Richard Bong

Richard Ira Bong
     A light blue neck ribbon with a gold star shaped medallion hanging from it. The ribbon is similar in shape to a bowtie with 13 white stars in the center of the ribbon.
Major Richard I. Bong, Medal of Honor recipient
Nickname(s) Dick Bong, "Bing Bong", and
"Ace of Aces"
Born (1920-09-24)September 24, 1920
Superior, Wisconsin, United States
Died August 6, 1945(1945-08-06) (aged 24)
North Hollywood, California, United States
Place of burial Poplar, Wisconsin, United States
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Army Air Forces
Years of service 19411945
Rank Major
Unit 49th Fighter Group, V Fighter Command

World War II

Awards Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star (2)
Distinguished Flying Cross (7)
Air Medal (15)

Richard Ira "Dick" Bong (September 24, 1920 – August 6, 1945) was a United States Army major who was a member of the Army Air Forces in World War II and a Medal of Honor recipient. He was one of the most-decorated fighter pilots and the United States' highest-scoring air ace in the war, being credited with shooting down 40 Japanese aircraft. All of his aerial victories were in the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter.

Early life

Bong, the son of Swedish immigrants, grew up on a farm in Poplar, Wisconsin, as one of nine children. He became interested in aircraft at an early age and was an avid model builder.

He began studying at Superior State Teachers College (the current-day University of Wisconsin–Superior) in 1938. While there, Bong enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training Program and also took private flying lessons. On May 29, 1941, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program. One of his flight instructors was Captain Barry Goldwater (later Senator from Arizona).

U.S. Army Air Forces

World War II

Bong's ability as a fighter pilot was recognized at training in northern California. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and awarded his pilot wings on January 19, 1942. His first assignment was as an instructor (gunnery) pilot at Luke Field, Arizona from January to May 1942. His first operational assignment was on May 6 to the 49th Fighter Squadron (FS), 14th Fighter Group at Hamilton Field, California, where he transitioned into the twin-engine P-38 Lightning.

Major Richard Bong in his P-38

On June 12, 1942, Bong flew very low ("buzzed") over 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.[1] For looping the Golden Gate Bridge, flying at a 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 C. 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."[2] In all subsequent accounts, Bong denied flying under the Golden Gate Bridge.[3] Nevertheless, Bong was still grounded when the rest of his group was sent without him to England in July 1942. Bong then transferred to another Hamilton Field unit, 84th Fighter Squadron of the 78th Fighter Group. From there Bong was sent to the Southwest Pacific Area.

On September 10, 1942, Lt. Bong was assigned to the 9th Fighter Squadron (aka "Flying Knights"), 49th Fighter Group, based at Darwin, Australia. While the squadron waited for delivery of the scarce Lockheed P-38s, Bong and other 9th FS pilots flew missions with the 39th FS, 35th Fighter Group, based in Port Moresby, New Guinea, to gain combat experience. On December 27, 1942, Bong claimed his initial aerial victory, shooting down a Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" and a Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscar" over Buna (during the Battle of Buna-Gona). For this action Bong was awarded the Silver Star.

In March 1943, Bong returned to the 49th FG, now at Schwimmer Field near Port Moresby, New Guinea. In April, he was promoted to first lieutenant. [4] On July 26, 1943, Bong shot down four Japanese fighters over Lae, an accomplishment that earned him the Distinguished Service Cross. In August, he was promoted to captain. [4] While on leave to the United States in November and December 1943, Bong met Marge Vattendahl at a Superior State Teachers' College Homecoming event and began dating her. After returning to the Southwest Pacific in January 1944, he named his P-38 "Marge" and adorned the nose with her photo.[5] By April 1944, Captain Bong had shot down 27 Japanese aircraft, surpassing Eddie Rickenbacker's American record of 26 credited victories in World War I. In April, he was promoted to major.[4]

After another leave in the U.S. in May 1944, Major Bong returned to New Guinea in September. Though assigned to the V Fighter Command staff and not required to fly combat missions, Bong continued flying from Tacloban, Leyte, during the Philippines campaign, increasing his official air-to-air victory total to 40 by December.

Bong considered his gunnery accuracy to be poor, so he compensated by getting as close to his targets as possible to make sure he hit them. In some cases he flew through the debris of exploding enemy aircraft, and on one occasion actually collided with his target, which he claimed as a "probable" victory.

Medal of Honor

Upon the recommendation of Far East Air Force commander General George Kenney, Bong received the Medal of Honor from General Douglas MacArthur in a special ceremony in December 1944. Bong's Medal of Honor citation states that he flew combat missions despite his status as an "instructor", which was one of his duties as standardization officer for V Fighter Command. His rank of major would have qualified him for a squadron command, but he always flew as a flight (four-plane) or element (two-plane) leader.

In January 1945, General Kenney sent America's ace of aces home for good. Bong married Marge and participated in numerous PR activities, such as promoting the sale of war bonds.


Bong was killed in 1945 while testing a P-80A similar to this one.
His death was featured prominently in national newspapers, even though it occurred on the same day as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Bong then became a test pilot assigned to Lockheed's Burbank, California, plant, where he flew P-80 Shooting Star jet fighters at the Lockheed Air Terminal. On August 6, 1945, the plane's primary fuel pump malfunctioned during takeoff on the acceptance flight of P-80A 44-85048. Bong either forgot to switch to the auxiliary fuel pump, or for some reason was unable to do so.[6] Bong cleared away from the aircraft, but was too low for his parachute to deploy. The plane crashed into a narrow field at Oxnard St & Satsuma Ave, North Hollywood. His death was front-page news across the country, sharing space with the first news of the bombing of Hiroshima.[7]

At the time of the crash, Bong had accumulated four hours and fifteen minutes of flight time (totaling 12 flights) in the P-80. The I-16 fuel pump was a later addition to the plane (after an earlier fatal crash) and Bong himself was quoted by Captain Ray Crawford (another P-80 test/acceptance flight pilot who flew the day Bong was killed) as saying that he had forgotten to turn on the I-16 pump on an earlier flight.[8]

In his autobiography, Chuck Yeager also writes, however, that part of the ingrained culture of test flying at the time, due to the fearsome mortality rates of the pilots, was anger directed at pilots who died in test flights, to avoid being overcome by sorrow for lost comrades. Bong's brother Carl (who wrote his biography) questions the validity of reported circumstance that Bong repeated the same 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.

Major Richard Ira Bong is buried in a Poplar, Wisconsin cemetery.[9]

Victory credits

Date[10] Kills[10] Location/Comment
December 27, 1942 2 over Buna
January 7, 1943 2 Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscars" over Lae
January 8, 1 over Lae Harbor, ace status
March 3, 1 Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" during Battle of the Bismarck Sea
March 11, 2 "Zeroes"
March 29, 1 heavy bomber; promoted to 1st Lieutenant.
April 14, 1 bomber, over Milne Bay. Awarded Air Medal.
June 12, 1 "Zero", over Bena Bena
July 26, 4 fighters, on escort over Lae; awarded DSC
July 28, 1 "Oscar", on escort over New Britain.
September 6, 0 claimed two bombers, not confirmed; crash-landed at Mailinan airstrip
October 2, 1 Mitsubishi Ki-46 "Dinah", over Gasmata
October 29, 2 "Zeros", over Japanese airfield at Rabaul
November 5, 2 "Zeros", over enemy airfield at Rabaul
December 1943-January 1944: On leave in Wisconsin
February 1944: assigned to Fifth Air Force Fighter Command HQ, but allowed to "free-lance".
February 15, 1 Kawasaki Ki-61 "Tony" off Cape Hoskins, New Britain
February 28, 0 destroyed a Japanese transport plane on the runway at Wewak, New Guinea
March 3, 2 Mitsubishi Ki-21 "Sally" bombers, over Tadji, New Guinea
April 3, 1 fighter over Hollandia, 25th credit
April 12, 3 surpassed Eddie Rickenbacker's U.S. record of 26 kills
May–July 1944: on leave in U.S., made publicity tours
October 10, 2 Nakajima J1N "Irving" and "Oscar"
October 27, 1 "Oscar"
October 28, 2 "Oscars" off Leyte
November 10, 1 "Oscar" over Ormoc Bay
November 11, 2 Recommended for Medal of Honor.
December 7, 2 "Sally" and Nakajima Ki-44 "Tojo", covering U.S. landings at Ormoc
December 15, 1 "Oscar"
December 17, 1 "Oscar" over Mindoro.


Bong's Army Air Forces units:

Military awards

Bong's military decorations and awards include:

United States Army Air Forces pilot badge
Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star with bronze oak leaf cluster
Distinguished Flying Cross with one silver/bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Medal with two silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters
Air Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster
Presidential Unit Citation with one bronze oak leaf cluster
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
Silver star
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one 316 inch silver star
World War II Victory Medal
Bronze star
Philippine Liberation Medal with one 316 inch bronze star
Philippine Independence Medal
Philippine Presidential Unit Citation

Medal of Honor citation

Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Army Air Corps
Place and date: Over Borneo and Leyte, October 10 to November 15, 1944
Entered service at: Poplar, Wisconsin
Birth: Poplar, Wisconsin
G.O. No.: 90, December 8, 1944
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty in the Southwest Pacific area from October 10, to November 15, 1944. Though assigned to duty as gunnery instructor and neither required nor expected to perform combat duty, Maj. Bong voluntarily and at his own urgent request engaged in repeated combat missions, including unusually hazardous sorties over Balikpapan, Borneo, and in the Leyte area of the Philippines. His aggressiveness and daring resulted in his shooting down 8 enemy airplanes during this period.[11]


See also


  1. Dear Mom, So We Have a War (1991)
  2. Kenney, George C. (1949). General Kenney Reports: A Personal History of the Pacific War. New York City: Duell, Sloan and Pearce. pp. 3–6.
  3. Yenne, 2009, p. 68.
  4. 1 2 3 "Factsheets : Maj Richard Ira Bong". Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  5. Dick Bong America's Ace of Aces by Gen. George C. Kenney.
  6. Yeager, Chuck and Janos, Leo. Yeager: An Autobiography. Pages 227-228 (paperback). New York: Bantam Books, 1986. ISBN 0-553-25674-2.
  7. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, among other periodicals, all carried prominent front page stories about Bong's death on August 7, 1945, despite the prevalence of the news on the first atomic bombing. "Jet plane explosion kills Major Bong, Top U.S. Ace," New York Times (August 7, 1945), p. 1; "Major Bong, top air ace, killed in crash of Army P-80 jet-fighter," Washington Post (August 6, 1945), p.1; "Jet plane explosion kills Maj. Bong; Ace's 'Shooting Star' blows up in test flight over north Hollywood", Los Angeles Times (August 6, 1945), p.1.
  8. Dear Mom, So We Have a War (1991)
  9. "Richard Bong". Claim to Fame: Medal of Honor recipients. Find a Grave. Retrieved December 9, 2007.
  10. 1 2 "Aerial Victory Credits". Air Force Historical Research Agency. pp. (search on Name "begins with" "Bong", exclude those of BONGARTZ THEODORE R). Retrieved 2012-06-06.
  11. "Richard Bong, Medal of Honor recipient". World War II (A–F). United States Army Center of Military History. June 8, 2009. Archived from the original on June 16, 2008. Retrieved December 9, 2007.
  12. "Richard Ira Bong". Retrieved 10 December 2013.


External links

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