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
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
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
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.