Glennon.
Gregory “Pappy” Boyington was born in Coeur d’Alene on Dec. 4, 1912. He grew up in St. Maries and Tacoma, going on to graduate from the University of Washington with an aeronautical engineering degree in 1934.
The World War II fighter ace was credited with shooting down 26 enemy planes before being shot down during his last mission and spending 20 months in a Japanese prison camp.
When the war ended, he returned home to receive the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. Under Boyington’s command, Black Sheep pilots flew F4U-1 Corsairs and were credited with destroying or damaging 203 Japanese aircraft.
Boyington died in January of 1988 at age 75 in Fresno, Calif., survived by his wife, two children and eight grandchildren. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.