Monday, September 24, 2012

Today is the Birthday of World War II Ace Major Richard Bong

Today, Richard Bong would have been 92 years old.

Richard Bong does not have time for your awards.  He has planes to shoot down.

World War II was an odd time for air combat.  The mechanized age had come into full swing, and the planes were far superior to the bi-winged aircraft of WWI.  Today's pilots are sitting behind 10's of millions of dollars in equipment and tend to get recruited from top universities.  During World War II, some airplanes were being assembled out of boxes on the tarmac and flown by anyone with stones enough to get behind the stick.

Richard Bong was one of nine children from a small town in Wisconsin.  He was attending a teacher's college when, in 1938, he signed up for the Civilian Pilot Training program (that's age 18) where he trained under Barry Goldwater of all people.

When World War II broke out, Bong headed to the Pacific Theater where he piloted a P-38 Lightning to 40 confirmed kills and likely shot down other enemy planes that could not be confirmed.  To earn an "ace" ranking, by the way, one needed confirm only 5 kills.  So, he was 8 times better than that.  And all in the incredibly dangerous battleground of the skies over the Pacific Ocean where every trip up was likely to end poorly.

The P-38 Lightning was a remarkable aircraft, and it's now permanently tied to both the Pacific Theater and to Ace Dick Bong.

Bong was awarded:

  • The Medal of Honor
  • The Distinguished Service Cross
  • The Silver Star
  • The Distinguished Flying Cross
  • and The Air Medal
I note that Bong put an image of his best girl on the nose of his plane.  An odd thought when you consider one of his tactics was to get really close to an opponent before opening fire.  Meaning this lovely young lady's face may have been one of the last things those guys saw.

I am totally putting Jamie's face on the nose of my Honda Element

Tragically, Bong died on August 6th, 1945 after being recalled stateside to become a test pilot, missing VJ Day which would come scant weeks later.

As always, take a look around the internet.  Bong's combat record is amazing, and we didn't really do it justice here.


picky girl said...

This is such a great post. Fascinating. I did have to go look him up, especially because you had that teaser about his death. HOW? Awful, awful.

I read a really fantastic book earlier this summer called Code Name Verity, about a woman pilot in WWII (which they actually had) and her best friend who was a spy. Fantastic book. And you're right, those tin cans looks so vulnerable. What bravery.

The League said...

I need to look up that book.

Yeah, the efforts of the WACS and WAVES don't get discussed enough, but there were definitely women flying cargo runs over dodgy territory. And, of course, we'll never really hear much about the intelligence work women performed during WWII.

The Russians sent up women as fighter pilots during WWII. Look up "The Night Witches" sometime.

Man. The Russians.

Anonymous said...

When you have a minute check out Bernie (Bernard Fisher), a pilot who was still flying out of Pleiku when I arrived there in April 1966. He was an everyday courageous A1E pilot who one day did something very special.Make sure you get the full story.

The League said...

Holy. Cow. Yeah, we're writing that one up.