R.A.F. and U.S. Fliers Reach Upper Ace Class
London, 13 April 1944 (CP) — Wing Cmdr. J. R. D. Braham joined the upper brackets of the Empire's fighter aces today when he destroyed his 26th enemy plane, a twin-engine German machine which he shot down during a Mosquito intruder patrol over Denmark.
Yank Flier Gets 27th Jap, Called U. S. 'Ace of Aces'
'Going to Get All I Can'
"The war is going to last a long time," Capt. Bong told a United Press reporter recently. "I'm going to get all I can. I'll even go out looking for Japs if necessary."
The young pilot, whose P-38 Lightning carries on its nose a large picture of his girl friend, Marjorie Vattendahl of Superior, Wis., broke the existing record for planes destroyed in the air by bagging two Japs during a raid on Hollandia New Guinea, yesterday.
Those who know and fight with Capt. Bong credit his success to two things — he is a dead shot, and he holds his fire until he is within 300 feet rather than banging away at 1500 feet as do many pilots.
He Wears 20 Medals
Captain Richard Bong stands with his P-38 Lightning fighter plane. He recently surpassed Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker's score of 26 enemy planes shot down in air combat. Bong's score of 27 planes makes him the leading American Air Ace in this or any other war
Details of Wednesday's dogfights over New Guinea were not disclosed.
The population of Capt Bong's home town is given as 462. Thus, his bag of 27 enemy planes is one for every 17.1 persons in Poplar.
Capt. Bong was ordered to the Southwest Pacific on Sept. 10, 1942, when he started his string of victories. All except one of the 27 enemy planes were shot down over Jap territory. The exception was not revealed, although it was believed to have occurred during the last big enemy raid on Port Moresby, New Guinea, a year ago.
Capt. Bong's biggest kill in one battle was over Lae last August, when he bagged four planes. He got his first kill on Dec. 27, 1942, when he shot down a Zero fighter and a dive bomber.
Capt. Bong's Visit Home Recalled by Parents
POPLAR, Wis., April 13 (UP) — The parents of Capt. Richard Bong. Mr. and Mrs Carl T. Bong, his five sisters and two brothers and his grandmother recalled with happiness today his homecoming last November when their farm house was filled with more than 100 guests.
"We had the 29-piece band from the 352nd Air Forces Training Detachment at Superior State Teachers College there to greet him," remembered Mrs. Bong. "I guess there never has been such excitement in Poplar."
"During the hunting season there wasn't a deer in Northern Wisconsin that was safe when Richard was out with his gun," his father said. "Now he's hunting bigger game and we certainly are proud of him."
13 April 1944 - CBS Correspondent William J. Dunn broadcast from New Guinea today that Captain Bong doesn't look like an ace at all — Frankly, Dick Bong wouldn't rate even momentary consideration for the starring role in a Hollywood air production," he added:
"The other night a bunch of boys were eating dinner in an American canteen somewhere in the southwest Pacific. A bomber pilot jabbed his fork in the general direction of the door and said, 'See that guy over there?'
"That guy over there" was a medium-sized youngster in the middle twenties, dressed in wrinkled, dusty khaki pants and shirt.
"No tie ... no cap on his unruly blond hair, and only a tiny set of captain's bars and a pair of pilot's wings to distinguish him from the run of the mine G.I.
"Actually he looked like the kid who used to fill the tank of your auto and wipe the windshield down at the corner filling station. And he might well have been just that. No one gave him any attention except the other pilots, but there was nothing about him to command attention. 'That,' said the bomber pilot, 'Is Dick Bong.'"
(By The Associated Press, 13 April 1944) -
Today's Southwest Pacific headquarters announcement that Capt. Richard Ira Bong has downed 27 enemy planes in combat makes him the leading American ace in number of planes shot down in combat, but second to Capt. Don S. Gentile of the European theater in the number destroyed both in the air and on the ground.
Gentile, the Piqua Ohio fighter pilot who flies from Britain, is credited with 30 planes destroyed — 23 shot from the skies and seven others destroyed on the ground.
Bong, who lives at Poplar, Wis., broke Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker's long-standing record of 26 planes shot down in combat in World War I by getting his 26th and 27th enemy plane over the Japanese base at Hollandia, New Guinea.
Only planes destroyed in aerial combat are tallied in the Pacific theater while all planes destroyed, both on the ground and in combat, are credited to Eighth air force fliers in Britain, the navy keeps no official counts of individual victories but Lt. (jg) Ira Kepford of Muskegon, Mich., is credited with 16 Japanese planes.
The Marine record of 26 planes downed is held jointly by Maj. Joe Foss of Sioux Falls, S.D. and Maj. Gregory Boyington of Okanogan, Wash., who is missing in action.
Nineteen other army, navy and marina corps fliers have destroyed 15 or more enemy planes, and while Mediterranean theater records list no fliers among the top 24 with 15 or more planes to their credit, the two leaders there are Maj. Herschel Green of Mayfield, Ky., with 13 and Lt William J. Sloan of Richmond, Va. with 12.
The leading aces are:
European theater: Capt. Don S. Gentile, Piqua, Oh., 30; Capt. Robert S. Johnson, Lawton, Okla., 22; Capt. Duane W. Beeson, Boise, Ida., 21; Maj. Walker Mahurin, Fort Wayne, Ind., (missing) 21; Maj. Gerald Johnson, Owenton, Ky., (missing) 18; Maj. Walter Beckham, De Funiak Springs, Fla., (missing) 18; Maj. Francis S. Gabreski, Oil City, Pa., 17; and Lt.-Col. Glenn E. Duncan, Houston, Tex., 15.
Pacific (Army): Capt. Richard Bong, Popular, Wis., 27; Col. Neel E. Kearby, San Antonio, Tex., (missing) 21; Lt.-Col. Thomas J. Lynch, Catasauqua, Pa., (dead) 19; Capt. Thomas B. McGuire, Jr., San Antonio, Tex., 17; Maj. Robert Westbrook, Hollywood, Calif., 16 and Maj. George S. Welch, Wilmington, Del., 16.
Pacific (Marines): Maj. Joe Foss, Sioux Falls, S.D., 26; Maj. Gregory Boyington, Okanogan, Wash., (missing) 26; Lt. Robert Hanson, Newtonville, Mass., (missing) 26; Capt. Donald Aldrich. Chicago, 20; Lt. Kenneth Walsh, Brooklyn and Washington, 20; Lt.-Col. John L. Smith, Lexington, Okla., 19; Maj. M. E. Carl, Hubbard, Ore., 17; Lt. William J. Thomas. ElDorado, Kan., 16 and Capt. Harold R. Spears of Ironton, Ohio with 15.
By RICHARD C. BERGHOLZ Associated Press War Editor, 14 April 1944 -
The ships and planes with which Japan hoped to revive its smashed defenses at Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, were left burning and battered after a massive coordinated air attack Wednesday, allied headquarters in the southwest Pacific reported today.
At least one freighter was sunk in Hollandia harbor and nine other small craft were left burning and sinking after the fifth air force pilots had pinpointed their target with one of the heaviest bomb loads in the New Guinea campaign.
Of the 20 Japanese planes that bravely rose to intercept the 200-plane allied force, eight were shot down — two by the guns of the Lightning fighter piloted by America's No. 1 ace, Maj. Richard I, Bong, Poplar, Wis. The two victims raised Bong's total to 27, highest in American history.
During the past two weeks, allied airmen have smashed Hollandia with 1334 tons of bombs and destroyed its reinforced air force of 288 planes.
Other air war reports told of American bomber attacks ranging from Koepang, Dutch Timor, which is west of Darwin, Australia, to Truk in the eastern Caroline islands, with way stops at such targets as Wewak, Hansa bay and Madang, New Guinea, Rabaul, New Britain, Kavieng, New Ireland and Bougainville island in the Solomons.
Four targets in the Kurile Islands north of Japan were raked by 11th air force planes, including the third attack in three days on Matsuwa Island.
Bong's total exceeds the 26 planes credited to Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, World War I ace. All of Bong's victims have been shot down during aerial combat. Air commanders in the Southwest Pacific do not credit pilots with planes destroyed on the ground.
A special headquarters release announcing Bong's achievement said all of his 27 victories have been scored while flying Lightning fighter planes over enemy territory.
Bong after winning his wings at Luke Field was ordered to active duty in the Southwest Pacific in September 1942.
He returned to active duty early this year after a leave which permitted him to visit his home.
There's a picture of Capt. Bong's fiancé on the nose of his Lightning fighter plane and the Japanese air force is learning the hard way that it means to try to pump gunfire into the picture.
The fiancé is Miss Marge Vattendahl, Superior, Wis., a student at Superior State Teacher's College and the 23-year-old Poplar, Wis., Army Air Corps pilot obviously is thinking of her when he says:
"I'm taking no unnecessary chances because I want to get back."
But that doesn't mean the ace is looking forward to a ground assignment. "I'd be lost on a desk job," he says.
Maj.-Gen. Ennis Whitehead watches as Paul Wurtsmith lights "Bing" Bong a cigarette somewhere in the South Pacific
14 April 1944 - It's MAJOR Richard Ira Bong now. The promotion came Wednesday, the same day that he shot down two Japanese planes to become the first American pilot in history to down 27 enemy aircraft in aerial combat.
The 23 year old Poplar (Wis.) pilot's achievement brought national acclaim. Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, whose World War I record of 26 enemy planes downed in the skies was broken by Bong, said in New York City that he was delighted and extended his heartiest congratulations. Gov. Goodland wired Mr. and Mrs. Carl Bong, the flier's parents, that "Wisconsin and its loyal citizens are proud of the gallant record of your famous son." The Superior (Wis.) American Legion post cabled the ace its congratulations as the "fightin'est" fighter.
An Impromptu Parade
And if the promotion had been known Thursday, the jubilation of Superior State Teachers college and Central High School youths would have been even greater as they paraded in celebration over Bong's achievement.
The celebrants, scores of boys and girls accompanied by the Army Air Corps Cadet group attending the teachers college, marched through Superior streets singing songs of the air forces and other branches of the armed services. Leading them, arm in arm, were Dr. R. C. Williams, president of the college: Miss Marjorie (Marge) Vattendahl, the coed whose picture adorns the nose of Bong's Lightning fighter plane, and Geraldine Bong, a teachers college sophomore and one of Bong's seven brothers and sisters.
It was a big day to the young people, who got a chance to see Gen. MacArthur's "ace of aces" at first hand when he was home on leave from mid-November until early January. School officials said the excitement and buzz of conversation in classes was so steady Thursday that they decided to dismiss both college and high school youths at 3 p. m. so they could blow off steam by parading.
All Victories in Air
The reason for these happy faces is Richard Bong who this week became America's "Ace of Aces." At left is his sister Gerry & with her is the pilot's girlfriend, Marge Vattendahl. They are classmates at Superior State teacher's College
He "Straddled" 26
In a letter which Bong's father received this week, the Wisconsin ace wrote that he was going to "straddle" the 26 figure "by getting a double." The jump from 26 to 27 enemy planes has had a jinx stigma, particularly since Maj. Gregory Boyington, a marine flier, was declared missing in January after he got his twenty-sixth enemy. Besides Boyington, Maj. Joe Foss of the marines also has 26 "kills" to his credit in this war. Foss recently returned to duty in the south Pacific but reportedly has been grounded.
War correspondents in the southwest Pacific recalled Thursday that Capt. Rickenbacker, when he visited that theater several months ago, promised a case of Scotch whisky to the first pilot who broke the 26 record. They reasoned, under scoring rules of the theater, that Bong was eligible for the award, but speculated on Bong's disposal of the prize.
Bong has no prejudice against liquor, and on rare occasions will drink a glass of beer, but he just doesn't care about imbibing, his fellow fliers have learned. Maybe there will be a party for Bong's unit.
Rickenbacker to Pay
Capt. Rickenbacker said Friday that he would not "leave a stone unturned to fulfill my part of the bargain."
'Where I will obtain the Scotch or how I can get it to Maj. Bong is yet unknown," he added. He explained that the offer was made after he addressed a group of combat pilots at Port Moresby, New Guinea, which he visited with Gen. MacArthur and Lieut. Gen. George C. Kenney, commander of the 5th air force.
"Gen. Kenney told the boys he would give the first pilot in that area who broke my World War I record a bottle of Scotch," Rickenbacker said. "I immediately offered to make it a case of Scotch and Gen MacArthur added a case of champagne."
Rickenbacker said that not only was he going to live up to the promise, but that he was sure the two generals would do the same.
"In fact they may have made the celebration possible already," he added.
Gov. Goodland's wire to the flier's parents described Maj. Bong as now the ace flier of the nation."
"He will go down in history as one of the most famous of the nation's warriors. We all glory in his achievements." The governor said.
Carl and Dora Bong did not react to the excitement of the day as did so many others in Douglas County. When visited by reporters Thursday night, Mrs. Bong was found working at several scrapbooks that hold scores of her son's accomplishments. She had hopes of catching up with unfinished work on the books, but she said Thursday night, "I guess I'll never catch up now."
Carl Bong worked hard all day preparing for spring and summer work on the 300 acres he cultivates in five farms, one of which the family occupies. He exhibited the letter which related Dick's plan to straddle the 26, but otherwise was noncommittal. He is a bit disturbed about Maj. Bong's 17 year old brother, Carl (Bud) entering service, as the senior Bong is counting on the help of Bud and "the girls" to carry them through the coming farming operations.
Bud did his chores Thursday after school then went out to practice a bit of shooting on crows. Recently he took the army air corps examinations for high school pupils wishing to become flying cadets. He ranked highest among 27 youths who look the tests at Superior but he is disgruntled because the Army now, at least temporarily, has closed Air Corps recruiting. He will be 18 in October.
Bong's achievements received notice too in California and Arizona, where he received his flying training. Maj Thomas J. Davis, jr. deputy training director at Luke Field, Arizona said Bong was "exceptionally qualified in gunnery and even though we did not have the fine equipment now used, he turned in very high scores."
The photo of Marge on Bong's plane
"I don't feel a damn bit different," he remarked, "except that I'm pretty miffed over this business." (He referred to the business of being interviewed.)
One reason he was miffed, he admitted later, was that he had planned on pasting a new photograph of his girl on the nose of his fighter plane this afternoon.
"I'd be doing it right now if it wasn't for you guys," he said in the direction of newsmen.
Bong's sweetheart is Marjorie Vattendahl, Superior (Wis.) State Teacher's College student. The last plane he had her picture on was lost by another pilot when an engine conked out, forcing the pilot to jump.
Newsmen told Bong he would soon be submitting to radio interviews and probably would be selling war bonds. He winced and countered that he just wanted to keep on fighting in the air.
Major Bong commented that he had not changed his opinion of Japanese fighter pilots, which is that he felt they were pretty poor. He added, grinning that he would "a lot rather be fighting the Japs than the Germans."
Pressed further for his choice of Japanese over German, he said: "Our pilots are more expendable over there. Besides, they fight at too high altitude to suit me. And if I was over there I'd be just like any new fighter pilot out there. I'd be up against new tactics and have to learn all over again."
Bong's pilot friends say he is almost nerveless in combat and Bong admits he has never been "bothered" in combat since he shot down his first plane, on Dec. 12, 1942.
"All I do is make a pass at them and try to knock them down," he puts it. "Of course, I try to get above them if I can. Wednesday, when I got my last two I must have made fourteen passes before I shot one down. If I make a pass and miss, I go on away and come back later to try to get him."
Bong said he didn't remember his toughest fight. Then he added: "I told the reporters all about that stuff anyhow when I was back in the states."
Major Bong has been grounded indefinitely since he established the new record and is still on the office job he was assigned to on his return from furlough in the United States in February.
15 April 1944, CHICAGO — (AP) - Three American women — mothers of three of the country's outstanding air heroes — paid tribute yesterday to all American mothers and their sons on a "Mothers for Victory" broadcast over the Blue network. They were Mrs. Patsy Gentile, Piqua, O., mother of Capt. Don Gentile, credited with 30 Nazi planes; Mrs. Dora Bong Poplar, Wis., whose son, Maj. Richard Bong, knocked out 27 Jap planes; and Mrs. L. B. Johnson, Lawton, Okla., mother of Capt. Robert A. Johnson, who brought down 27 enemy planes over Europe.
Major Bong took part in the broadcast with his mother here. The other two women had received word their boys were returning home on furloughs. A fourth mother, Mrs. Marry Vincent Parle, spoke on the program from Omaha, Neb. Unlike the other three, she had no hopes for her son's return. Ensign John Parle was killed in action during the invasion of Sicily and her message was addressed to the crew of the USS Parle, a destroyer named after him.
The Chicago Herald-American and the New York Journal-American sponsored the program.
At an Advanced Allied Air Base, New Guinea, 15 April 1944 - (AP) - Maj. Richard I. Bong of Poplar, Wis., ace of the south Pacific, has been ordered
"grounded indefinitely," it was disclosed Saturday. The order was issued after he brought down his last two Japanese planes Wednesday.
Scotch in abundance was turning up Saturday for Maj. Richard I Bong's achievement in bettering Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker's record of 26 planes shot down in World War I.
At least 50 offers or cases of the rare beverage, including one from Bong's home state of Wisconsin, have been received by Rickenbacker, who had promised to send a case to the first American flier to break his record. Rickenbacker said Friday he would send the Scotch to the southwest Pacific ace if he could get it. Bong himself is not a drinking man, but he made it clear, through war correspondents, that he would not turn it down. He pointed out that his flying mates could use it.
"Where I will obtain the Scotch or how I can get it to Maj. Bong is yet unknown, but I will not leave a stone unturned to fulfill my part of the bargain," Rickenbacker said.
Milwaukeean Sends Wire
As soon as Rickenbacker's difficulties became known, telegrams offering cases of the liquor began arriving at the New York office of the World War I ace. One of them was from Lou Davis of 3170 N. 47th st., Milwaukee, an agent for a liquor company. Davis said he had set aside for Rickenbacker a case he had been saving for his wife's birthday party, to be held May 30 at the Shorecrest hotel. In his wire, Davis said: "Have case of Scotch for Capt. Bong. Will ship at no cost to you on receipt of your orders to ship. Will deliver this case in any part of United States, including Hawaii or Alaska. This is from Wisconsin, Bong's home state, and that is the least we can do." Other offers came from admirers of the Wisconsin ace in all parts of the country.
Bong, whose home is at Poplar (Douglas county), told reporters who interviewed him Saturday for the first time since he received his gold leaves as a major Wednesday that they could send this message to Rickenbacker:
"Many, many thanks; please rush it out here for the boys."
A CBS news reporter said in a broadcast Friday night, however, that when the offer was first made "some months ago," the flier appeared reluctant to accept. He quoted Bong as having said: "Well, if it's all the same to you, I'll take Coca-Cola."
"Head Man" Remembered
And, the broadcaster said, "one high ranking officer who did know it sent him a case of that drink yesterday. It was the head man himself, boss of the army air forces, Gen. H. H. Arnold."
Bong, who has shot down 27 Japanese planes for sure and six "probables," winced Saturday when reporters suggested that he might go home to help sell war bonds by facing, microphones and addressing rallies.
"I'd go nuts if I couldn't keep on flying in combat," he said.
Major Bong has little regard for the new Japanese pilots now appearing in this theater. He calls them "dumb or something, for we can get a bead on them pretty easy."
NEW YORK, April 16, 1944 (A.A.P.) — Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, leading American air ace of World War I, will be able to keep his promise to present a case of whisky to the first American ace of World War II to pass his score of 26 enemy planes shot down.
When he heard that, last Wednesday, Captain Bong, of Wisconsin, had shot down his 26th and 27th over Hollandia (Dutch New Guinea), he said he did not know where he was to get the whisky, but a Florida publican said last night that he would sacrifice one of his two remaining cases to enable the promise to be kept.
Rickenbacker's next problem is how to get the whisky to Captain Bong. The Florida publican will send it to Rickenbacker as soon as he finds his New York address.
General Douglas MacArthur, Commander-in-Chief in the South-west Pacific, now has to find the case of Champagne which he promised to add to Rickenbacker's gift, but this is not expected to present any great difficulty.
[Captain Bong is nicknamed "Bing-Bang" by his fellow fighter pilots because, they say, he is sudden death to Zeros. He began his operations in the New Guinea area about the end of 1942, and in six months had scored 15 Japanese aircraft to his credit.]
With his boyish face, turned-up nose and shy manner, Bong looks younger than his 23 years. Fellow pilots say that he really enjoys having a Zero "on his tail" because when it is there he knows just where it is and goes after it with special tactics he has evolved for himself, and is always supremely confident that he will get it.
DES MOINES, Ia. 17 April 1944 — (INS) — O. G. Christgau, superintendent of the Iowa Anti-Saloon League, wired a protest yesterday to Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, denouncing the captain's promise of a case of Scotch to Maj. Richard Bong, Marine fighting ace. Christgau's wire read:
"I cannot believe you were correctly quoted as having promised a case of Scotch to Bong.
If correctly quoted, I urge you to consider far-reaching complications of your endorsement of whisky for American fliers. The 'teen age alcohol problem already is serious enough without having the first World War ace flier glorifying whisky by publicly offering a prize to an idolized hero of the present World War.
What good would a case of Scotch have done you while you were on that life raft?"
Rickenbacker made the promise to the first flier who broke his record when he visited the south Pacific. He said he had learned from relatives of Major Bong in Poplar, Wis., that the new ace "doesn't drink." But, he said: "I know a little about that. I too, was a teetotaler during the first World War."
ALLIED HEADQUARTERS, Southwest Pacific, 17 April 1944 — (UP) — Gen. Douglas MacArthur doesn't consider "liquor or spirituous wines as appropriate recognition" for Maj. Richard I. Bong's record-breaking feat of shooting down 27 enemy planes, so the Poplar, Wis., ace will not get the case of Scotch whisky promised by Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker to the first American pilot to exceed his World War I record of 26 planes shot down.
Instead, MacArthur indicated Bong's promotion from captain to major on the day his record was confirmed was a more proper recognition.
[Bong is not a drinking man and Saturday General H.H. Arnold told Associated Press war correspondents he was sending the ace a couple cases of soft drinks.]
New York, N. Y. - (UP) - Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, leading American ace of World War I, congratulated Maj. Richard I. Bong, "top man" of this war, in a two way radio broadcast over NBC Monday night.
Rickenbacker, who shot down 26 aircraft in the first World war, asked Bong, credited with sending 27 Japanese planes crashing to earth, how it felt to be "top man."
"Thanks for those kind wards, Capt Rickenbacker," Bong replied from the southwest Pacific. "But you know every flier over here is trying to knock down as many Japs as possible."
“Tell me Major Bong, what quality of Jap fighter pilot are you meeting now?” Rickenbacker inquired.
“The pilots out here – I don’t think they are nearly as good as they used to be," said Bong.
"The old-timers," he said, "had more experience. The present ones seem easier to get. It's not only that, our planes and our fliers are better than the Japs, too."
Rickenbacker and Bong agreed there can be no "victory until the Pacific is cleaned of Japanese." Rickenbacker extended his congratulations to "the boys who keep your planes in shape and make possible the air victories of you and others like you who are cutting your way through the skies toward Berlin and Tokyo."
"That's our job here," Bong said. "And if they'll let us stay here long enough and keep those hot planes coming our way, we'll do it, but there can be no victory until the Pacific is cleaned out."
Evanston, Ill., 19 April 1944 - (AP) - Douglas MacArthur's refusal to permit Maj. Richard I. Bong, America's combat ace, to accept a case of Scotch whisky as a reward for shooting down 27 Jap planes is "gratifying," says the Women's Christian Temperance union.
Lauding General MacArthur for his ruling, Mrs. Ida B. Wise Smith, national W.C.T.U. president, said "this is one of the few times when a military leader has become a moral leader." She said it was a "bold challenge to other military leaders who should realize that it keynotes the handling of the entire liquor problem as far as service men are concerned."
Mrs. Smith praised Major Bong, a teetotaler, for "demonstrating to the nation, the value of total abstinence."
Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker had offered the liquor as a reward to Bong for breaking his record of shooting down 26 enemy planes in World War I. General MacArthur rejected the offer and said he did not consider "liquor or spirituous wines as appropriate recognition of Bong's deeds."
Rickenbacker has decided not to send the present out of deference to MacArthur's wishes.
Rickenbacker's offer was accepted by the ace for his comrades while be also accepted an offer of soft drinks from Gen. H. H. Arnold, chief of army air forces.
Major Bong surrounded by newsmen in New Guinea
This is the first of a series of exclusive articles in which Maj. Richard I Bong, 23 year old no. 1 American ace in the Pacific war theater, tells for the first time, his own story of his thrilling aerial exploits against the Japs.
ON THE WING
Lt. Col. Tom Lynch of Catasauqua, Pa. (later killed in action), was flight leader of this particular patrol and I was on his wing. Lt. Kenneth Sparks of Blackwell, Okla., one of the hottest younger pilots in the squadron, was leading the second element with Lt. Dick Magnus of Portland, Ore., on his wing (Magnus was lost during the Lae convoy battles early in January and was the first pilot the Nips took from us in six really pitched fights).
We took off just before noon and Lynch led us up to about 25,000 feet. He always liked to start trouble from a high altitude. He liked to locate his trouble from there because it made him the master of the situation.
We crossed the Owen Stanley Mountains of New Guinea and we were just coming into the area we were supposed to cover when the ground station at Buna crackled over the radio with news: There were around 40 enemy planes in the area.
That sounded like the start of something and Lynch called back for a check on the Nips' altitude. The ground station said: "Look for 'em at 14,000 feet." Meanwhile, Buna apparently called Port Moresby and eight more ships of our squadron were sent to join us.
AFTER THE NIPS!
We didn't have any trouble finding the Japs — they were right below us and they had already decided we weren't exactly friends. I'm not sure they knew definitely, what we were though — they hadn't seen our P-38's in combat yet. Lynch didn't give them any time to consider the matter, either. He took us down into a really screaming dive and we let go of our belly tanks on the way. Mine didn't want to come off, but what I couldn't do automatically the wind pressure took care of. It was a major problem trying to stay with Lynch — he was all over the place and I finally gave up and concentrated on a war of my own.
WASTE OF LEAD
There were Zeros all over the sky and a flock of dive bombers underneath them, when we came tearing down and went through the Nips for our first pass.
I tried to remember everything I had ever learned about keeping calm, aiming right, watching my flight leader, checking the element behind, and not letting the enemy pull any counter tactics that might end up with one of them on my tail and me going in the wrong direction for a successful fighter pilot.
Maybe I was trying too hard to remember - anyway, the first four I shot at was a total waste of lead. I didn't hit a thing and if a barn had been there, I would probably have missed that, too. About all I succeeded in doing was to scare one Jap off Lynch's tail. There were too many Nips for too few Lightnings right about then. Finally, I gave myself a mental kick in the ribs and decided I better make some contribution besides conspicuous flubbing of the interception dub.
It was somewhere between 12:l0 and 12:15 p.m. that I finally got into the groove. While I was getting the Nip off Lynch's tail, another one parked himself on mine. We were at about 10,000 feet and I decided my best move would be to dive and dive in a hurry.
That's how I got my first Nip. As I leveled off about two inches above the shortest tree in the Buna area, there was a Jap dive-bomber sitting right ahead of me. It was a perfect setup and one even I couldn't miss. I gave him a short burst and he blew higher than a kite.
Well, I wasn't feeling any too bad about that, so I waited to enjoy it for a minute or two. He - or rather, what was left of him — crashed into the water off Sanananda point. I pulled up in a vertical turn and that's how I ran into my second Jap of the day. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a Zero coming in a vertical turn that would conveniently put him right in the line of my fire.
.50 CALIBER DYNAMITE
I started shooting an impressive assemblage of .50 caliber dynamite and it takes a lot more than a Zero to get through a solid burst of it in one piece.
This particular Zero expired right in the middle of my sights and he never fired a single shot at me. He just rolled over on his back and went straight down. That's the best position I can think of for a Jap — going straight down with maybe a little explosion to hurry him along.
By this time, I was beginning to think combat was a lot easier than every one seemed to suppose. I swung around and got back into the main brawl again — this time pretty well convinced I could take on the whole crowd if I had to.
I got in a good series of hits on another Zero, but I never saw what happened to him. Then I chased after a Jap dive bomber but in the middle of that, my ammunition gave out.
Meanwhile, Steve Gallup (Maj. Charles Gallup of Chicago) had come steaming over the ranges hell bent for election and his two flights were keeping the griddle warm for the Nips. Lynch got us together to go home and I noticed that Sparks was missing. I looked all over for him.
Finally, I saw a P-38 landing on the Dobodura strip. It was Sparks alright, and he was okay except that a Jap had tried to ram him and had almost torn his whole right wing off. Sparks caught a base-bound transport just as he stepped out of his damaged ship and almost beat us back to camp.
Well, that was combat number one. I felt like I had been through a washing machine with the accent on the wringer and my mouth didn't feel normal again until the next combat we had, which was three days later. But with the first one behind me — and a pretty hot one at that — I thought the future looked pretty bright for the squadron and me, too.
As it turned out, it was.
An early color shot of Bong & his P-38 around the time he made Ace
By MAJ. RICHARD I. BONG, Leading American Ace In the Pacific War Theater (As Told to Lee Van Atta)
ADVANCED FIGHTER BASE, New Guinea, 7 May 1944 — (INS) — I am strictly a one-airplane man and the P-38 is it. That's important because apart from the fact that I've gotten all my victories in P-38 Lightnings, I think the airplane itself has had a great deal of influence on my combat flying. In the first place, you have two propellers — "fans," as we call them — and with all due respect to the single engine Jobs two "fans" can mean the difference between coming home and not coming home. That's especially true out here where the distances are so great. Even if you crash in the jungle and miss the Japs — or they miss you — your chances of getting out again aren't exactly in your favor. That is why I've always looked at that second propeller as a million dollar life insurance policy. After coming home five times on one engine, I'm pretty much in favor of these Lightnings.
But there are some other reasons too. It's the only plane I have ever flown in combat and I have a good idea by now just what I can expect in it. However, many pilots prefer the single motor jobs — I guess they have good reasons to support their choice too.
I don't think the Japs have an airplane that will touch the Lightning. It climbs like a proverbial homesick angel. It has consistent performance. You've got a big fire power wallop that's really concentrated. And you can fight the plane at almost any altitude.
P-38 PLENTY GOOD
I've knocked down bombers at 27,000 feet and a couple of minutes later I've been fighting so close to the water my "props" were kicking up a wake behind me. In either place, the P-38 is plenty good. There's no use kidding about maneuverability though. The Japs have that much on us in their lighter fighters. But we've used hit and run tactics against the Nip and in that kind of fighting — what we call fighting on our own terms — the Lightning is maneuverable enough.
The thing I like best about our P-38's is their range. You can't roll up victories unless you can get into a scrap and you can't get into a scrap unless you can get at the Japs. It was different in the old days when the Nips were coming at us. About all you needed then was something with wings on and you had a good chance of picking up a plane or two.
LONG WAY TO BATTLE
But ever since our bombers forced the enemy to get out of all his old haunts — places like Madang, Lae and more recently Wewak and Hollandia — you can't get a battle unless you fly about 400 miles first. The Lightning is the only ship that can take that distance and still have fighting time left.
I think most pilots will agree with me that 60 per cent of your scores is a matter of luck anyway. If you're lucky you get frequent contact and an opportunity to do something with your score, but it helps to have an airplane that will get you to where the fun is going on. That's where my biggest breaks have been. There are plenty of pilots who have hundreds of hours of combat flying time in New Guinea and perhaps three or four contacts with the Nips. I am on my 300th mission now and I have had 25 contacts — that's a high average and it accounts for a big part of my final score.
LEARNED HARD WAY
There's more to the final score, of course, I started in combat in New Guinea with the first Lightning squadron out here. We learned our tactics from the ground up — the hard way — because we were employing an airplane new to this theater and nobody including us knew at the start just how good or bad it was going to be. The Lightning didn't have much or a reputation right then — we had heard some pretty glum stories about tails falling off, about pilots getting cut in half by a tail when they balled out, and more along the same line.
When it came to knowing the Lightning I had an edge on most of the others — I had logged about 50 hours flying time in San Francisco when I was attached to a Lightning group at Hamilton field. But others had the edge on me — and then some — when it came to actual combat time. Most of the squadron boys were graduates of the "Darwin school" (Darwin, Australia) and that involved some of the toughest training anybody ever got in the air force.
Darwin was where our planes put up their first real fight in the Pacific — a single group of P-40's against everything the Japs could put together to knock that important base out of commission. Our fighters won, but up until the seventh inning it was anybody's game. They learned hit and run tactics over at Darwin when Brig. Gen. Paul Wurtsmith (now commanding general of the 5th fighter command) was group C.O. With some variations, we tried the same thing. It worked out pretty well.
We had our first battle with the Japs over Buna on December 27, 1942. We dispensed with 15 enemy planes and came home intact ourselves. From then on, I guess we all knew we had a good reply for any questions the Nips wanted to ask us when it came to fighters.
There's been considerable discussion recently about the caliber of the Jap fighter pilot. The Jap just isn't what he used to be. And I think that first Lightning squadron had a lot to do with his deterioration.
MET NIPS' BEST
The enemy had his first string fighter team in at Rabaul — at least Rabaul was the point for all his advanced bases like Lae and we figured he was getting his pilot supply from Rabaul then — so we were up against the Nips' best during those first months. He took a terrific beating all the way through, starting with Buna and going through1 the Bismarck sea episode. Then there was a lull while the 5th air force cleaned him up at Wewak and points between. In October and November last, we removed most of what he had left at Rabaul.
I think a big part of his first team — made up of navy pilots because the Japs always trained their fleet air arm pilots bettor than their army ones — was already gone by the time we got around to daylight escorted raids against Rabaul.
LIKE GOOD OLD DAYS
The first interceptions we had there were like the old days. The Japs were eager and they were good. Collectively, though, we were a lot better and there wasn't any question about who whipped whom.
Last time we went to Hollandia, the official reports said we were "Intercepted." That isn't exactly true. We did the intercepting. The Japs — about 20 in all — were hugging so close to the trees around Sentani Lake we had to go down and pick 'em out one at a time. There wasn't a fight at all - well, not a very exciting one anyway. It was more like picking fleas out of a dog — hard to find but easy to kill. As long as we have Lightnings and as long as the Japs will at least make an effort to fight with us, I think the record will read like that.
Unfortunately, I can't find part 3. Too bad too because it's the one where he tells of almost getting court martialed.
By MAJ, RICHARD I. BONG, Leading American Ace in the Pacific War Theater (As Told to Lee Van Atta)
ADVANCED FIGHTER BASE, NEW GUINEA, 9 May 1944 — (INS) — I came out of the battle of Bismarck Sea with one idea uppermost in my mind; I wouldn't give two cents to be in the Jap Navy after seeing what the Army Air Forces could do once they get started. They weren't only started but they were pounding like a steamroller that day and they didn't run out of steam until the Japs ran out of airplanes and stopped bringing their big ships down within range of our land based planes.
The battle of Bismarck Sea was the climax of nearly three months of war with the Nip navy merchant marine. We had plenty of convoy battles during the Buna campaign, but it was when the Japs began trying to reinforce Lae that the fun really started.
It was Jan. 7 when the first big convoy was spotted and we all went out during the late afternoon to try a dive bombing Job on the ships. It didn't work out as well as we had hoped, principally because we were tied up in dog-fights most of the time and we were going so fast we could never get lined up right on the ships.
Lt. Col. Tom Lynch of Catasauqua, Pa., was the only one who did some good, as far as we could see. He made a direct hit with a 1,000-pounder on one of their biggest ships. It was a beautiful run and he received official credit for sinking the ship.
EITHER YOU OR THE NIP
But I remember that day best because it was the first time I ever tangled with a head-on. That's when you get down to fundamentals all over again — it's either you or the Nip, and the one who has the most fire power is the one who flies home. Well, I had it.
Some Zeros jumped a squadron of Australian Beaufighters which we were covering in between our dive-bombing runs. I made a pass at one Zero and ended the pass by zooming practically straight up. I decided that was no place for me and "kicked" the plane back down again.
That's when I met the Jap face to face. We had quite an argument — he started it. His tracer shots were scooting past me when I opened fire. We closed in on each other that way. I thought this clown was trying to pull a repeat performance of the ramming trick one of them tried to pull on my friend, Lt. Ken Sparks of Blackwell, Okla., so I ducked low under him about one second before we would have gotten slightly mangled up. It was a good thing I did that — he exploded right over my head and if I'd gone over instead of under him the blast concussion might have ended combat flying for me right there and then.
Steve Gallup (Maj. Charles Gallup of Chicago) was leading us that afternoon and on the way home, we spotted the rest of the convoy. It was flubbing around in the Salamaua area and we carried ourselves back to our base in a hurry radioing them the details all the way. It was almost dark when we landed but the Fortresses and Mitchell bombers were taking off already. Those days we didn't have much choice about time of attack - day or night didn't make any difference as long as their shipping could be knocked off. The Bismarck Sea battle was the best show I've ever seen in the southwest Pacific — it certainly was decisive enough, on our side anyway.
We learned the idea of close escort during the Bismarck sea show and we learned close escort tactics on the long-range plan. That was important because when we began shepherding attack bombers on raids against Rabaul and Wewak, we had to have more than passing working knowledge of how to handle ourselves.
You sea, we were at a tactical disadvantage every time we escorted attack planes. They hug each other in three's and when we were on close escort we had to do the same thing.
Everything went fine unless the Japs saw us before we saw them. That meant they could get a pass in at us while we were still trying to get fighting altitude and those aren't the best circumstances under which to start a dog fight.
Bismarck sea was the first time we had a chance to practice the tactics we had been thinking about. We took the Mitchells in for the first true low-level shipping assault they ever made and we were mixed up in combat right then and through the whole show. The only thing I saw were eight transports burning at one time — but that was enough to convince me that joining the air force was the best thing I ever did.
THE HARD WAY
Anyway, we learned close escort right there and although it cost us two of our best Lightning pilots — Capt. Bob Faurot of Columbia, Mo., and Lt. Hoyt Eason of Eclectic, Ala., who had six Japs each to their credit — we came out of it knowing what we had to do the next time. The Mitchells never lost a plane due to enemy interception while we were flying close cover for them and after Bismarck Sea, I can't remember any Lightnings we lost due to the enemy getting a tactical surprise on us
Some lessons you can remember without much trouble and protecting ourselves when we were being cover for strafers was one such lesson. Escorting bombers was just about my best hunting ground - out of my confirmed score, so far 15 have been picked off while I was with the "heavies" or attack bombers. But given even transport fighter cover could sometimes be fairly exciting in itself, especially when the Nips were trying to break up the development of our base at Benabena in the western part of the Owen Stanley ranges.
We had most of our scraps in Markham Valley and they were usually good for enough excitement to last all participants for some time.
Those Japs prized our air transports the same as we prized their shipping and the reason was clear enough. Our particular base was being supplied entirely by air and if they seriously interfered with our transport lines, someone was going to be hungry.
I can remember one particular date rather clearly — it was one or the closest I have ever come as yet to losing one Lightning and one life I personally regarded as being valuable.
It was a day in June and in usual Owen Stanley weather, my wingman and I became separated from the other Lightnings although we were still with the transports. I guess the rest of them got lost and went home. Anyway, we continued on toward the base and then trouble started. Eight Zeros came down to intercept us. We knew our only hope was to fight them in a delaying action or they would get the transports for sure. Well, that was one dogfight to remember. We had them chasing us, high and low. And whenever they began thinking about the transports and forgetting us we would start chasing them.
That went on for an hour and I picked up one Nip and shot him down while the chasing was in progress. Our transports finally sneaked away and were picked up by fighters operating from one of our other bases. We headed back for our home base when I suddenly became conscious of some difficulties with my plane. My right tire was flat. My nose wheel was all shot up, my hydraulic system was out of commission, and I had enough holes in my wings to make a sieve.
I cranked the wheels — such as they were — down by hand and came in for a landing. Just as I hit the runway, my right engine gave out and before I stopped rolling, the left propeller had stopped turning. My gas tanks were dry as Arizona.
That was another lesson for me — after that, I took an intensive reading of my instrument panel with special reference to fuel indicators before, during and after combat.
By MAJ. RICHARD IRA BONG, Leading American Ace in the Pacific Theater (As told to Lee Van Atta)
ADVANCED FIGHTER BASE, New Guinea, 10 May 1944 - The most real fun I have ever had as a fighter pilot was during the three weeks Lt. Col. Tom Lynch (of Catasauqua, Pa.) and I had our own "flying circus." It was an ideal setup — we could fly wherever and whenever we wanted to. We ran into some swell scraps, and the only people we actually had to account to were ourselves.
STARTED AS TEAM
Tom and I started as a team and we would have stayed that way indefinitely, I guess, if Tom hadn't been lost while we were on a fighter sweep along the north coast of New Guinea.
The team idea made it swell - neither of us had to ask the other's permission to be gone from the office all day. And the general didn't mind as long as we were there when the next day's operations were being planned. So we got our own two man show on the road.
Some days we would hook on with other squadrons escorting bombers to kavieng or Wewak or Tadji. Some days we went out on sweeps by ourselves. Often we took the early morning weather reconnaissance job over Wewak in the hope we would pick up some Jap stragglers. We also figured out a dusk patrol that gave us some victories and some probables twice. We had our own stripped-down P-38s.
One day, Lynch and I had hooked on to a flight of P-38s taking bombers to Kavieng and coming home after seeing nothing at all, we left the main flight at Makieng.
We had decided to alternate on passes. If we saw something one day, it was his turn to attack first. If either he or I saw something the next time we were out, it was my turn first.
On this particular day, it was mine. It was getting on toward dusk and we were just parallel to Cape Hoskins on the north-western coast of New Britain when I spotted a Jap fighter plane all by itself. I closed in to about 75 yards from his tail, gave him one long burst and that was enough. He blew up right in front of me.
It may sound a little far-fetched but I was so close to that Nip I had to fly right through a ball of fire which was all that was left of him. I couldn't have been in the flames one-hundredth of a second yet my cockpit was so hot then, and for some minutes afterward that I nearly burned up myself. And when I got back to base, there was still a lot of soot all over my plane.
Once we were coming home from a sweep up toward Tadji and we passed right over Hansa Bay on the way to our base. Hansa Bay has always been more than warm in ack-ack receptions for us in the past but there wasn't a telltale black puff of smoke in the sky that afternoon.
Tom called me on the inter-plane radio and we went back again. We circled over Hansa maybe five minutes before the Japs hopped up from their supper and started letting loose with everything they had.
Another time, we were giving Wewak the once-over when we spotted what looked like a bomber converted into a transport coming in to land on the Boram Strip. Targets like that are our particular meat. We went down in a screaming dive and Tom made the first pass. The bomber was weaving all over the place as it landed and I think Tom managed to get in some damaging hits. Then I came in and popped away with all guns. The bomber still wouldn't catch fire - at least that's what I thought. But when I pulled up and looked back, there was one very nice explosion and flames shot up all around the plane. Of course, neither Tom nor I could take credit for the plane - we have to get all our victories while the enemy ship is in the air and I'm afraid this fellow’s wheels had just stopped spinning when we finally knocked him off.
NIP FLIGHT SURPRISED
We had one more exciting combat at Tadji a few days later when we surprised a flight of Jap bombers escorted by five fighters. I was given credit for two bombers that day and Tom got a bomber and a fighter. That was the most lucrative single day we had. With our long range jobs, we could probably have kept harassing the Nips almost indefinitely if one of those flukes you just can’t account for hadn't broken up our "circus" team.
Tom and I were up on a routine sweep above Tadji when we came across three Nip "luggers" flubbing around in the water off the coast. I didn't see any kind of ack-ack and the run was easy — we were only going to make one pass. I was following Tom and when we pulled up I suddenly noticed his right propeller fly off and his engine start smoking. Tom made for the nearest shore and just as he approached it, he bailed out. Almost right away, his plane exploded. And that's the last I ever saw of him.
Losing Tom was just about the worst single blow I ever took while flying combat in the South-west Pacific - he was not only a good pilot and a good friend, but an ideal fighting teammate.
(In the final chapter of his thrilling story of aerial exploits against the Japs. Maj. Richard I. Bong, of Poplar, Wis., America's No. 1 ace of the Pacific war theater, describes his last combat mission over Hollandia where he broke and surpassed Eddie Rickenbacker's World War I record of enemy aircraft destroyed. Maj. Bong is officially credited with 27 Japanese shot down, but he may he credited with an additional one, as he reveals in the fallowing chapter)
By MAJ. RICHARD IRA BONG, Leading American Ace in the Pacific War Theater (As told to Lee Van Atta)
CLAIMS ANOTHER PLANE
Actually, I'm claiming another plane at Hollandia that day. I got separated from the rest of the unit after the first couple of minutes of combat. I had spotted one lone Nip roaming around and doing his best to keep away from us. I went over and had it out with him. I know the exact spot where he crashed into the water — it's on a kind of coral shell, not very deep.
General Kenney has promised he'll get a diver to go down there and collect enough wreckage to justify officially confirming it as another "kill." That's good enough for me — and in this case, I'm as certain as if the Nip were in my own backyard that they will be able to find the remnants of his plane.
But coming back to that last day of combat -
I had tacked on to a flock of long range P-38's which were being led by Maj. Jay Rodkins of Collidge, Tex. (Jay is the No. 2 ace in New Guinea now with 18 confirmed victories). We were escorting "heavies" to Hollandia and although the place had been knocked all over by previous raids we were still looking for some interception.
Incidentally, I should mention here that I was out on a mission every day during the first nine days of April, trying to do something about my score of 25 and every time I picked a spot the Japs just weren't there.
I was getting a little discouraged by April 10, so I took two days off, waiting for the Hollandia mission.
We couldn't see the Japs anywhere when we first hit the target area that day. We were flying in staggered formation from about 12,000 feet on up. Then over the radio, I heard there were about 20 Zeros hugging, close as they could, to the jungles around Hollandia and Lake Sentani.
That was good enough for all of us and we went tearing down en masse.
I wish I could report that my last combat — well, my last until I talked General Kenney and Wurtsmith into putting me back on active status anyway — was the most exciting of them all. But that would be stretching my imagination beyond the realm of fact. It was, in fact, a little dull. The Japs didn't want to fight and didn't seem to disguise the fact, either. They just seemed to want to run away. Of course, when we closed in on them they made a pretense of resistance, but it wasn't much of an effort.
The last one I snared that day — the one I'm counting on to bring my score to 28 — was probably the cagiest of all I ever tangled with. He really didn't want to fight for sour apples and when he wasn't trying to make tracks toward Tokyo, he was engaging in some plain and fancy acrobatics. That made my shots — especially since we were about 10 feet off the water most of the time — a little more difficult than usual. I really got in one long burst though, and it must have raised Cain with his right wing. He went down right after the burst and looking back I could spot some wreckage already on the surface - when he fell.
Personally, I think that particular Jap was more scared than anything else. He was strictly a third-rate flier, although his acrobatics weren't too bad.
The general caliber of all those Nips we've met recently, either at Hollandia or Wewak, hasn't even begun to approach the talent we used to meet when we were operating from Port Moresby and later Dobodura. They seem to have lost all their enthusiasm and most of their skill - and with regard to the P-38's job in dispensing with Japs. I'm prejudiced enough to think the quality of our planes has had a decisively negative psychological effect on the Jap.
We haven't lost a combat to him yet. I think he knows by now that whenever our two-engined twin-tailed P-38 turns up, it's a sad day for his team. That "lightning strikes twice" quotation is a description of what they've done to the Japs — except that twice is an understatement.
Looking back over 18 months of combat and almost three years in the Army Air Force as a cadet and pilot, it isn't hard for me to realize the things I believe have contributed most to my being pretty successful against the Jap.
First, and to repeat something I've already mentioned, I've been lucky in getting the breaks of frequent contact with the Nip and contact with him in a really top-notch fighter plane.
Secondly, I was fortunate enough to get in a great deal of gunnery training in flying school and while I still think I am an inferior shot to pilots like Maj. George Welch (of Wilmington, Del.), I have the benefit of knowing in detail the fundamentals of being a good combat marksman.
The third point is more or less inherent — I have always had a real respect for airplanes and I don't think I've ever needlessly taken advantage of them or asked for more than they were made to deliver. A combat airplane was not intended for grandstand plays — they're really unbelievably delicate instruments of war and if you take them that way your chances of coming out in one piece are way above even.
The fourth point is linked with the last two: before getting my first combat assignment. I was given an assignment I hated at the time but now realize it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
When I was graduated from flight school, I figured along with some others that I was just about the hottest thing they ever pinned wings on. Then they made me an instructor — that hurt my pride and I didn't like the assignment at all. But about the second week, I began learning how very little I really knew about flying — the fastest way to recognize your own shortcomings is to try to teach someone else the right way of doing something. As an instructor you run into some fairly embarrassing aeronautical problems — both theoretical and practical— and I had my share of them.
What taught me a lesson, I believe most important of all, and certainly influenced my combat flying to the greatest extent, was that I learned humility and respect for an airplane.
12 May 1944 - Communiqués from Washington Friday indicated that Wisconsin's ace of acts. Maj. Richard I. Bong, has changed not at all since he became the first man in this war to knock off 27 (and 8 unconfirmed) enemy planes in aerial combat.
The major, who hails from Poplar, Wis., appeared suddenly this week in the capital, and it was not until Thursday that an explanation was forthcoming. He had left his home in January, after a 60 day leave, to return to the southwest Pacific. At that time, he had 21 planes to his credit. He began adding more, and in April he achieved the twenty-seventh. One better than the record made by Capt Eddie Rickenbacker in the First World War. He was promoted from captain to major and was grounded.
Bong, wearing a new uniform and an air of resignation, met the press Thursday afternoon. He told the scribes that he had returned to this country to learn how to shoot a gun. An art which he had never mastered.
Cites Another Pilot
Criticizes Training Program
Maj. Richard Bong, who arrived in Washington Thursday, says good-bye to Stewardess Carol McGraw
The Bongs in Chicago talking to their son in Washington
Bong said that the pilot training schools did not give enough gunnery practice. For one thing, he said, pilots shoot at too great a range, and most of them know as little about deflection shooting as himself. Deflection shooting is simply a matter of "leading" the target, as a hunter "leads" a flock of ducks so that the projectile and the rapidly moving target meet at a certain point. "The whole thing is trying to figure out the flight path of the airplane you are shooting at. I consider it a big accident when I hit anything with deflection shooting, but with sufficient practice you can do it. In my own case — well, you've got to hit them once in a while."
Answers Other Questions
Marry her? "I don't have any idea," he laughed.
Bong's Mother in Chicago
Marge and Dick at Chicago airport
Mrs. Lynch greeting Major Bong upon his arrival at the local airport to tell her about her son's death in a plane crash in New Guinea.
(Summer 1944 -jf) - Major Richard I. Bong Flies P-38 Here to See Mrs. William J. Lynch, Mother of Late Catasauqua Flier-Ace
Eyes brimming over with tears, though a brave smile lighted her face, Mrs. William J. Lynch, mother of Catasauqua's air ace, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas J. Lynch, hand out-stretched to Major Richard I. Bong, last man to see Lynch in action, faltered only slightly as she said:
"I am so happy that you came."
And with her next breath, as she stood alongside the sun-tanned, fair-haired top-ranking fighter pilot of the South Pacific, at the Allentown-Bethlehem airport yesterday, she said:
"But, I dreaded seeing a P-38."
For it was in a P-38 Lightning in which he scored most of his 20 Kills against the Japs that Tommy Lynch crashed to his death on March 8. And it was an advanced Lightning named "Marge" with a picture of the girl who is engaged to Major Bong pasted on the ship's nose that the major flew into the local airport from the Millville (N.J.) Army Air base.
Completely oblivious to the group of Naval air trainees and airport employees who had crowded around the plane when it taxied up to a parking strip, were the 23-year-old pilot and the mother of his superior officer, on his sad mission of telling her how 27-year-old Tommy met his death.
In response to questions by Mrs. Lynch and her daughters, Mrs. Mary Oswald and Catherine Lynch, Major Bong told them he saw Tom going down about a mile inland over New Guinea. And when asked why Tom hadn't used his parachute to bail out he said:
"I don't know. I've thought often about it. He had bailed out once before. I don't know why he didn't this time."
"Was he shot, was he hurt, is that the reason?"
"I don't believe so. I was flying over him. I talked to him over the radio and he said he was all right."
An American Airbase on Leyte, 11 Nov. 1944 - (AP) - America's ace of aces, Army Maj. Richard I. Bong, was on patrol at dawn Friday over the scene where a Japanese 19-ahip convoy was under attack in Ormoc Bay on Leyte. Out ahead of him appeared five Japanese fighters. One rolled over directly in Bong's gun sights. The Poplar, Wis., flier gave the Nipponese a burst and down he went in flames. No. 34 for Bong was as easy as that.
19 November 1944 - A week ago a trap was closed on the remaining Japanese troops in the Ormoc area on Leyte's west coast. But Japanese Gen. Yamashita risked his country's dwindling supply of ships - he lost several of his ships and 8,000 of his men - to land reinforcements. The American operation was still theoretically a mop-up, but there were at least 100,000 men engaged in a savage battle.
In the face of stiffened resistance, Yanks plunged further down the road from Pinamopoan, seized the ridge bearing that name and captured the peak of 2,300-foot Mt. Catabran which dominates enemy positions south toward Ormoc Bay.
Five Jap Divisions
It was the 24th which drove down from Carigara Bay. The First Cavalry met increased resistance in the Mt. Pina area. Ormoc was bombed. An unrevealed number of invaders were attacking five Japanese divisions: First, 16th, 26th, 30th, 102nd, totaling at full strength 60,000 men.
Maj. Richard I. Bong, Poplar, Wis., American ace of aces, ran his string of downed planes to 36, said enemy fighters were among the best in his experience. The Navy's ace, Cmdr. David McCampbell, Los Angeles, boosted his total to 32; Maj. Thomas B. McGuire, Ridgewood, N. J., reached 28; First Lt. Don S. Warner, North Hollywood, who had never before seen a Japanese destroyer or plane in combat, sank a destroyer and downed three planes in 24 hours.
The Tokyo radio claimed victories: Two American transports sunk and seven damaged off Leyte. One ship was set afire, another hit by a bomb, said an Associated Press correspondent eye witness, who added it cost the enemy four planes.
Sounds Like Alibi
Lieutenant General Homma, commander of the first Japanese to invade the Philippines, stated that air supremacy in that area was "more important than to annihilate the five enemy divisions which have landed on Leyte." That may have been one way of preparing the Japanese people for the failure of Yamashita's forces to hold on to the island.
U.S. carrier planes struck Manila and Cavite again, blew up two destroyers and sank or damaged a light cruiser and 11 other ships. They destroyed 28 planes in the air and shot up 130 grounded craft.
Admiral Nimitz reported that about 200 Japanese landed on Ngeregong Islet eight miles from American-held Peleliu in the Palaus, and that the American force there had been evacuated.
'Doug' Decorates America's Ace In Pacific Theater
An American Airbase on Leyte, 12 Dec. 1944 - (AP) - America's ace fighter pilot, Maj. Richard I. Bong of Poplar, Wis., was presented the Congressional Medal of Honor today by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Standing alongside an air strip in a downpour of rain, General MacArthur pinned the nation's highest award on the 24-year-old Bong.
General MacArthur pins the Medal of Honor on Major Bong's chest (USAF Museum photo)
Washington, 3 Jan. 1945 – (AP) – Maj. Richard I. Bong, Americas top-ranking air ace, said today that demonstration is a pretty good way of teaching.
That’s the way he explained to a news conference how he added “12 kills” to his score after he went to the Southwest Pacific in September to give other pilots some tips on gunnery.
“Anyhow,” he added modestly, “I had to get in my flying time.”
The blonde-haired, soft-spoken, Poplar Wis., flyer, who shot down a total of 40 enemy planes, has just returned from the Philippines to make a new undisclosed assignment.
Bong said the that the new Japanese pilots he encountered over Leyte were “dodoes.” In the Manila area however, he said the Japanese were throwing in skilled naval flyers who are “pretty fair” and itching to scrap with American pilots.
Bong said the American flyers in the Philippines had established a ratio of better than 12 to 1 over the enemy and that the 49th Group alone had shot down 175 Japanese planes since it went into the Philippines.
Bong said he expected to go home within 24 hours. He brushed off inquiries as to whether he intended to get married during his stay in this country.
At Superior, Wisconsin, Marge Vattendahl, Bong’s fiancé, said that wedding plans for some time in February had been upset by his unexpected decision to come home. She said that she was aware that he was in Washington but had not known that he would have time to visit in Poplar.
“We’ll have to talk it over when he gets here,” she said when asked if the earlier visit meant a moving up of the wedding date.
Pacific Air Ace Doesn't Expect To Fight Japs Again
Chicago, 11 Jan. 1945 - (AP) - Maj. Richard I. Bong, the nation's ranking ace of World War II with 40 Japanese planes to his credit, says that he doesn't expect to return to combat and is home for permanent reassignment in the United States.
SUPERIOR, Wis., 10 Feb. 1945 - (AP) - A solemn-faced young son of a Swedish emigrant who has shot out of the air more Japanese planes than any other man will stand before a Lutheran minister Saturday night and repeat the vows of matrimony.
He is Major Richard Ira Bong, 24-year-old former choir boy who has bagged 40 enemy planes to lead all American combat aces.
Major Bong will wed his schoolteacher sweetheart, Marjorie Vattendahl, at Concordia Lutheran Church at 8 p.m. CWT (Central War Time).
Capt. Walter M. Markey of City Island, N.Y., who served with Bong in New Guinea for more than a year, will be best man. Geraldine Bong, sister of the groom, will be maid of honor and The Rev. Paul A. Boe will officiate.
After the ceremony, the couple will cut a six foot wedding cake, presented by a Superior shipyard, and made in the shape of an oceangoing ship.
Plans for the honeymoon have not been announced.
BONG REPEATS WEDDING VOWS
14 March 1945 - Stars Diane Lynn, Eddie Bracken and Cass Daley did an about-face when Major Richard I. Bong, Pacific ace who has bagged some 40 Japanese planes, visited the set of “Out of This World” - in which the three co-star - during a brief visit to the Hollywood studio.
San Francisco, 21 June 1945 — (AP) — Major Richard Ira Bong, of Poplar, Wis., America's No. 1 ace of this war, was awarded the Distinguished Air Medal by King George, according to a Melbourne broadcast monitored by the American Broadcasting Company.
The award was made by the Duke of Gloucester, Governor-General of Australia, the broadcast said, on behalf of the King.
Bong, who holds America's highest awards, piled up most of his amazing record of shooting down 40 Japanese planes while flying over British New Guinea.
BURBANK, Calif., 6 Aug. 1945 - (Special) - Maj. Richard Bong, 24, of Poplar Wisconsin, America's ace of aces, was killed instantly today in the flaming crash and explosion of a P-80 jet plane in a vacant lot near the Lockheed Air Terminal, Army authorities officially announced tonight.
Maj. Bong's body, crushed and burned, was found about 100 feet from the wreckage of his ship. His scorched, partly opened parachute lay near the body.
Pieces of the wreckage of Major Bong's Shooting Star
Immediately following the crash and blast more than 2,000 souvenir hunters swarmed over the lot seeking pieces of the wreckage of the air hero's Shooting Star craft — just revealed by the war department to be the world's fastest plane.
The air ace's plane, taking off from Lockheed at 2:20 p.m. PWT (Pacific War Time), appeared to head into trouble almost immediately after leaving the ground.
Hank Moore, dispatcher in the control tower at the field, said Maj. Bong's plane had got no more than 50 feet off the ground when the motor began to cough and sputter.
Mrs. J. R. Villarino, whose home is near the field, shuddered: "I saw a piece of the plane fly off. Then the plane started down. It crashed with a terrific explosion. It was horrible. Huge flames swelled up, plainly visible from my house although it is about two miles from the scene of the crash."
Maj. Bong’s body was taken to a Burbank mortuary.
After returning from overseas service, the former Wisconsin farm boy was assigned last June to the Western District of the Air Technical Command. He was a member of the staff assigned to the AAF plant representative at Lockheed Aircraft factory. His Job was testing the swift new jet-propelled "Shooting Stars."
The wiry little fighter pilot, here on a tour of air gunnery schools last year, grinned and told newsmen why he had been grounded. "I guess they don't want me killed off."
His sister, Nelda Bong, while working in the stenographic department of a Long Beach aircraft factory, once said that as a boy he was "always interested in airplanes and more airplanes." "He would get fascinated when he saw an airplane in the sky," she added. "His eyes would get very blue and he'd he in sort of a day dream until the plane went out of sight.
BURBANK, Calif., 7 Aug. 1945 - (AP) - Maj. Richard Ira Bong, the farm boy who become America's aerial ace of aces by downing 40 Japanese planes while emerging unscathed from over 500 combat hours, today lay dead, the victim of a jet P-80 Shooting Star explosion which occurred four minutes after a takeoff.
The explosion, which scattered parts of the plane over an acre, occurred yesterday afternoon just after the 24-year-old pilot left Lockheed air terminal on a test flight. Maj, Bong apparently tried to jump clear of the disintegrating ship, but flames caught him.
His body was found 100 feet from the flaming jet turbine. His parachute had partly opened and wrapped around the flier.
Plane Blows Apart
The wiry, pug-nosed fighter pilot, who had been testing P-80s for the army technical service command since July 9, knew he was in trouble as soon as the plane took off. He radioed the control tower telling of trouble. Suddenly a puff of black smoke belched from the world's fastest plane (clocked at 555 mph in a recent test flight) as Bong leveled off.
A Lockheed service mechanic, Frank Bodenhamer, reported: "His take-off was normal but I knew there was something wrong when I saw a puff of black smoke just as he leveled off. The right wing tipped. The escape hatch came off and the plane started to glide and then nosed over straight down. A column of smoke and flames went into the air for about 400 feet. It was a terrible sight."
Other witnesses said the plane exploded with a terrific roar that shook the vicinity.
A woman in a backyard some 150 feet away was burned on her legs.
This was the end, then, for the Wis. boy who had earned 26 decorations including the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Flying Cross, the later presented to him by King George of England. In addition to his 40 kills, he had nine probables in two years of combat in the south Pacific, mostly over New Guinea.
At dinner with friends Sunday night, mention was made of a jet plane that had disintegrated. The curly-haired Major shrugged and said: "I never worry about those things."
A wheel and an engine lay broken in a field.
BURBANK. Cal., 7 Aug. 1945 - (UP) - Maj. Richard I. (Dick) Bong, America's greatest ace was killed yesterday in the flaming crash of a jet plane from which he desperately tried to jump clear.
Pulled Chute's Ripcord
Noses Straight Down
Body Badly Burned
Smoke and flames shot up 400 feet and brought crowds running from the airport a mile away. By the time the wreckage was reached, it had been almost entirely consumed and Maj. Bong's body badly burned.
When the wreckage cooled, bystanders pulled the flier's body from the jumble of molten metal and tossed a gray blanket over it. One wrist and hand protruded, showing Maj. Bong's Army identification tag.
The shy Poplar, Wis., farm boy, curly-haired and blue-eyed, once admitted to his sister he always was scared before he got into his plane to head out for a death duel with the enemy.
Mrs. Marjorie Bong, his 21-year-old widow, said he had no premonition of death.
"He said he was going to take me to a movie when he got home," she said.
Mrs. Bong leaves today to accompany the body to Superior, Wis., in an Army transport plane. No funeral arrangements will be made until she arrives, she said.
Meyer is New Leading Ace
His death left Lt. Col. John C. Meyer, of Forrest Hills, N.Y., the nation's leading ace with 37 planes to his credit, the War Department said Maj. Thomas B. McGuire Jr., of San Antonio, Tex., listed as missing in action, was credited was 38.
Maj. Bong had been reported missing in action twice since his first battle during the Buna campaign, on Dec. 27, 1942. In both cases, he said, it was a typographical error.
HOLLYWOOD, 7 Aug. 1945 — Mrs. Marjorie Bong, 21-year-old widow of the nation's ace of aces, today packed away an unfinished portrait of herself which her husband had been painting and prepared to accompany him on his last night.
The body of Maj. Richard I. Bong, killed yesterday in the crash of a Jet plane he was testing, will be flown to Superior, Wis., today by an air transport command plane.
The oil portrait, one Maj. Bong started after his wife, an art student, induced him to take up painting, was complete except for the hair. On the wall were two pencil sketches the aviator did of his wife.
Mrs. Bong said army authorities failed to reach her with news of her husband's death because she was taking a sun bath on the roof.
"When I come down I turned on the radio to get the time, and heard the news," she said.
The couple had been living in Hollywood since Bong was assigned to testing six months ago on his return from the Pacific.
"When he left the house he was full of happiness about taking one of the new ships up." she said. "He loved to fly them and thought them the most wonderful planes in the world."
She said she had started a biography of the major, without his knowledge, and that now she hoped to finish it.
"He was a wonderful man," she said, "and a wonderful husband."
Milwaukee, 7 Aug. 1945 - It might have been your brother who was killed, your husband or your sweetheart.
A profound sense of shock and personal loss gripped thousands of Milwaukeeans when the tragic news that Maj. Richard Bong had been killed swept the city.
They couldn't believe that the blond young flier who typified for them the daring, the gaiety, the modesty of America's fighting men had gone. Calls flooded the Sentinel switchboard to see if the report was true.
SYMPATHY FOR WIFE
"I thought he was safe now," said a woman's voice. A man exclaimed unbelievingly: "He had to come back to get it!"
Everywhere there were sorrowful comments on the freak of fate that carried the major unharmed through the myriad dangers of the greatest fighting career in the history of the Air Force, only to snatch his life when he had come home from the battle fronts.
The sympathy of the city poured out to Mrs. Bong, the tall, lovely girl who had been his wife for little more than six months. She had been with the major ever since he look up his new assignment, was in their home in Hollywood when news of his death was brought to her.
INVITED TO RETURN
The filer's romance with Marge Vattendahl of Superior had captured the heart of the nation, but here in Milwaukee there was always a strong feeling that these two were "ours."
Maj. Bong had been invited to attend the open house at St. Charles Boys' Home here last week, held in connection with Archbishop Kiley's Memorial Building Fund Campaign. Bong's reply, received by Norman Kopmeler, chairman, Special Gifts Committee, said he regretted his inability to come because of his duties.
Their visit here together in January just before they were married was like a tumultuous welcome home. Crowds followed them from one civic event to the other, adding their good wishes to the greetings of Milwaukee leaders gathered to do them honor.
On his whirlwind one-day stay here, the major received a special citation from the Wisconsin Civil Air Corps. He added his signature to those of the nation's famous at the Milwaukee Press club. He spoke to the Wisconsin Women of the Philippine Defenders at a special meeting honoring the ace that shot down 40 Jap planes. He greeted thousands at entertainments at the Athletic Club and the Elks Club.
Everything he did, after he came home for good last January, was wrapped in the warm atmosphere of the "happy ending" for the countless people who knew him only through the press.
There was his return to his family on their farm home at Poplar, Wis., his reunion with Marge, his college sweetheart; their wedding Feb. 10 in Concordia Lutheran Church at Superior, with hundreds standing outside in the winter twilight to catch a glimpse of the major in his uniform and Marge in her gleaming bridal dress.
They left Superior that night for Maj. Bong's new post in California. Every one thought they would be home again as soon as the war was over. They thought the fairytale ending had come true for Marge and Dick Bong.
Superior, Wis., 7 Aug. 1945 — The city that had rejoiced with Maj. Richard Ira Bong over his victories in the air, celebrated his homecomings and followed eagerly his courtship and marriage of Marjorie Ann Vattendahl, prepared somberly Tuesday to attend the young hero's funeral.
His bride of scarcely six months Monday night telephoned her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Sigurd Vattendahl, that she would fly here in an army plane, with his body, and accompanied by an army nurse. It was expected that the plane would reach here Wednesday. Marjorie, who had refused to believe the first radio reports she heard at their apartment in Hollywood, received official verification of his death several hours later. Her mother said that she seemed quite composed.
The ace's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Carl T. Bong of nearby Poplar, were visiting in Superior Monday when the news was broadcast. They hurried to the Vattendahl home. Mr. and Mrs. Vattendahl and their youngest son, Bill, were sitting down to supper when they heard the news. The two families talked quietly a few moments before the Bongs left for Poplar. C.R. Olson, president of the Poplar State bank, was the first to call on them. The bereaved family said that arrangements for the funeral would await Marjorie's arrival.
Knew of Trouble
The stubby fighter pilot, who had been testing P-80s for the army technical service command since July 9, knew he was in trouble as soon as the plane took off. He radioed the control tower of the field, telling of difficulties. With a roaring sigh like a giant blow torch, the plane lurched over some trees and exploded in a vacant lot. Smoke and flames shot up 400 feet.
Spokesmen for the army air technical service command were not positive of the identification of the pilot for some time after the crash, as two of the jet planes took off at the same time.
Home to Marry
The last time Maj. Bong came home was after his third tour of duty in the Pacific. The 24 year old unassuming hero, once a choir boy in the family church at Poplar, had destroyed 40 Japanese planes in combat, malting him the top ranking Anglo-American ace and the greatest fighter pilot in American history. He and the 21 year old Superior State Teachers college coed, whom he had met at a college dance in the fall of 1943, were married Feb. 10 at Concordia Lutheran church here. Superior and Poplar friends filled the church and hundreds waited outside. The Bongs honeymooned in the west. The major was assigned as a test pilot at Wright field, Dayton, Ohio, before his transfer to Burbank. Bong was always crazy about planes. As a student at the college here, he enrolled in the civilian pilot training program and flew a Piper Cub at the Superior airport, which in January 1945, was renamed in his honor. He enlisted in the air forces in May 1941. At the college, his name leads the rest on the honor roll.
He left the United States in September 1942, after training in California and Arizona. He got his first two Jap planes Dec. 27, over Buna. Robert J. Doyle, The Journal staff war correspondent, was near Buna with the 32nd division that day. He wrote that, "27 Zeros and 15 dive bombers roared in from the sea to attack American and Australian soldiers. Without hesitation, four P-38s streaked in and took on the 42 Japs. Bong was at the controls of one of the P-38s."
A year later, when he returned to the United States on his first leave, the young pilot with the shock of blond hair and pug nose had 21 planes to his credit and was the ranking Allied ace in that theater. His home-coming at Poplar the wintry night of Nov. 16, 1943, was riotous. The family was sitting up for him ("They shouldn't have," Bong said softly when he saw the lights of home), and a 30 piece band from the college air training detachment blared out a welcome.
Dick Bong went hunting and got a 196 pound buck.
He met Marjorie Vattendahl and took her bowling.
After his return to the Pacific an enlarged picture of her was glued to the nose of his P-38. His score went to 27 kills, and he became the first flier in this war to beat Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker's 26 plane mark in World War II.
He came home again in the spring of 1944 to "learn to shoot." He studied gunnery and deflection shooting, put a diamond on Marjorie's finger and went back to combat as an instructor. And as an instructor in the Philippine area, forbidden to take the air except in defense, he ran his score to 38. He had 36 victories when he was given the nation's highest award, the Congressional Medal of Honor, for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty."
MacArthur Made Award
The presentation was made by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a fellow Wisconsinite and at that time the only other Wisconsin fighting man who had lived to receive the Medal of Honor personally in World War II.
With his score, at 40 confirmed enemy planes destroyed and nine probables, he was sent back to this country. Then he came to Superior, where he was born, for is wedding. The rest of the state saw Bong on his visits home.
He was feted at Madison by Gov. Goodland. He buzzed Milwaukee to boost the fifth war loan drive. He talked to high schools. There was a "Bong day" in Milwaukee last Jan. 29 when he and his fiancée were guests of the Elks Club there and shook the hands of hundreds of well wishers. He was modest, untalkative, proud of "his girl."
And at Superior and Poplar Tuesday, they were remembering these things.
Bong's parents, five sisters and two brothers stayed in seclusion at their farm home as friends called briefly to bring gifts of food or flowers, recalling Dick as a snub nosed farm boy driving his father's tractor and later scaring the daylights out of them by buzzing the town when he'd learned to fly.
Wherever two people met, they stopped to talk of Maj. Richard Ira Bong.
Bong Letter to Fund Committee Revealed
A week before his death Maj. Richard Bong wrote to the archbishop's memorial building fund committee conveying his regrets that he could not be in Milwaukee last Thursday for the tour of St. Charles Boys' home. The letter, dated July 30th said, "Convey my regrets to Archbishop Kiley. I have to take part in Air Force day here in Los Angeles on Aug. 1 and cannot possibly attend."
Superior, Wis., 8 Aug. 1945 — A silent crowd of about 200 saw the last homecoming of Maj. Richard Ira Bong, America's greatest fighter pilot, at the Duluth municipal airport at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday. The body of the 24 year old ace, killed Monday in the explosion of the jet plane he was testing at Burbank, Calif., was flown to the Head of the Lakes in a giant four engine army transport.
Flag Covers Coffin
Marge Bong escorts her husband's body back to Wisconsin
Towns in Mourning
Superior and nearby Poplar, home town of the young pilot, were in deep mourning. Flags were flown at half staff and pictures of the pilot whose exploits brought glory to his home and nation were draped in black. Every flower shop in Superior and Duluth was sold out Wednesday morning. The city council declared Wednesday a day of mourning and all stores were closed during the funeral service.
Brig. Gen. G. B. Seville flew from Washington, D.C. Tuesday night to assist in arrangements for the military service. The Rev. Arvid F. Hoorn, pastor of the Bethany Lutheran church in Poplar where Dick Bong was confirmed and attended Sunday school, conducted the service with the help of the Rev. Paul A. Boe, Concordia pastor, who had married Bong and the former Marjorie Ann Vattendahl there on Feb. 10.
At 3:30 p.m., the funeral procession left for Poplar for burial rites at the cemetery on the outskirts of the little village where Maj. Bong grew up on his father's farm. Pallbearers were Dick's friends and schoolmates home on military leave. Pvt. Gene Edgette and his brother, Sgt. Edward, both of Lake Nebagamon; Sgt. Martin Isaacson, Poplar; Cpl. Eugene Nevin, Poplar; Sgt. Lowell Vattendahl, Superior, Marjorie's brother, and Sgt. Courtland Willis, Superior. Edward Edgette and Lowell Vattendahl attended Bong at his wedding.
Eighteen P-47 and nine C-47 planes provided an aerial umbrella over Superior and Bong's home town as the last rites were conducted. Earlier they had brought a 30 piece army band and a military police escort to participate in the rites.
The death of America's greatest ace, whose score of 40 Japanese planes destroyed brought him 26 decorations, including the Congressional Medal of Honor, brought tributes Wednesday from many men.
Gen. George C. Kenney, commander of the Far East air forces, said at his headquarters in Manila: "The death of Richard Bong is felt deeply by each officer and man in the Far East air forces. Maj. Bong was one of the greatest fighter pilots of all time. He will live in history as America's ace of aces. His courage and leadership were an inspiration to every man who has ever flown in combat."
Lt. Gen. Ennis C. Whitehead, 5th air force commander, added; "When he was a cadet under my command he already showed the promise of a great pilot. He knew his airplane, his guns and his enemy. The air forces have suffered a very great loss in the death of this great airman and fine character."
At Washington Senator Alexander Wiley proposed the establishment of a living memorial to Bong. He said that Bong's accomplishments "have thrilled and inspired all our people. All America mourns his untimely death."
Earlier at Superior, Robert Butler, president of the Butler Shipbuilders Inc., announced that he would make the initial contribution to a Bong memorial fund.
This was the scene yesterday from a grain field near Poplar as a military procession, paying final tribute to America's Ace of Aces, passes
Superior, Wis., 9 Aug. 1945 — They buried America's ace of aces Wednesday. They buried him with full military honors in Poplar Cemetery, nestled in a silent little woodland just two miles from, and overlooking, his childhood home in Poplar, Wis. During the day, some 10,000 persons paid their respects to Maj. Richard Ira Bong, the great American pilot who was killed Monday in a plane crash near Burbank, Calif.
It was the hardest day the people of Poplar, Superior and the surrounding countryside ever spent. It was the least spectacular final tribute ever paid a nation's hero, but it surged with the sincerity of people — both friends and strangers — wishing to bid good-by simply to a loved and admired fellow townsman.
The day was marked by simplicity from the moment the big C-54 army transport settled down at Duluth airport with the major's flag draped coffin, Marjorie Vattendahl Bong - most persons here haven't yet become used to calling her Mrs. Bong — and the eight army officers dispatched as honorary pallbearers. Police and army personnel escorted the young widow and the senior Bong and Vattendahl families on the drive to a Superior mortuary, and later to Concordia Lutheran church, where the services were held.
Many Were Reminiscing
Through the few hours as Maj. Bong laid in slate in the church in which he and his young bride were married last February, conversation on the streets and in the stores and homes here turned again and again to Dick Bong. A banker recalled how Dick, on his last visit, was standing near a counter, bashfully receiving the lusty praises of several burly farmers. "Dick eased himself up to the top of the counter so he could talk eye to eye to them," the banker said softly. "He sat right there." (photo at right)
About 6,200 persons appeared at 2:30 p. m. to attend the services. The church could accommodate only 1,200 and the rest waited outside. Banks of Flowers
Two servicemen stood stiffly at attention before the coffin, flanked by flags. Behind it was a bank of flowers topped by a large cross of white roses. Every flower store in Duluth and Superior had been sold out Wednesday morning, and the flowers spilled over toward the ends of the altar.
The organist began to play, softly, then louder, and then only a whisper of music. A pair of candles, standing straight and tall behind the flowers, flickered a moment as Marjorie Bong entered, followed by her parents, Dick's mother and father, and the members of both families.
The young widow, dressed in black, sat quietly for a moment, and then her shoulders began to tremble. She put her head on her mother's shoulder and regained her composure. She would not cry.
The Rev. Paul Boe, pastor of the church, who had married the major and Marjorie, read a verse from the Bible. G. M. Hauger sang "Asleep in Jesus." The organist played "The Lord Is My Shepherd."
Recalls Bong's Boyhood
Then the Rev. Arvid F. Hoorn, a friend of Maj. Bong since the air ace was a little farm boy who liked to play with machines, read a passage from the Scripture, and, his voice breaking slightly, said:
"Maj. Richard Ira Bong was born Sept. 24, 1920. He spent his childhood on a farm in a little community of Poplar. He showed exceptional interest in farm machinery and when he was a small boy he was so attracted to the tractor that he would drive it although he wasn't tall enough to stand on the pedals."
Mr. Hoorn told how Maj. Bong's interest went from tractors to all forms of machinery and finally to airplanes.
"He was also a member of my confirmation class of June 7, 1936," the pastor continued. "He was a leader of the Luther league and choir. He had a beautiful tenor voice and he loved to sing. He was faithful in the performance of his duties. We who sat in the little church in Poplar know what it means to miss that boy's voice."
Looked to Homecoming
He traced Maj. Bong's career which led him to the top of the ladder of fame, and said, "He was always looking forward to coming home and living a happy blessed life with his wife, Margie. But, the ways of God are not our ways and it was a shock Monday evening when even the members of his own family heard over the radio of his death."
He ended, "Fame crowned him her hero and fortune smiled on him until last Monday night, and although fortune has ceased to smile, fame will always call him her own."
The organ music swelled as the pallbearers, friends and schoolmates home on military furloughs, carried the coffin through the honor guard to the hearse. As they emerged from the church, the 5,000 outside crowded together to catch a glimpse. Many of the tight, hurt faces had stood in the same street in February, smiling as the major and his new wife came happily down the steps.
Planes Circled Above
The funeral cortege — more than a score of vehicles — started for the cemetery near Poplar. At the side road leading from Highway 2, a half mile to the cemetery, waited a 60 piece army band sent from Chicago and a lane of military policemen from Camp McCoy and Chicago. Sixteen army fighter planes, four abreast in four straight rows, soared overhead, making wide circles to match their speed with the slowly moving ground procession. Hundreds of persons lined the lane and surrounded the burial plot.
The band begun a funeral march and the procession swung up the narrow, sandy road, behind a green-roofed papered shack, and wound along the cool path between the elms, poplars, firs and birches protecting the little clearing for the cemetery. The river which winds through the trees and close to the Bong farm home could be seen.
Six soldiers fired a three volley salute. Mr. Hoorn read the Scripture. At the fringe of the clearing another soldier sounded taps.
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...," Mr. Hoorn's words faded into the drone of the planes gliding overhead. Few of the mourners cried, and the pallbearers lowered the coffin into the new grave. The military escort and band moved off, others started slowly away.
There the young widow, carrying the folded flag that had draped the casket was led, stumbling, away.
End of first tour 11 Nov 1943
Second tour ends abruptly on 12 April 1944
Sent home again after scoring his 40th kill
40 / 4 / 13
* Bong states he got a hole in his kite from a black Zero on this mission.
These claims were compiled from Bong's logbook by his brother Carl. Carl wrote a book about his famous brother called "Dear Mom - So We Have a War." For more details about these claims & Bong's life, that book can be purchased from the Bong Heritage Center for $42.05 (S&H included!) on this page.
--- American Aces ---
Check out :
A beautiful painting by Shigeo Koike of Bong's P-38, showing 25 kills, as it was flown before he broke Rickenbacker's record & before
a malfunction caused his friend to bale out of it. This plane was completely destroyed & is not the plane he broke "Rick's" record in.
On these pages I use
newspaper articles via the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation (CMCC)
as well as the Google News Archives & other sources both published and private.
All content on this site is probably the property of acesofww2.com unless otherwise noted