Gregory Boyington, otherwise known as Pappy, was a media darling before there was such a term. A Marine Corps fighter ace and leader of the famed Black Sheep Squadron during World War II, Boyington used and was used by the press during his long and tumultuous life. His fame took him all the way into the television age when Baa Baa Black Sheep, based on his autobiography, became a hit TV series during the 1970s. Author Bruce Gamble skillfully unravels the highs and lows of Boyington's paradoxical story in Black Sheep One: The Life of Gregory Pappy Boyington. Raised by an alcoholic mother and her common-law husband, Boyington managed to overcome the obstacles of his home life by entering the military, which would ultimately prove to be his salvation as well as his damnation. The Marine Corps trained him as a pilot and rewarded his sometimes reckless courage, but it also introduced him to his nemesis alcohol. The camaraderie and culture of the military made consumption of alcohol almost a requirement.

Despite his drinking binges, Boyington managed to down more Japanese planes than any other Marine fighter pilot and was awarded the Medal of Honor. Gamble's extensive use of military records, interviews and contemporary accounts all give Black Sheep One a wealth of detail. His prose style is clear and he dispassionately recounts the events of Boyington's career without condemning his excesses or extolling his virtues. Black Sheep One succeeds both as biography and history, but its strength lies in its power as a cautionary tale. Looking back at photos of his boyish face as a winning pilot, and later, at the alcohol-ravaged features of an old man, the reader can't help but wonder about the price of Boyington's success.

 

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