This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. And we love to hear stories from our listeners.
That's you. Send them to OurAmericanStories.com. That's OurAmericanStories.com. They're some of our favorites. After the United States withdrew from Vietnam in the 1970s, their allies around the region who had fought against the communists faced torture, involuntary servitude and death.
They were on their own. The man to lead the charge to save them? The governor of Iowa, Robert Ray. Here's our own Monty Montgomery with the story of The Good Governor.
Take it away, Monty. In the state of Iowa, there's a unique ethnic group. In fact, there are more in Iowa than anywhere outside of Asia. They're called the Taidan. But how did they end up there?
Here's Matthew R. Walsh with the rest of the story. Taidan means black tie, and they're called black tie because of the clothing worn by their women. Now, this ethnic minority was from northwest Vietnam. That's their ancestral homeland around the place called Dien Bien Phu. But they ended up in Laos after North Vietnam fell to the communists.
But what happens is South Vietnam falls to communism. And these Taidan are very scared because they know that the communists remember them and how they fought against them in North Vietnam. These Taidan worried Laos is going to be next. And in May of 1975, they actually crossed the border into Thailand seeking asylum.
And it is from Thailand that they write letters to 30 U.S. governors. They want to be resettled as a group. They want all these Taidan.
They want their fellows to be able to go to the same place. And nobody listened except for the governor of Iowa, Robert Ray. And he agrees to resettle these Taidan, but he couldn't do it immediately because the U.S. government was only accepting refugees from places that had fallen to communism. And the Taidan had fled in May of 75. Laos did not officially fall to communism until December of 1975. So the governor had to kind of bend the rules and say, well, can you let me bring these people in?
And Kissinger and Ford agreed. And they basically just said, well, these people are originally from Vietnam and that place has fallen to communism and we'll bring them in. And this Taidan group ultimately comes to Iowa in 1975.
So Governor Ray brings in these Taidan. Vietnam falls to communism in 1975, but it takes a while for the communists to really gain a firm hold on the South. And thus began a second refugee crisis in Asia.
People were fearful that their sons were going to be drafted into this military and have to fight for the communists. So what do they do? They take to the seas. And it was incredibly dangerous for them. They got in these small boats.
Some of them are very rickety, unseaworthy. So pirate attacks, rape, murder, people dying of thirst, dying of disease. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the seas. And it's estimated that one in three actually died.
And some people, right when they're about to get to the landfall, there's this joy. But then a boat comes and they actually tow the refugees back at sea because these places like Singapore, they didn't want refugees. Malaysia doesn't want refugees. They're poor. They resent these people coming in, taking resources.
Some of them will actually be stoned to death when they arrive on shore. So Governor Wray watches a basketball game at Drake University, and then he returns from this game and watches a 60 Minutes program. It's a special report on the boat people done by Ed Bradley.
And they're talking about all that these people have been through. Well, Wray was very moved and he's like, we have to do something. He had already created this refugee resettlement program to help the tide on in 1975.
It's still running. So what he says is, Iowa will agree to accept 1,500 extra refugees. And he then wrote letters to every governor to do more to help the boat people. And he wrote to President Carter to do more to help the boat people. He's one of the first politicians to stand up and say, we need to help these folks. So that's the kind of the second thing that he did was helping the boat people. It's the second of basically three big things that Wray did as governor of Iowa. Bringing in the tide on was first helping these boat people, refugees come in was second.
And the third will be helping people from Cambodia. Well, Wray is he's born in 1928. He's from Des Moines.
He's a Des Moines guy. And he just misses out on World War Two, but he does join the service. And while he's in the service right after World War Two, he's in the east and he really gets to see the devastation. So I think that made an imprint on him as a young man.
It was something that it was impressionable to him. He then goes to Drake University. And even before that, I guess I should say at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, he was known for sticking up for the little guy. He wasn't interested in people bullying others. But he goes on to Drake and then he studies law and he becomes a lawyer and then basically a chairman of the Republican Party trying to get Republicans elected to office.
And then eventually he runs for governor and he wins the governorship in 1968 and served for 14 straight years. For Wray, it kind of worked. He's a Christian man. So those Christian ethics, I think, are going to be important for Wray, helping out others. People complaining about refugee resettlement, they were saying, why are you helping out these foreigners? Why aren't you helping Iowans who you were elected to serve? And Wray's response was, quote, if we don't have the heart or the spirit to save human lives, then how can we be expected to help those whose lives are already assured? And if we're going to turn our backs on people who are dying overseas, our allies who are dying, well, we're not going to be all that kind to those who are in Iowa.
So we can do both. And when we come back, more of this remarkable story, the story of Robert Wray and the refugees here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture and faith are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.
Go to hillsdale.edu to learn more. And we return to Our American Stories and the story of Governor Robert Wray, the governor of Iowa for 14 years and the refugees he brought into his state. When we last left off, Wray had decided even in the face of criticism to be the first governor to take in refugees from Vietnam, and he would soon take a flight overseas to take stock of the situation in the refugee camps.
Here again is Matthew R. Walsh to continue the story. Well, the catalyst for Wray's trip overseas is his work with the Thai Dom. He brings in the Thai Dom starting in 1975, but they still have family. They still have friends, still have loved ones who are coming in.
So he's visiting these camps where there's still Thai Dom, and there's a moving story. They said, Wray, Governor, we want to show you our symbol of hope. So Wray and the small delegation from Iowa, they go look at the symbol of hope in this thatched little hut.
It's the state of Iowa Department of Transportation map. That was their symbol of hope. And on this map, there are pins where different Thai Dom families had resettled and where these folks hope one day they would be reuniting with these loved ones. He's visiting the Thai Dom in Thailand at the refugee camp Nong Khai, and then he makes an excursion to the Cambodian refugee camp.
And that's when he sees one person died. A young girl died and her head fell in the lap of one of Wray's aides. Governor Wray, very avid photographer, and he went around the refugee camp and was snapping photo after photo of these kids crying, people sick, losing hope. They didn't have running water. They had hardly anything. And they were escaping a group of people called the Khmer Rouge.
This is basically meaning red people. They were nasty folks in Cambodia. They tore through that place. They were cutting open people and these Khmer Rouge communists forced people out of the cities and into the countryside to work as slaves.
They separated families. One man slit so many people's throats that he developed arthritis in his forearm and had to develop a different technique for plunging his knife into people's throats to kill them. And many people starved to death. And Wray visited the Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand in 1979. And he was just devastated by what he saw.
He wrote a great speech and delivered it to an assembly of his church. And this is him talking about visiting the Sakhayo refugee camp. Have you ever stood in a small muddy spot about two hours while five people died around you?
I did two days ago. Those deaths were only part of the more than 50 that died in that one camp on that one day. To see little kids with sunken eyes and protruding tummies trying to eke out a smile will bring a tear to the eyes of even the most callous. And when he returned, he came up with this idea of Iowa shares and he handed out that film that he had taken. Didn't even know what was on it. He gave it to the Des Moines Register, the major newspaper, and they published an article and it showed some of these photos and what Governor Wray had saw in the refugee camp. And the newspaper helped publicize and get donations for Iowa shares. And shares stands for Iowa Sends Help to Aid Refugees and End Starvation. And what Iowans did is they purchased a share in humanity, which was the price of a bushel of corn. And they donated money to the governor's office and the governor's office used this money to send medicine, Iowa doctors and nurses and food to these starving Cambodian refugees. And one woman sent in her engagement ring to the governor's office and they had to give it back.
They said, we can't accept this. A nine year old boy named Eric Sharp donated his Christmas money. As Ray basically announced this, you know, Iowa shares program, he said, in a world where there is hate, there is more reason to love. In a world where there is hunger, there is more reason to share.
And in 1979, Iowans through this Iowa shares program raised over $540,000. Some people backed this movement because of Judeo-Christian ethics, some in the Jewish community, you know, seeing those people starving to death in Cambodia sparked memories of the Holocaust, people being liberated from the camps and looking so terrible because of the mistreatment. So rabbis from synagogues, they helped out people in the Christian church. They served as sponsors trying to help people get resettled. And a lot of people felt guilty about Vietnam and destructive force America played there. Helping refugees was a way for them to heal from the wounds of the Vietnam War. And Ray's work with refugees also kind of gave people pride. Because to be a public official in the early 70s, people were frowning upon you.
It wasn't much to be proud of after the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal. So Ray helped keep people's faith in public government. And what I find amazing is during this controversial era, Ray's approval rating was over 80%.
It's quite fascinating. But a lot of people liked him and that's why they were willing to help. The Thai Dom early on did fairly well. Within a handful of years, they were able to have a vast majority of people own their own automobiles. And a majority of Thai Dom would become homeowners in just a short time period. What they did is they pooled their resources. They tried not to rent. They might be multiple families renting, but just for a little bit, everyone will pitch in and will get you your house.
And then after you have your house, you and others are going to pitch in and then you're going to get me my house. So they bought a lot of homes. They might be modest homes, but they became homeowners.
They became automobile owners. They helped each other out. So the community served as a safety net. Initially, the first group of people who came here, they were professionals.
That was very helpful. The first wave, that first 130,000 people that I spoke about, a lot of them were officers in the military, politicians, people with good careers. Early on, a lot of them fell into becoming blue collar workers.
So there are stories of bank owners becoming janitors at banks. So it's tough for that first generation. Now, the second generation did quite well, and they're flourishing.
There are people who are in the medical community. They're doing great work, but we do have a very diverse and rich state, and a lot of it stems from this refugee resettlement that began in 1975. There's more tied on in Iowa than anywhere outside of Asia. They created their own community center on the north side of Des Moines, and they named their community center the Robert D. Ray Welcome Center. You can go there for a festival every year. They have a big festival that celebrates their coming to Iowa. They honored Ray at that festival. There's also something called the Asian Gardens that we have here in Des Moines that honors Ray's work with these refugees. One woman, this is a quote from her.
Her name's Samba Com. She said about Ray, I love the man forever. He will be our savior. He is almost like our Abraham Lincoln. He freed us. They really do revere the man. When he died, Governor Ray rested in state at the U.S. Capitol building, and all these refugees came to say farewell, to lay their wreaths and ribbons and other things onto his burial site.
He's a very beloved figure, especially amongst the Southeast Asian refugee community. One terrific work on the production by Monty Montgomery, and a special thanks to Matthew R. Walsh. His book, The Good Governor, go to local bookstores or go wherever you buy your books online. Also, a special thanks to our own Jim Watkins for putting this story together. And what a story about what happened after the communists took over, and it was America and Iowa in particular who came to the rescue. What a story about Iowa's heart, about the American heart, and about love and compassion. What a story, the story of a good governor and a good country, here on Our American Stories. This is Lee Habib, and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show. And up next, we continue with our recurring series about the curious origins of everyday sayings.
Here to join us again is Andrew Thompson, as he continues to share another slice from his ultimate guide to understanding these many mysteries of the English language. It's a funny old world is an expression indicating an acceptance of or resignation to a situation. And it was first used in the 1934 comedy film, You're Telling Me. That film starred W.C. Fields, and at one point he says, it's a funny old world.
A man is lucky if he gets out alive. The popularity of Fields quickly made the expression commonplace, and it's been quoted ever since, most notably by the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, after her decision to quit politics in 1990. Alluding to the fact that she had never lost an election in her life, yet had been forced to stand down, she said, it's a funny old world, isn't it? It's all Greek to me means unable to understand something or something doesn't make sense. And it originates from the medieval Latin proverb, which means it is Greek, it cannot be read. The phrase was used by monks scribes at the time as they copied manuscripts in monastic libraries.
Knowledge of the Greek language was dwindling and very few people could read it. The expression is yet another one that was brought into widespread usage by Shakespeare in his 1599 play, Julius Caesar, which contains the line, but for my own part, it was Greek to me. The expression John Hancock to mean a signature derives from the famous American merchant and statesman who lived from 1737 to 1793. He was governor of Massachusetts and president of the Second Continental Congress, and he was one of the men obviously who signed the American Declaration of Independence in 1776. He had a very flamboyant signature and it's by far the largest on the document and it's nearly five inches long. Because of that, his name became synonymous for any signature.
And it's said when he signed the document, he said, there, I guess King George or John Bull will be able to read that without his spectacles. A kangaroo court is a mock court that disregards due legal process. And that expression originated with the California gold rush in 1849. Crime at the time was common and there were many illegal gold prospectors who seized the mining claims of others. They were known as claim jumpers. The gold mines had a lawless atmosphere, but informal courts were set up to dispense a rough and ready form of justice to the claim jumpers.
There was a large contingent of Australian prospectors seeking their fortune in California at the time. And this coupled with the reference to jumping gave birth to the naming of the kangaroo court. The term then spread and was used for any sort of mock tribunal.
The common expression keep it up means to continue do something and is often used as a form of encouragement. And it dates from the 1700s and the game of badminton. The idea of the game is to hit the small piece of rubber attached with feathers known as a shuttlecock over a high net using a small tennis style racket. The shuttlecock must not hit the ground at any time.
And if it does, the point is lost. Spectators at badminton events when the game first started would often shout keep it up during the rallies. And the phrase soon came to mean any form of encouragement. Keeping up with the Joneses means striving to match your neighbour in terms of possessions and wealth. And that expression originated from a popular comic strip of that name that was published in the New York Globe.
It began in 1913 and ran for 28 years, bolstered by 1915 cartoon film adaptation that played in cinemas throughout America. It was written by Arthur Popp Maman and chronicled his experiences of living in suburbia. Jones was a common surname at the time and was meant as a generic term for neighbours. Years later Maman wrote we'd been living way beyond our means in our endeavour to keep up with the well to do class.
I also noticed that most of our friends were doing the same. I decided it would make good comic strip material. To kick the bucket means to die. And it is sometimes said to originate from the theory that when people hang themselves they stand on a bucket with a noose around their neck and then kick the bucket away. However, a more likely explanation comes from the slaughtering of animals. In the 18th century the wooden beam that was used to hang animals up by their feet for slaughter was called a bucket.
As the animals were killed they would often struggle and spasm, their feet kicking the bucket. The kiss of death means an action that will lead to certain failure. And that expression began with the bible and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. In the book of Matthew, Judas kisses Jesus on the cheek as a way of identifying him to the Roman soldiers. As a result of that kiss Jesus was arrested and crucified. This practice found its way to the mafia bosses of Sicily. A kiss from the Don meant the person would soon be killed. Originally known as Judas Kiss, the expression was changed in the 1940s.
To knock off work means to finish work at the end of the day. And that expression began with the American slave trade in the early 19th century. River boats transported slaves to and from the plantations.
These boats were rowed by the slaves themselves. To keep the men rowing in unison a drummer would beat out the rhythm on a block of wood. When it was time to change shifts he would knock off a distinctive hit to signify it was time to stop. This was later used in English factories when knocking a mallet on a wooden bench indicated the end of a shift. If someone says knock on wood, they're expressing a wish that something will or will not occur. Sometimes phrased as touch wood, it's an expression that dates back to the ancient Druids. They were a race that inhabited England before the Romans and they worshipped trees in particular oaks and held the firm belief that protective spirits lived within trees. They believed trees were sources of good and warded off evil spirits. People in need of good luck would go and touch a tree. And others actually wore small pieces of oak on necklaces so the wood was always in contact with the skin.
The expression became commonplace in the 1850s and Winston Churchill once said that he always liked to be within arms length of a piece of wood. To knock the spots off something means to beat easily or completely outdo and it began in America in the mid 1800s. Carnivals were commonplace all over the country at the time and the most popular sideshow was the shooting gallery. All comers would test their marksmanship skills and the most used target was a playing card, the face of which had spots or marks on it to indicate the suit or value of the card. The object was to shoot through all the spots and remove as many as possible.
Anyone who could knock all the spots off a card would win the major prize. To know the ropes means to be well versed in something and it has nautical origins and started with the early sailing vessels of the 1600s. They were controlled by many ropes and knots which were all connected in a complicated web. Sailors had to learn the intricate rigging required to raise, lower and manoeuvre the sails in order to speed up, slow down and change direction. The ropes were in constant use and to fully master these tasks took years of experience.
It was only then that a sailor could claim to know the ropes. To knuckle down means to diligently apply oneself and that expression originated with the game of marbles. A marble, also known as a tor, is held between a crooked index finger and flicked by the thumb. It is an essential rule of the game that the knuckle of the index finger must be placed down on the ground before taking a shot. The knuckle must also be placed in the exact position that the player's previous marble ended.
A player breaking these rules will be quickly told to concentrate and knuckle down. A lame duck is an ineffective person or business or a weakling and that expression dates from the mid 1700s and began in the financial world. It originated with the London Stock Exchange and applied to those who were bankrupt or could not pay their debts.
They were forced to waddle out of the exchange alley in disgrace like lame ducks. The first known mention of the term was in writing by Horace Walpole's 1761 letter when he wrote, do you know what a bull and a bear and a lame duck are? The expression transferred to America in reference to ineffectual politicians by the mid 1800s. And a special thanks to Greg Hengler for the production on the piece and a special thanks to Andrew Thompson for this series on the curious origins of everyday sayings, the story of the English language or at least its curious sayings and phrases here on Our American Stories. And we continue with Our American Stories. Up next comes a man who's simply known as the history guy.
His videos are watched by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages over on YouTube. The history guy is also heard here regularly at Our American Stories. Richard Bong was a hero in an era of heroes. Here's the history guy with the story. It has often been said that war is the most dramatic of human endeavors.
Of the millions of people who served throughout the globe in the Second World War, there are countless stories of those who went above and beyond to serve their country, to protect their comrades and to do their part to try to bring an end to the most destructive war in human history. And among those stories is the story of Richard Ira Bong, a US Army fighter pilot in the Pacific who was so successful that he became America's Ace of Aces. Richard Ira Bong was born September 24th, 1920 in Superior, Wisconsin.
The oldest of nine children born to Carl Bong, a Swedish immigrant and American Adore Bryce. He had an interest in planes from a young age and saw airmail planes fly over the farm when President Calvin Coolidge was at his summer White House in Superior. He recalled that the mail plane flew right over our house and I knew that I wanted to be a pilot. He attended the Superior State Teachers College beginning in 1938, where he enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, started just that year to train pilots both for civilian roles and the possibility of war. On May 29th, 1941 Bong enlisted in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program. His gunnery instructor in Arizona was Barry Goldwater, later a senator and presidential nominee who said that Bong was a very bright student and was already showing his talent as a pilot. Bong earned his pilot wings and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Air Force Reserves on January 9th, 1942, just a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Bong was kept at Loop Field for several months where he worked as a gunnery instructor until he was transferred to Hamilton Field near San Francisco, where he trained to fly the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. A number of stories have come out of Bong's time at Hamilton. On June 12th, 1942 he was cited for buzzing the house of a pilot who had just gotten married. The same day several other pilots were cited for flying a loop around the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Bong has often been accused of looping the bridge, though he always denied it later. However he did apparently fly low down Market Street in San Francisco, so low that he knocked some laundry off a line and waved at people in the lower floors of some of the buildings. General George Kinney, commander of the 4th Air Force, remembers dressing Bong down for the stunt saying, now I don't need to tell you again how serious this matter is.
If you didn't want to fly down Market Street I wouldn't want you in my Air Force but you're not to do it anymore, and I mean what I say. Kinney made Bong help the woman with her laundry. Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area, chose Kinney over General James Doolittle to command the 5th Air Force who were flying out of Australia. Bong was hand-picked by Kinney as one of 50 P-38 pilots brought to Australia in September. Bong was assigned to the 9th Fighter Squadron of the 49th Fighter Group, nicknamed the Flying Knights. In a P-38 he and several others engaged a larger force of Japanese planes near Buna, New Guinea on December 27th, 1942. Bong scored his first aerial victory here, shooting down two Japanese planes himself.
He was awarded the Silver Star for the action. On January 7th his squadron attacked a convoy bringing reinforcements to New Guinea and he shot down two more planes. The very next day he was escorting a bomber formation when he and seven accompanying pilots attacked approximately 20 enemy fighters. The citation for his Distinguished Flying Cross said that Lieutenant Bong shot down at enemy aircraft with a long burst at a distance of 200 yards, a difficult shot and already his fifth confirmed kill.
Lieutenant Dick Bong had become a fighter ace, not two weeks after his first engagement. Bong participated in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, where American planes attacked transports and destroyers carrying nearly 7,000 reinforcements to New Guinea. He shot down a Mitsubishi A6M-0, known as a formidable fighter aircraft in the combat, and eight transports were destroyed in a significant defeat for the Japanese and a major propaganda victory for the Army Air Force. By April he shot down five more planes becoming a double ace and was promoted to First Lieutenant. On July 26th, leading a flight of 10 P-38s over New Guinea, he spotted a formation of 20 Japanese planes. He led three attacks on the formation, shooting down two of the aircraft himself. When 15 more Japanese planes arrived, Bong, disregarding the greatly superior numbers of the enemy, attacked the new planes, taking down another two himself. In all outnumbered three to one, Bong's team shot down 11 planes without a loss, Bong himself taking four. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for the action.
In August he was promoted again to Captain. An engagement later that year nearly cost him his life. According to General Kenny, Bong saw a Japanese fighter chasing down an injured P-38 which was flying towards a nearby cloud bank for cover. Bong turned off one of his engines and drew the attention of the enemy. Once the other plane was clear he flipped his engine back on and out raced the Japanese pilot back to base. Unfortunately on his return he noticed that the plane was damaged worse than he thought. Half of his tail was gone and as he prepared to land he found that his ailerons were also damaged. When he finally touched down he discovered that he had no brakes and one of the wheels was punctured. He ended up in a ditch, alive, but his plane was a total loss. The plate shield behind his head was pitted with dents and the plane had 50 bullet holes in it.
Both fuel tanks were punctured but a self-sealing rubber system had kept them from leaking. In another engagement he was circling above the jungle where a pilot had ditched. Below him soldiers had gotten in a rubber boat to cross a lake to get to the pilot and Bong sighted a crocodile following them.
He dipped low to the water, sighted and blasted the encroaching crocodile with 20 millimeter round. Captain Bong was granted leave stateside when he reached 21 confirmed kills. He was able to spend the holidays 1943 at home in Wisconsin where he met Marjorie Vattendahl and began dating her. He also participated in a ship launching where the Welderettes named him their number one pin-up boy. When asked how he was so good at what he did he modestly answered, oh I'm just lucky I guess, a lot of Japanese happen to get in my way, I keep shooting plenty of lead and finally some of them get hit. When he returned to the Pacific in 1944 he christened his plane March and had his girl's face painted on the nose. He was reassigned to the 5th Air Force HQ but allowed to freelance. Bong had on April 12th been credited with three more victories which brought his total to 28, officially beating Eddie Rickenbacker's 26 during World War One. Kenny made Bong a major and took the chance to send him home.
Rickenbacker and Kenny had earlier promised cases of Scots to ever beat Rickenbacker's record first and both of them sent along a case. For three months he was on leave in the United States doing publicity tours, urging civilians to buy bonds and generally supporting the war effort. When he got back he was put in charge of gunnery training and told not to engage except in self-defense. On October 10th he accompanied his trainees, shot down two more planes, only in self-defense of course. Bong, still officially gunnery instructor and not required to fly combat missions, continued to find ways to do so.
Then between October 10th and November 15th he engaged in unusually hazardous sorties and shot down eight more planes. He was recommended for and received the Medal of Honor, MacArthur gave it to him personally with a short congratulations. Major Richard Ira Bong, who has ruled the air from New Guinea to the Philippines, I now induct you into the society of the bravest of the brave, the wearers of the Congressional Medal of Honor of the United States. By December 17th Bong got his 40th victory and Kenny ordered him home. In fact Kenny was convinced that Bong actually had many more victories than that, stories abounded that he had given away kills to wingmen when he had really done the shooting.
He had flown 146 combat missions and had 400 hours of combat time. Richard Ira Bong married Marjorie Vattendahl on February 10th 1945, having already given so much in the service's country, took on one of the most dangerous jobs a nation could ask, becoming a test pilot for Lockheed, testing their new P-80 Shooting Star jet. On August 6th 1945 Bong took off in his 12th flight in the plane. A Lockheed service mechanic later reported, we knew something was wrong when we saw a puff of black smoke come out just as he leveled off in flight. Within four minutes of takeoff the plane exploded just some 50 feet off the ground over North Hollywood. A witness quoted in the Los Angeles Times saw Bong eject from the plane but he was too low for his parachute to open and it was caught in the explosion. America's ace of aces died the same day the first atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima. His death shared front page news, with the first reports. Among American fighter pilots in the Second World War only 5% became aces, and yet those 5% accounted for half of all enemy aircraft claimed in air-to-air combat.
And simply put that means that a huge burden was placed on the shoulders of a very few. When Major Dick Bong died he was just 24. In his brief life he became one of the most decorated pilots in American history having earned the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, seven Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 15 Air Medals. And a special thanks to Greg Hengler for the terrific production and to the history guy who you can find at his YouTube channel The History Guy. History deserves to be remembered and my goodness what a story a hundred and forty-six missions that's crazy. The story of Richard Dick Bong here on Our American Stories.
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