Dick Bong

Born at Superior WI, Sept 24, 1920.
Died at Burbank CA Aug 6, 1945.

Richard Ira Bong was the first of nine children born to Carl and Dora living on a farm near the small town of Poplar WI, about 20 miles southeast of Superior. His father came to the USA from Sweden and his mother was of Scotch-English descent. His interest in aviation began in 1928 when President Coolidge was vacationing near Superior and established a summer White House in the Superior High School, where his mail was delivered to him daily by plane. Bong was fascinated, later recalling that the mailplane "flew right over our house, and I knew then that I wanted to be a pilot." Soon he was spending all his spare time building model planes. Bong received fighter pilot wings and a commission as a second lieutenant in the USAAF Reserves on Jan 9, 1942, a month after America was plunged into World War II, but was so good at gunnery that his commanding officer had him remain at Luke as an instructor for several months.

Finally he was sent to Hamilton Field, near San Francisco, on May 6 for aerial combat training in the P-38 Lightning. When General Douglas MacArthur selected General George C Kenney to head the Fifth AirForce in the Southwest Pacific, Kenney called for 50 of his P-38 pilots at Hamilton Field to be sent to Australia, and saw to it that Bong was in that group. Although an introvert on the ground, he was eager for action in the air and would take on any enemy formation he could find, regardless of the odds. After a few limited patrols, the 39th got into a good scrap on Dec 27, 1942. Capt Thomas J Lynch led a flight of 12 P-38s off Schwimmer airstrip to intercept a flight of 40 Japanese fighters and bombers over the coast of New Guinea. In the ensuing melee, the P-38s downed 12 of the enemy planes, and Bong got a Val bomber and a Zero fighter, a performance that earned him the Silver Star. Then on Jan 7, 1943, while his squadron was attacking a Japanese convoy of reinforcements, he added two Oscars to his score.

On the following day he got another over Lae harbour, for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Thus, on Jan 8, he became an ace with five confirmed victories in just over a month. With that, Kenney gave him several weeks leave in Australia. On Apr 12, on another strike at Hollandia brought his total to 28, surpassing Rickenbacker's WW1 record of 26 victories. When Kenney learned of Bong's 40 victories, he ordered him to fly his P-38 to Tacloban airfield and park it there—he was through with combat flying. It was time that he go home as America's "Ace of Aces." Behind him was two years of combat that included over 200 missions in more than 500 hours in the air. In scoring his 40 victories, he had also had 7 "probable" victories, damaged 11 other aircraft, and missed 30 of the 80 that he engaged in aerial combat. At 2:30 pm on Aug 6, 1945, Bong pointed the nose of a P-80 down runway 33 at Lockheed Air Terminal and applied take-off power.

Two minutes later, the plane was smouldering wreckage and Bong's body, partially wrapped in the shrouds of his parachute, was found 100 feet from the plane's jet engine. By a strange will of fate, he had survived two years of intense aerial combat only to perish in a routine acceptance flight when his plane apparently flamed out. He was buried in the Poplar cemetery two days later.