University of Southern California

USC Marshall Alum Tracks Effort to Honor WWII Legend
Kevin Gonzalez, a USC Marshall Alum and Former Marine, Turns a Local Campaign to Honor
August 27, 2009 • by Evy Jacobson

USC Marshall alumnus Kevin Gonzalez B.S. '93 became familiar with WWII hero Gregory "Pappy" Boyington and his legendary fighter pilot exploits through the 70s TV series Baa Baa Black Sheep. But it wasn't until he moved to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho in 2005 that the life of the Medal of Honor recipient would become a passion for him.

Gonzalez, who served a four-year enlistment in the Marine Corps before attending USC, joined a local veteran's group to get to know people in the area after relocating from Orange County, California. At the time the group was lobbying the county to name the airfield after the local-born hero. Gonzalez, whose career is in technology sales, decided to document the process. Little did Gonzalez know when he started that he’d be self-financing a feature-length documentary that took three years to complete.

"I never imagined I would be involved in film," said Gonzalez. "It's something I was always interested in and I've always been a fan of independent films. I saw the circumstances of what was going on and it was such a compelling story and such an important story that I thought I should be documenting it as it went on in the community."

The resulting film "Pappy Boyington Field," a 65-minute documentary that includes interviews with Boyington's son, as well as Robert Conrad who portrayed the fighter pilot on TV, local veterans, and vintage WWII archival footage, is currently on the festival circuit. Gonzalez has also shown the film at military bases, aviation museums and air shows, including the annual AirVenture Oshkosh air show and the Museum of Flying in Seattle. It's been favorably reviewed by the Marine Corps magazine. He is self-releasing the DVD later this fall. "That in and of itself is amazing to take a small project that was very important to you and then have it seen by some very important audiences," he said.

Boyington was an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps who became famous for his heroism as a pilot during World War II, commanding the famous VMF-214, also known as the "Black Sheep Squadron." He was also captured and became a prisoner of war for nearly the last two years of the war. Upon his return, he was awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.

Boyington later wrote an autobiography, Baa Baa Black Sheep, which became a best-seller and the inspiration for the 1970s TV series of the same name. But the hero’s personal life after the war was plagued with problems, including alcoholism that contributed to multiple divorces, and bad debts. It was judgment of his personal life that initially prevented county officials from re-naming the airfield.

"I do have a section of the film called 'Pappy's Reputation,' which explores what the implications of his reputation were on the campaign locally," he said. "As a filmmaker you hope to be a part of dialogue about a subject. In screening the film about a WWII hero on military bases, some Marines bring up the point that as a society we didn’t come to understand Post-traumatic stress disorder and its effects until after Vietnam."

While the film doesn't set out to explore Post-traumatic stress disorder, Gonzalez feels that a modern lens on Boyington’s personal life would reveal that his time in the war and as a prisoner probably exacerbated his own battles with alcoholism.

One of the most satisfying aspects of screening the film says Gonzalez is the Q&A sessions where kids ask questions.

"It's great that it’s an expansion of the legacy of Pappy Boyington and an even younger generation will get exposure to his history and that of World War II," he said.

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.