Bong, Richard, born on 24-09-1920 in Poplar, Wisconsin,
is the United States highest-scoring air ace, having shot down at least 40 Japanese aircraft during World War II. He was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Forces
and a recipient of the Medal of honor presented by Douglas MacArthur
Bong, the first of nine children born to Carl Bong, an immigrant from Sweden, and Dora Bryce, who was an American of Scotch-English descent, grew up on a farm in Poplar, Wisconsin. Dick did well in high school, helped on the farm, and pursued many interests as a teenager. He played on the school’s baseball, basketball and hockey teams; played clarinet in the school band; sang in the church choir; and enjoyed fishing and hunting.
He became a quite a good shot with a hunting rifle. Like many boys of his era, he became interested in aircraft at an early age and was a keen model builder. After a long training he received his wings and commission as a second lieutenant on 09-01- 1942 and became a gunnery instructor. He shot his first Japanese plane in March 1942, at the age of 21. On 12-06-1942, Bong flew very low over (“buzzed”) a house in nearby San Anselmo, the home of a pilot who had just been married. He was cited and temporarily grounded for breaking flying rules, along with three other P-38 pilots who had looped around the Golden Gate Bridge on the same day
. For looping the Golden Gate Bridge, for flying at low level down Market Street in San Francisco and for blowing the clothes off of an Oakland woman’s clothesline, Bong was reprimanded by General George Kenney, commanding officer of the Fourth Air Force,
who told him, “If you didn’t want to fly down Market Street, I wouldn’t have you in my Air Force, but you are not to do it any more and I mean what I say.” Kenney later wrote: “We needed kids like this lad.” In all subsequent accounts, Bong denied flying under the Golden Gate Bridge Dick became America’s all-time Ace of Aces, downing 40 enemy planes in the Pacific theatre of the war while flying P-38 fighter planes. General George Kenney
pulled Dick Bong out of combat when his score reached 40. Dick was ordered home for his safety and married his sweetheart, Marge Drucker, in Superior. After a six-year battle with cancer, Marge died in Superior, Wisconsin, with her family at her side, at the age of 79 in 2003, but before she did, she lived three lives.
Just six months after he married, Bong was testing a prototype jet fighter for Lockheed, when it malfunctioned over North Hollywood. He tried to eject after navigating his aircraft to a vacant lot, but he died in the crash. His death, on 06-08-1945, at the age of 24, occurred the same day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, yet he received banner headlines in the national newspapers. Bong’s completely resorted P-38, still with the painting of his wife Marge, is in a museum now. The I-16 fuel pump had been added to P-80s after an earlier fatal crash. Captain Ray Crawford, a fellow P-80 test/acceptance flight pilot who flew on August 6, later said Bong had told him that he had forgotten to turn on the I-16 pump on an earlier flight.
Death and burial ground of Bong, Richard Ira “Dick”.
Bong is buried on the Poplar Cemetery in Wisconsin USA. Thousands attended Dick’s funeral services in Superior, and many more lined the funeral route and buried in the family plot. Section I, Block 8, Lot 10, Grave 2. Bong’s brother Carl, who wrote his biography, questions whether Bong repeated the mistake so soon after mentioning it to another pilot. Carl’s book – Dear Mom, So We Have a War (1991) – contains numerous reports and findings from the crash investigations.
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