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Richard Ira Bong
Cmoh army.jpg
Maj. Richard I. Bong - Medal of Honor
Nickname "Ace of Aces"
"Bing" Bong
Dick Bong
Born (1920-09-24)September 24, 1920
Died August 6, 1945(1945-08-06) (aged 24)
Place of birth Superior, Wisconsin, U.S.
Place of death North Hollywood, California
Place of burial Poplar, Wisconsin
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Department of the Army Seal.svg United States Army
Years of service 1941–1945
Rank US-O4 insignia.svg Major
Unit 49th Fighter Group, V Fighter Command

World War II

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

Richard Ira "Dick" Bong (September 24, 1920 – August 6, 1945) is the United States' highest-scoring air ace, having shot down at least 40 Japanese aircraft during World War II. He was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) and a recipient of the Medal of Honor. All of his aerial victories were in the P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft.

Early life

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

He began studying at Superior State Teachers College in 1938. While there, Bong enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training Program and also took private flying lessons. In 1941 he enlisted in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program. One of his flight instructors was Capt. Barry Goldwater (later Senator from Arizona). Bong's ability as a fighter pilot was recognized at training in northern California. He received his wings and commission as a second lieutenant on January 9, 1942, and became a gunnery instructor.


Major Richard Bong in his P-38.

9th Fighter Squadron

39th Flying Training Squadron

Bong's first operational assignment was to the 49th Fighter Squadron (FS), 14th Fighter Group at Hamilton Field, California, where he transitioned into the twin-engine P-38 Lightning.

On June 12, 1942, Bong flew very low over ("buzzed") a house in nearby San Anselmo, the home of a pilot who had just been married. He was cited and temporarily grounded for breaking flying rules, along with three other P-38 pilots who had looped around the Golden Gate Bridge on the same day.[1] For looping the Golden Gate Bridge, for flying at low level down Market Street in San Francisco and for blowing the clothes off of an Oakland woman's clothesline, Bong was reprimanded by General George C. Kenney, commanding officer of the Fourth Air Force, who told him, "If you didn't want to fly down Market Street, I wouldn't have you in my Air Force, but you are not to do it any more and I mean what I say." Kenney later wrote: "We needed kids like this lad."[2] In all subsequent accounts, Bong denied flying under the Golden Gate Bridge.[3] Nevertheless, Bong was still grounded when the rest of his group was sent without him to England in July 1942. Bong then transferred to another Hamilton Field unit, 84th Fighter Squadron of the 78th Fighter Group. From there Bong was sent to the Southwest Pacific Area.

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

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

After another leave in the U.S. in May 1944, Major Bong returned to New Guinea in September. Though assigned to the V Fighter Command staff and not required to fly combat missions, Bong continued flying from Tacloban, Leyte, during the Philippines campaign, increasing his official air-to-air victory total to 40 by December. Upon the recommendation of Far East Air Force commander General George Kenney, Bong received the Medal of Honor from General Douglas MacArthur in a special ceremony in December 1944.

Bong's Medal of Honor citation states that he flew combat missions despite his status as an "instructor", which was one of his duties as standardization officer for V Fighter Command. His rank of major would have qualified him for a squadron command, but he always flew as a flight (four-plane) or element (two-plane) leader.

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

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


Bong was killed in 1945 while testing a P-80A similar to this one.

His death was featured prominently in national newspapers, even though it occurred on the same day as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Bong then became a test pilot assigned to Lockheed's Burbank, California plant, where he flew P-80 Shooting Star jet fighters at the Lockheed Air Terminal. On August 6, 1945, the plane's primary fuel pump malfunctioned during takeoff on the acceptance flight of P-80A 44-85048. Bong either forgot to switch to the auxiliary fuel pump, or for some reason was unable to do so.[5] Bong cleared away from the aircraft, but was too low for his parachute to deploy. The plane crashed into a narrow field at Oxnard St & Satsuma Ave, North Hollywood. His death was front-page news across the country, sharing space with the first news of the bombing of Hiroshima.[6]

At the time of the crash, Bong had accumulated four hours and fifteen minutes of flight time (totaling 12 flights) in the P-80. The I-16 fuel pump was a later addition to the plane (after an earlier fatal crash) and Bong himself was quoted by Captain Ray Crawford (another P-80 test/acceptance flight pilot who flew the day Bong was killed) as saying that he had forgotten to turn on the I-16 pump on an earlier flight.[7]

In his autobiography, Chuck Yeager also writes, however, that part of the ingrained culture of test flying at the time, due to the fearsome mortality rates of the pilots, was anger directed at pilots who died in test flights, to avoid being overcome by sorrow for lost comrades. Bong's brother Carl (who wrote his biography) questions the validity of reported circumstance that Bong repeated the same mistake so soon after mentioning it to another pilot. Carl's book—Dear Mom, So We Have a War (1991)—contains numerous reports and findings from the crash investigations.

Major Richard Ira Bong is buried in a Poplar, Wisconsin cemetery.[8]


  • Richard Bong State Recreation Area on the site of what was to be Bong Air Force Base in Kenosha County, Wisconsin
  • Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge along US Route 2 in the Twin Ports of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin
  • Richard I. Bong Airport in Superior, Wisconsin
  • Bong Barracks of the Aviation Challenge program
  • Richard I. Bong Bridge in Townsville, Australia
  • Major Richard Ira Bong Squadron of the Arnold Air Society at the University of Wisconsin
  • Richard Bong Theatre in Misawa, Japan and the 613th Air and Space Operations Center, Thirteenth Air Force, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.
  • Bong avenues on the former site of the decommissioned Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base, on Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas, on Luke AFB in Glendale, Arizona, on Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Alaska, and on Kadena AFB in Okinawa, Japan.
  • Bong Terrace, Mount Holly Township, New Jersey (Mount View neighborhood, built 1956–1957).
  • Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (1987).[9]
  • Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior, Wisconsin. Housed in a structure intended to resemble an aircraft hangar, it contains a museum, a film screening room, and a P-38 Lightning restored to resemble Bong's plane.

Victory credits

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

Awards and decorations

United States Air Force Pilot Badge.svg United States Army Air Forces pilot badge
Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Silver Star with bronze oak leaf cluster
Silver oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Distinguished Flying Cross with one silver and one bronze oak leaf cluster
Silver oak leaf cluster
Silver oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Medal with two silver and four bronze oak leaf clusters
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Presidential Unit Citation with bronze oak leaf cluster
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
Silver star
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with silver campaign star
World War II Victory Medal
Bronze star
Philippine Liberation Medal with one bronze service star
Philippine Presidential Unit Citation

Medal of Honor citation

Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Army Air Corps.
Place and date: Over Borneo and Leyte, October 10, to November 15, 1944.
Entered service at: Poplar, Wis.
Birth: Poplar, Wis.
G.O. No.: 90, December 8, 1944.


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty in the Southwest Pacific area from October 10, to November 15, 1944. Though assigned to duty as gunnery instructor and neither required nor expected to perform combat duty, Maj. Bong voluntarily and at his own urgent request engaged in repeated combat missions, including unusually hazardous sorties over Balikpapan, Borneo, and in the Leyte area of the Philippines. His aggressiveness and daring resulted in his shooting down 8 enemy airplanes during this period.[11]

See also


  1. Dear Mom, So We Have a War (1991)
  2. Kenney, George C. (1949). General Kenney Reports: A Personal History of the Pacific War. New York City: Duell, Sloan and Pearce. pp. 3–6. 
  3. Yenne, 2009, p. 68.
  4. Dick Bong America's Ace of Aces by Gen. George C. Kenney.
  5. Yeager, Chuck and Janos, Leo. Yeager: An Autobiography. Pages 227-228 (paperback). New York: Bantam Books, 1986. ISBN 0-553-25674-2.
  6. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, among other periodicals, all carried prominent front page stories about Bong's death on August 7, 1945, despite the prevalence of the news on the first atomic bombing. "Jet plane explosion kills Major Bong, Top U.S. Ace," New York Times (August 7, 1945), p. 1; "Major Bong, top air ace, killed in crash of Army P-80 jet-fighter," Washington Post (August 6, 1945), p.1; "Jet plane explosion kills Maj. Bong; Ace's 'Shooting Star' blows up in test flight over north Hollywood", Los Angeles Times (August 6, 1945), p.1.
  7. Dear Mom, So We Have a War (1991)
  8. "Richard Bong". Claim to Fame: Medal of Honor recipients. Find a Grave. Retrieved December 9, 2007. 
  9. "Richard I. Bong". Retrieved 17 August 2011. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Aerial Victory Credits". Air Force Historical Research Agency. pp. (search on Name "begins with" "Bong", exclude those of BONGARTZ THEODORE R). Retrieved 2012-06-06. 
  11. "Richard Bong, Medal of Honor recipient". World War II (A–F). United States Army Center of Military History. June 8, 2009. Retrieved December 9, 2007. 


External links

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