The VMF-214 Black Sheep CO

After VMF-214 Black Sheep CO Maj. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington had shot down three Zeros in 60 seconds on Oct. 4, 1943 and five-in-a-day on Sep. 16, 1943, Chicago Daily News correspondent George Weller and a growing fan base among Stateside feature writers duly noted that Boyington’s brand was in its ascendancy.

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He had become a star.

As told by Bill Yenne in his book America’s Few, Marine Aces of the South Pacific, it was around this time that someone had an idea. As public relations schemes go, it was hard to beat. The suggestion, which probably originated with Frank Walton, VMF-214’s publicity-savvy intelligence officer, but branded with the imprimatur of Greg Boyington, was, in retrospect, as obvious as it was brilliant. As any advertising professional will agree, the best ones are the obvious ones.

Nothing to sell but good will

It was pure in its simplicity and precision. It had nothing to sell but good will. And it brought together two of the most sympathetic icons that were most on the minds of the American public in October 1943—war heroes and the golden moment of the National Pastime, the World Series baseball.

The Series that year, a rematch of the 1942 pairing, brought together the champion St. Louis Cardinals and the American League’s perennial pennant holders, the New York Yankees. But things were not the same as they had been in past World Series. Because of the war, the respective hall-of-famers, such as Enos Slaughter of the Cards, and Phil Rizzuto and Joe DiMaggio of the Yankees, were not in the line-up. They were in different uniforms, playing on armed forces exhibition teams.

The Yankees, who seemed naked without DiMaggio, nevertheless won Game One of the 1943 Series at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 5, but dropped the Oct. 6 game to the Cardinals. All eyes were on Game Three.

Enter Greg Boyington.

On Oct. 7, the Associated Press carried the story that his VMF-214 “has an offer to make.”

Gregory “Pappy” Boyington trading downed Zeros for Cardinals baseball caps

The offer was that his Black Sheep would trade downed enemy aircraft for baseball caps from the Series winning team. He was, according to the Associated Press, “willing to shoot down a Japanese Zero in trade for each cap of the winning team.”

Baseball caps, which are ubiquitous today, were less common in daily life in the 1940s, but were highly sought after by the aviators in the South Pacific because the bills provided excellent shade for their eyes in the bright sun.

Today in a similar situation, the squadron would have been immediately deluged with crates of caps from every team in the major leagues, but in 1943, it was the Cardinals who responded. Though they lost Game Five—and the Series—at home on Oct. 11, they did ship 20 baseball caps to Boyington and his boys. Publicity photos were taken of Chris McGee standing on the wing of Boyington’s Corsair with a stack of caps and Boyington handing back a Japanese flag decal from the cockpit.

With Joe DiMaggio out of the game, eyes that eyed the tabloids— and even the sports pages—now eyed Boyington.

Top Image: The Black Sheep Squadron poses while wearing the ball caps donated to them by the St. Louis Cardinals, 1943. BL-10821-94 (National Baseball Hall of Fame)

America’s Few, Marine Aces of the South Pacific is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame and U.S. Marine Corps

The day VMF-214 Black Sheep CO Gregory “Pappy” Boyington shot down three Zeros in 60 seconds
Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, commander of Marine Corp fighter squadron VMF-214 (“Black Sheep”) in the cockpit of his aircraft.