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Critics blast UW students for insulting hero

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

SEATTLE — The University of Washington’s student government has come under attack on talk radio and the Internet after deciding not to support the creation of a campus memorial to alumnus and World War II hero Gregory “Pappy” Boyington.

It all started after a UW senior sponsored a resolution to create a memorial for Boyington, a Marine Corps colonel and Medal of Honor recipient who wrote about his wartime exploits as a fighter pilot in the South Pacific in his best-selling book, “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” Boyington and his “Black Sheep” squadron later were the inspiration for the 1970s television show starring Robert Conrad.

On Feb. 7, during a student Senate debate on the resolution, some questioned why the university should pay tribute to a Marine, someone who killed others. One student leader suggested the school had honored enough rich, white men.

Forty-five students supported the resolution, but it failed by one vote.

The next day, Kirby Wilbur, the morning radio talk-show host on Seattle station KVI, broadcast the news based on an e-mail from a member of the UW College Republicans.

“Our phones were slammed for a full hour with our audience,” producer Matt Haver told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for a story in Thursday editions. “They were literally incensed with it.”

Boyington shot down 22 planes with the Black Sheep Squadron, making him one of the war’s highest-ranking aces. Earlier, he flew with the Flying Tigers in China.

He was shot down on Jan. 3, 1944. Presumed dead, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. He had been taken prisoner, however, and was freed with the end of the war. He died in 1988 in Fresno, Calif., and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Far from being wealthy, Boyington, a Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, native and 1934 engineering graduate of the University of Washington, struggled with money and alcohol for much of his life. At times, he worked such jobs as beer salesman and wrestling referee, according to “Once They Were Eagles,” a memoir by Black Sheep veteran Frank Walton.

Some students who spoke out against the memorial say they’ve been called ignorant, threatened with beatings and urged to commit suicide. Scores of angry e-mails and phone calls came from as far away as Texas, Georgia and New York.

One post from a Web logger read: “I’m angry about this. … How dare these snot nose, hemp-wearing, pot smoking, drum beating, dreadlock wearing, ‘gee when is the financial aid check going to arrive,’ brat kids diss Pappy Boyington?”

“These comments have been really degrading,” UW student body President Lee Dunbar told the P-I. “It’s really gotten out of hand. … I think a lot of it was seized on by a political opportunity to blow things out of context.”

Two students whose comments were criticized said the minutes, which have been posted on the Internet and shared through e-mails and blogs, didn’t accurately reflect what happened at the meeting.

UW sophomore Jill Edwards, who questioned if a member of the Marine Corps was an example of the type of person the UW would want to produce, said she did not mean to offend anyone, and that she was just trying to start a discussion among students who might be afraid to question a World War II vet.

“Obviously he is a great man, and I’m very proud he’s an alumnus,” she said. “I don’t want to feel like we’re trying to impose an ideal of achievement on the UW.”

UW senior Ashley Miller commented that the university already has monuments that commemorate rich white men. She said her comments were made as part of a general discussion about memorials on campus, not about Boyington specifically.

Now, the UW student government plans to consider supporting the creation of a memorial honoring all the university’s Medal of Honor winners.

At least three other men with ties to the UW have received the Medal of Honor, according to the UW alumni magazine.

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