Files and images about the American Volunteer Group commanded by Claire Chennault. The AVG Flying Tigers defended Burma and China with their shark-faced P-40 Tomahawks in the opening months of the Pacific War, December 1941 - July 1942.

Tales of the Flying Tigers


A war hero we've never heard of?

"A Native American war memorial is coming to Washington," writes Dana Hedgpeth in the Washington Post, slyly adding: "Here are six Native veterans you've never heard about."

Whoa! What's Greg Boyington doing in that list? We've all heard of Pappy, the rebellious Flying Tiger who became Black Sheep One and a Marine Corps ace in the Pacific War. The link is to the biography by Bruce Gamble, to whom I naturally turned for comment about Boyington's wink and nod toward Indian ancestry. (In my own history of the Flying Tigers, I contented myself with saying he had "the moody face of a Cherokee setting out on the Trail of Tears.")

Pappy Boyington as a US Marine Boyington's mom had married young and pregnant, and the marriage soon became a battleground, with her husband accusing her of infidelity. So the child's parentage was a bit of a question mark. His Wikipedia entry makes no mention of Native American heritage, though oddly it is linked to another Wiki article about "Native Americans and World War II" -- which article, in turn, makes no mention of Pappy Boyington.

"I tried twenty years ago to find anything definitive about the heritage of his mother, Grace Gregory," Bruce Gamble emailed me. "One of her nieces claimed that Grace used to boast about being part Hunkpapa Sioux, but I never did uncover anything." The Hunkpapa lived in what is now Montana, and were among the victors in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, aka Custer's Last Stand. Again, Wiki has a list of Hunkpapa notables, which does not include a Boyington -- who in any event probably wouldn't have passed muster as a member of the tribe. "Even granting Pappy a liberal percentage of Native American heritage," Bruce concluded, "he would be no more than 1/4" -- that is, his maternal grandfather might have been a tribal member.

That would place him safely ahead of Elizabeth Warren in the Native American stakes, but since one can't be a member of a tribe without documenting that fact, Pappy was just a typical American mixture of bloodlines. Until one of his descendants comes up with DNA evidence that shows otherwise, I'm inclined to think of the Hunkpapa story as just one of those family legends born out of a desire to make oneself more interesting -- a fairly common desire, as Senator Warren has proved. Blue skies! — Dan Ford

A 'Special Air Unit' for China:

Flying Tigers
revised and updated

The Tigers forge a legend:

The P-40 files:

The Bill Pawley files:

The Lady and the Tigers

Books, movies, comics:

A good myth never dies: