The Blog

Shooting Down the Ace

The University of Washington's student senate takes a stand against honoring one of the schools most distinguished alums.

10:28 PM, Feb 28, 2006 • By JAMES THAYER
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The camp was officially known as the Navy Yokosuka Guard Unit Ueki Detachment. Most of the prisoners were airmen and submariners. Torture was routine. On easy days, the prisoners might be made to stand at attention for ten consecutive hours. When the guards were feeling more frisky, they would enter a prisoner's nine-by-six cell and beat him with clubs. The camp's commander, Yokura Sashizo, would later be sentenced by a war crimes tribunal to 25 years hard labor.

Because the Japanese did not report the names of prisoners held at Ofuna, the Marines listed Boyington as missing in action. The flyer's Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously, or so the Marine Corps thought. Above Franklin Roosevelt's signature on the citation appear these words: "Consistently outnumbered throughout successive hazardous flights over heavily defended hostile territory, Major Boyington struck at the enemy with daring and courageous persistence, leading his squadron into combat with devastating results to Japanese shipping, shore installations and aerial forces. A superb airman and determined fighter against overwhelming odds. . . ." Boyington also earned the Navy Cross.

After twenty months at the Ofuna Camp, Pappy Boyington and the other prisoners were liberated. He weighed 100 pounds, down 90 from his normal weight. He left the service in 1947. He could not find work at first, but then was hired on as a wrestling referee and a beer salesman. Alcoholism dogged him much of the remainder of his life. He died in 1988, aged 75. Marine Corps F-4s performed a missing-man-flyby as his body was lowered into the ground at Arlington National Cemetery.

So, let's see: does this fellow deserve to be honored by his college? Andrew Everett, a UW senior and a former Air Force weather forecaster, thought so, and he brought the resolution before the UW's student senate. He told the students that he wasn't interested in a large statue, but rather something smaller "so that all who come here in future years will know that the University of Washington produced one of the country's bravest men . . . ," according to the resolution. Asked where the money would come from, Everett said he was drawing up a proposal for funding from several UW departments and from certain alumni. He argued that Pappy Boyington had many of the qualities that the University of Washington hoped to produce in its students.

Faced with the possibility of honoring a warrior who fought with such efficiency for his country, the student senators sprang into action.

Jill Edwards moved to table the matter, saying other resolutions were there first. Another student senator asked why Everett was interested in honoring this particular alum. Another senator asked why a monument shouldn't commemorate all who fought in the war. Karl Smith wanted to strike the section of the resolution where Boyington was credited with destroying 26 enemy aircraft. Jill Edwards "didn't believe a member of the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person UW wanted to produce," according to the meeting's minutes.

The resolution's sponsor, Andrew Everett, gamely said a destroyed aircraft didn't necessarily indicate the enemy pilot had died. Mikhail Smirnoff noted that the resolution didn't require that the statue necessarily be finished. Jon Lee said he didn't want the campus inundated with memorials. Deidre Lockman argued that the resolution focused too heavily on the negative aspects of war. Mikhail Smirnoff supported the resolution but said "he understood the sentiment of not wanting to reward those who fought in the war, but that he thought those who fought in WWII were heroes and that it was a much different war than the controversial war in Iraq," as per the minutes. Ashley Miller had her say about rich white men and Jill Edwards didn't favor that Pappy, like, killed the enemy.

A vote was taken on the resolution. It tied, 45 to 45. The senate chair, Alex Kim, then broke the tie with a nay vote. The resolution failed.

But the word got out via blogs and talk radio. Even in this bastion of progressiveness (in Seattle: John Kerry, 82 percent, George Bush, 18 percent), the reaction was predicable and furious. The student senators have been backtracking mightily ever since.

Jill Edwards claims to have found new respect: "Obviously he is a great man and I'm very proud he's an alumnus." But she couldn't help a little wiggle: "I don't want to feel like we're trying to impose an ideal of achievement on the UW." Ashley Miller said her comments were just part of a general discussion about memorials on campus, and not specifically about Boyington, according to an Associated Press report.