Most of us had never heard of “Pappy” Boyington until the handsome Robert Conrad portrayed him in an NBC ’70’s television series named, Baa Baa Black Sheep. The popular show was based on the real life Marine Corp aviator’s WWII experiences with his squadron of twenty-seven hard-drinking and heroic misfits and screwballs who piloted F4U Corsairs. Terrors of the South Pacific, they became affectionately known as the Black Sheep, though initially, they were nicknamed the “Swashbucklers,” a more palatable moniker than the one the pilots themselves thought of: “Boyington’s B——-ds.” That suggestion made it no further than a Marine Corps public information officer who accurately predicted that it would be unprintable for civilian newspapers.
Getting back to the TV show, however, it was “Meatball,” with whom a lot of us fell in love. The Bull Terrier was portrayed as Boyington’s dog and the squadron’s mascot, but at a 1970s Experimental Aircraft Association air show book signing, Boyington, himself said that if he did have a dog at the time, it wouldn’t have been such “an ugly” dog.
Boyinton probably would have concurred with Afrikaans who called the Bull Terrier breed, Varkhond,” which means “Pig Dog.” While some think the name may be attributed to the breeds’s pig-like eyes and head, others insist that the name more likely came from cross-bred bull terriers being used in the past for bush-pig and warthog hunting in South Africa, particularly in the Eastern Cape. No matter. None of it diminished TV viewers’ affection for “Meatball’s” antics.
Baa Baa Black Sheep doesn’t seem to be available in a live streaming format, but one can purchase it as a DVD box set here. It’s very entertaining, and a great gift idea to WWII buffs who also like dogs.
Boyington, who passed away in 1988, received both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.
Image: Scene from the television series Baa Baa Black Sheep. Pappy (Robert Conrad) is taken ill just before an important mission. Also pictured, left to right: Jeff McKay (French), Dirk Blocker (Bragg), James Whitmore, Jr. (Gutterman), Bob Ginty (T. J.) and Boyington’s bull terrier, Meatball.