FRESNO, Calif. -- Pappy Boyington, the top Marine Corps fighter pilot of World War II, had his last run-in with pilots of Japanese Zeros 38 years ago when he was shot down and taken prisoner.
Soon he will meet the Japanese pilots again, but this time they will be swapping war stories instead of bullets.
Boyington, who had 28 kills to his credit, has accepted an invitation to be the featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Zero Fighter Pilots Association in Osaka, Japan, on Aug. 7.
The last time Col. Gregory 'Pappy' Boyington faced Zero pilots was when he took on a whole squadron of them Jan. 3, 1944, off the coast of Rabaul. Boyington's Corsair, attacked by several planes, wound up in the water when a machine gun bullet hit his fuel tank.
In his book 'Baa Baa Black Sheep,' Boyington said the tank exploded and he scrambled out of the burning plane within seconds after it hit the water.
He eventually was picked by a Japanese submarine and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner.
Boyington gladly accepted the invitation to return to Japan and meet the Zero pilots.
'I know at least one of them that will be there was in the squadron that shot me down,' he said. 'His name is Takeo Tanimizu and I received a letter from him and wrote one back to him earlier this year.'
Boyington said he was looking forward to the meeting.
'Hell, I don't think I ever looked at them as bitter enemies, just combatants on the other side,' he said. 'Pilots are pilots no matter what country they fly for and they were just doing their jobs, doing what their commanders ordered without being consulted. At least my commanders sure as hell didn't consult with me.'
Boyington said he has met one other Zero pilot but that was in the United States.
'It's some guy named Masajiro Kawato who has been running around air shows in the United States claiming he shot me down single-handed,' Boyington said.
He said Japanese officials have confirmed that while Kawato was a Zero pilot, 'he wasn't even in the air the day I was shot down.'
Boyington and his wife will fly to Japan about Aug. 1 and go sightseeing before he attends the meeting.
'I really haven't decided what, exactly, I'mgoing to say to them,' he said. 'But as I said, we are all pilots and I'm sure if I get stuck we'll find something to talk about. Maybe we'll swap war stories or something.'