In a tribute to a hometown hero, a bronze statue of Maj. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington was dedicated Saturday evening at the Coeur d’Alene Airport-Pappy Boyington Field in Hayden.
The famed Marine fighter pilot, born in Coeur d’Alene in 1912, led the Black Sheep Squadron in World War II. He downed 26 enemy planes before he was captured by the Japanese and spent 20 months in a prisoner-of-war camp. Boyington received the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. He died in 1988.
“What he was able to achieve in combat and aviation with his leadership was legendary,” said Kevin Gonzalez with Marine Corps League Detachment 966.
Boyington’s son, Greg Boyington Jr. of Oakland, California, planned to attend Saturday’s ceremony outside Resort Aviation.
“I think it’s wonderful. Words can’t describe my feeling on this subject,” said Boyington, a retired Air Force pilot. “I think he deserves it. It’s a very good likeness.”
The 8-foot statue, depicting Pappy Boyington in his Marine Corps leather jacket and helmet, was sculpted over a three-year period by Sagle artist Bryan Ross, an investment adviser for Wells Fargo Bank.
“It was my tribute to the greatest generation,” Ross said. “It’s been a real experience getting to know Pappy through the sculpture project.”
He spoke with some of the veterans who served in the Black Sheep Squadron, celebrated in a book by Pappy Boyington and a TV series in the 1970s starring Robert Conrad.
Ross based his work on photos of Boyington, live models who resemble the pilot’s stocky build, and head shots of Boyington’s grandson, retired Army Col. Eric Welsh of Atlanta.
“Every time I’m with Eric, I look over and see my dad,” Greg Boyington said of his nephew.
Pappy Boyington grew up in St. Maries and Tacoma, and graduated from the University of Washington with an aeronautical engineering degree in 1934.
In 2006, the UW student senate rejected a proposed memorial to Boyington. Instead, the university in 2009 dedicated a memorial to all eight alumni who received the Medal of Honor.
Ross said news of the 2006 snub inspired him and Richard Le Francis to start a fundraising campaign for the statue. Both of their fathers also were fighter pilots in World War II, and the pair worked on the statue in a hangar owned by Le Francis. It was bronzed by Parks Bronze Foundry in Enterprise, Oregon. The statue was installed atop a granite boulder that came from Naples, Idaho.
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