Semper Fi: A History Lesson

By Edward Timperlake

The trashing of the idea of commemorating the great Marine Fighter Pilot, Greg “Pappy” Boyington, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, by the student leadership of his alma mater, the University of Washington, is nasty and ignorant.

A student leader proclaims she “didn’t believe a member of the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person UW wanted to produce.”

Another complains “many monuments at UW already commemorate rich white men.”

Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, part Sioux, was one of the most colorful combat leaders in the history of Marine Aviation.

Returning to the Marines after fighting as a “Flying Tiger” before Pearl Harbor, he became a legendary fighter pilot and squadron CO, receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor for combat action in the South Pacific in World War II.

He also spent time in hell as a Japanese-held prisoner of war.

Successfully fighting and winning a war is a team effort.

In World War II, a united home front stood behind the men and woman in uniform.

The country’s united purpose in those years is amazing to this day.

As in any endeavor, a few great heroes emerge.

Boyington was but one and even though times change, an attack on him is an attack on all.

In 1942, American and Allied Forces were on the run in the face of a skilled relentless global war waged by German Nazis and Japanese forces emboldened by their code of Bushido or “way of the warrior.”

The U.S. Navy Marine Team was the last line of defense in the Pacific and in June 1942, in a “miracle at Midway,” the Navy achieved a great victory, slowing the Japanese advance across the Pacific.

That August, Adm. John Sidney McCain, a visionary strategic thinker, implemented a plan to begin the long, hard, island-hopping campaign to regain the offensive.

The Marines landed and occupied a critical island in the South Pacific named Guadalcanal.

The admiral also sent a 120-man Navy unit led by an ensign to build an airfield.

The air, land and sea battle of Guadalcanal began.

Over time on land, the Marine grunts with Navy construction teams fighting side by side, annihilated the Imperial Japanese Naval Infantry.

It was up-close and bloody, but the Marine/Navy Team held.

In the air, Marine aviators made history.

Capt. Marian Carl was the first Marine ace (five kills) and was awarded his second Navy Cross for action at Guadalcanal. His first Navy Cross was for courage and flying skill at Midway.

Also flying from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal was the top Marine ace Joe Foss (26 aerial victories) who like Greg Boyington was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

On the sea, it was an especially tough time for the Navy.

American forces were outnumbered and facing a determined enemy with superior technology (Japanese torpedoes were much better).

The Japanese Navy also was better skilled at night fighting.

With grim determination, the Navy began to turn the tide.

The cost was high for all ranks.

Rear Adm. Dan Callaghan, another Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was killed on his flagship’s bridge and in another engagement the USS Juneau was sunk, killing the five Sullivan brothers.

The turning point to victory in the naval battle of Guadalcanal was the heroic action of just one battleship, the USS Washington.

According to a naval historian, “If this one ship did not stop 14 Japanese ships right then and there, America might lose the war.”

The Washington’s main battery fired and sank the Japanese battleship Kinshina, the enemy fleet retreated and Adm. Isoroku Yamato told the emperor that Guadalcanal was lost.

America and our allies were on the road to ultimate victory.

When the war was over, Gen. Marian Carl retired to Oregon after 35 years of service to his country.

He was killed at age 82, successfully defending his wife from a psycho who invaded his home with a shotgun.

The good people of Oregon honored him with the “Gen. Marian Carl Memorial Airfield” in Roseburg, Ore.

Joe Foss was elected governor of South Dakota twice,

He made news after September 11, 2001, when an airport security screener tried to take away a dangerous metal object he was carrying: His Congressional Medal of Honor (he was 86).

The good people of South Dakota named the Sioux Falls Airport after this great aviator.

Adm. McCain died right after the war.

His legacy is his son, Adm. John S. McCain who was CINCPAC during the Vietnam War, and his grandson, John McCain, whom Arizonans elected to the U.S. Senate.

Adm. Dan Callaghan is commemorated at the U.S. Naval Academy.

As long as there is a U.S. Navy, there should be a surface combatant named “The Sullivans.”

DDG-68 is the second destroyer named for these five brothers.

The ship’s Web site takes justifiable pride in the name and points out DDG-68, The Sullivans, was part of the Kennedy Battle Group deployed in support of “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

Even if some student leaders at the University of Washington want to insult history, the midshipman at Annapolis will not.

They swore an oath to support and defend our Constitution and in their studies the USS Washington will always have a special place of honor in the great fighting tradition of the U.S. Navy.

Finally, the ensign who went ashore with the Marines on Guadalcanal was named George W. Polk.

His unit received a Presidential Unit Citation from Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After the war, Polk became the Middle East Bureau Chief for CBS News.

He was murdered by terrorists during the Greek Civil War while chasing a good story.

The most impressive award for courageous investigative journalism in the world is named the George W. Polk Award.

An attack on one of those great heroes is an attack on all.

Ed Timperlake, U.S. Naval Academy (1969), was the commanding officer of VMFA-321, Hell’s Angels. During World War II fighting in the South Pacific, the squadron was credited with 39 kills and 11 probables. The commanding officer was Edmond Overend, who had six kills as a “Flying Tiger.”

This article was first published by The Washington Times on Friday, March 10, 2006