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Let's ride. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show, including yours.
Send them to ouramericanstories.com. They're some of our favorites. And today we bring you a story from Joel Wegener from Loveland, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati. Joel and his wife have 10 children and working in education, Joel has always had to find ways in the summer to make some extra cash.
My dad was a teacher and I always remember wild and crazy summer jobs, often too. Here's Joel to tell us about one of the most explosive businesses he was ever in. So we ran the fireworks business for about 15 years. It was a tent business.
And it was a long Highway 61 between St. Louis and Hannibal, a busy highway there. And it was a relatively small tent. And we leased the area and then we brought in a tent every year and put fireworks in it. The people that frequent a firework stand are just a little bit different.
And not in a bad way. In fact, there was one part of me that just kind of related really well with them. And so it was always a fun time just to go and hang out with pyromaniacs. And my daughter, my oldest daughter actually named our business Pyromaniac Paradise. And so that's what we called the business. But yeah, we met some very interesting people.
Some very interesting people. Unfortunately, many of the people that buy fireworks and many of the events around the 4th of July also involve alcohol. And that is never a good combination of fireworks and alcohol, but that was often the case.
And I remember one evening, we were getting close to the end of the day and a guy rolled up in his pickup truck and had obviously been drinking. And in the back of his truck, he told us that there was a fireworks that didn't work. And he was very upset that the fireworks was not working. And so we looked in the back of his pickup truck and the big 500 gram cake of fireworks had a smoldering fire inside of it.
And it had not been discharged. And he had, there were some ropes that you were supposed to use to carry the product. And he thought that was what you had lit.
So he had been trying to light these two ropes along the side. And so it was smoldering as he had in the back of his truck. So we quickly assessed the situation, knew we needed to get his truck and the firework away from the fireworks tent. And so we were able to do that. And we probably, looking back, the wise thing would have been to try to get some water and put it all out.
But in our pyromaniac tendencies, we decided just to go ahead and discharge it and see what happened. And so we had quite the fireworks right there at a safe distance from the tent. Another event that happened, we had a fireworks tent and about a mile from us, someone and a competitor came in and had put in a tent. And that always, I always got so nervous if I had competitors around me. And so I was nervous that he was going to steal all my business and all that.
But you know, be that as it may. But I did notice every night when I left, I drove past there to go to my parents' house to sleep. And we always either packed up all of our fireworks or we had someone stay there all night to guard it. So I noticed that it seemed that they dropped the tents and left. And I wasn't there to see them packing up, but I never saw them packing up. All I saw was the tents were dropped. There wasn't a camper.
There wasn't anybody around it. And I found that very unusual. So about a week into the the fireworks season, someone called me and said, did you hear on the news that a fireworks tent went up in smoke north of Troy, which Troy was the town we were in. I knew I had unloaded all of mine and, you know, so it wouldn't have been mine, but I was curious. And so we went and looked and lo and behold, they had left all their fireworks in this tent, unguarded night after night.
Somebody figured that out. And so they put a trail of gasoline under the the flap of the tent and trailed it out a ways and lit it. And the whole fireworks tent went up in smoke. You know, they made the mistake of sticking around to watch it too long.
Not the smartest pyromaniacs around. And so it was going off. A neighbor woke up and saw these guys running across his yard.
There was dew on the ground. And so the police were able to track their tracks back into the woods and find them. But anyway, it was a it was an exciting time.
Not the way that I really wanted to get rid of competition, but definitely eliminated that competition for that year. So, but yeah, a lot of stories, a lot of interesting people that we met, but we we always had fun, always excitement happening at the fireworks stand. And a great job as always by Robbie on the production, the storytelling and the editing. And thanks to Joel Wegener for sharing his summer job stories. By the way, if you've got a good summer job story, a first job story, mine was quick ricks. And it was a little like that.
competitor to the local 7-Eleven. And I had this great idea that we should build an arcade. He had asteroids, Pac-Man, and some pinball machines. And I would run the arcade and I'd get 10%. And it made a lot of money, but I forgot about expenses.
So I didn't make nearly as much money as I thought and took on a whole lot of responsibility. But boy, my friends love me, because we were the only place in town that had an asteroid machine. Summer jobs, first jobs, share them with us at Our American Stories. Joel Wegener's interesting summer story, at least for a while, running a place called Pyromaniac Paradise, here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to OurAmericanStories.com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American Stories coming.
That's OurAmericanStories.com. Such an exciting event like Wango Tango. It's true. I had one that night and I took my NerdTech ODT and I was present and had an amazing time. Here's a little glimpse of our conversation with some of our closest friends. This episode was brought to you by NerdTech ODT Remedapants 75 milligrams.
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It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit UHCMedicareHealthPlans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.
Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. And we continue with our American stories, and now it's time for our Do the Right Thing series about ethical dilemmas that's sponsored by the great folks at the Daniels Fund. And our own Alex Cortez brings us today's edition.
Take it away, Alex. Kirk Aubrey is the CEO of Savage, a second-generation 75-year-old family company whose supply chain services help feed the world, power our lives, and sustain the planet. But before Kirk became CEO of anything, he was a poor kid in Windsor, Ontario. I had a mentor when I was a kid who was a radiologist, and he owned a number of radiology clinics. Watching him run his business saw him go through a situation where he was doing what he thought was the right thing in terms of how he'd build, but the provincial government didn't see it that way. The issue actually had to do with the number of x-rays that were allowed for an individual patient. It was an interpretation of a medical evaluation that the individual doctor, the radiologist in this case, had to make to determine whether or not he could get an accurate reading on the condition. And so this particular individual made the call that this number of images was required to get an accurate read on a given medical condition, and the province disagreed.
Not unlike a lot of the requirements today, there is a certain amount of interpretation how things can get billed. And this individual who was basically like a father to me, I watched him go through a situation where initially there was an inquiry and an investigation, and they ended up going back five years and looking into his practices and billing procedures. Charges were laid against him, and he had to spend a significant amount of money on lawyers to defend himself. And the business was really torn apart, and personally he suffered a lot of stress. His family was under a lot of stress.
I actually remember painting his fence, and I remember him coming home in the middle of the day and sitting down next to me on a chair and just seeing him just look so completely devastated. And this was a guy who always was on top of things, always out in front. And he was just feeling like there was no way out of the situation, that no matter what he was going to lose. And at the end of the day, he did lose in terms of from a financial perspective because of the money it took to defend himself.
But he prevailed and made the case that he was honoring the regulations. But during the time, there were lots of people who questioned his integrity. And here was a long-standing member of the community, highly respected, and was shredded in the newspaper and in media. And the interesting thing was he actually just died. He was 95 years old.
And we would talk fairly regularly. And I think until the day he died, he still carried some amount of resentment for the fact that he held his own integrity as such an important part of who he was and that this situation had caused it to be tarnished. It left a kind of an indelible impression with me to make sure even though you see a person of high integrity, they can still be subject to people who may be in a position to really do damage to them. And that whole situation for him just demonstrated for me how fragile integrity is, that you really do have to care for it, nurture it, preserve it, make sure that there's never anything you would do that you couldn't clearly and easily defend. The notion of certain things, you know, they're not always black and white.
And, you know, if you're going to interpret something from my perspective, you better be able to defend it because there are frequently going to be people that might say that's not the right way to do things. And in this case, that was the situation. For a long time, think about the era. This was 45 years ago. That was still an era where doctors felt they should not be questioned. And that was, you know, very much part of his persona. It was sort of, he knew better and these regulators shouldn't be asking him questions.
And so, yeah, he did feel like he, if he had it to do over again, he could have been more forthcoming and he could have been more transparent with folks asking the questions. And we see this in our business today. We deal with virtually all of, or many of the regulatory bodies in the country. And we actually take a very proactive stance when dealing with regulators. We believe that it's far better to bring people in as opposed to wait until, you know, an inspection or an audit is coming. We would much rather interact with folks and show them what we're doing and tell them what we're doing and solicit feedback on whether they see any problems or issues. And there are some people when I say that, that think that's just crazy.
But the idea of wanting to make sure we're on the right side of an issue is more important to us than whatever inconvenience it may cause in terms of somebody coming in just sort of uninvited. There was a second person whose example taught Kirk a lot about ethics. Kirk had bought and turned around a struggling company called Trio Communications, but not without some trouble.
I have one example of an individual that he was president of our local bank and I got to know him through a charity and we became friends as well. And we had a situation where we had the only bad debt we ever had in 12 years. And it was about $400,000. And it was for a company of our size, an enormous loss.
It was a company that went bankrupt that was a customer of ours and left us with a holding the bag for about $400,000. I was at breakfast with this company and they had this individual and I was telling him how I was contemplating what we were going to have to try to do to survive the situation. And I went back to my office and he went back to his and about an hour later, he walked into my office and he put a check on the desk for $50,000. And it was on his personal account. And he said, I don't care if I ever get this back.
I just want to make sure you, when someone else has a need like you have that you pay it forward. And I did pay him back. I paid him back with interest. And so that was an incredibly generous thing that he did, sort of unsolicited. I learned over time that that was very common for him. Not that he would walk in and give people $50,000, but that he would help out when people were in trouble.
And that was another huge lesson for me in terms of how to help people when they need it most and how to pay attention to those situations. Kirk's company was already a client at the bank. And after experiencing an ethical leader in action, respecting their clients and concerned about their viability, I doubt Kirk was going to change banks anytime soon. Well, there's no way. I mean, there was, there was no way. We had lots of opportunities to go different places for banking relationships.
And I would just never, never even consider it. And although the help was incredible, there were another $350,000 in the hole. And how you ethically react to a crisis like this is a dilemma of its own. And so we suddenly became members of a committee that you'd never want to join, which is the creditors committee. We learned an awful lot about bankruptcy law in a very short period of time. And we had to work with our suppliers to negotiate extended terms and try to get people to understand that we wanted to continue. It was a question of whether or not we could continue in business at that point. The cashflow situation was such that that could have potentially put us under. And so we had to go out and talk to all of our creditors and critical suppliers, which was another lesson that I took forward that would never trade was the ability to have conversations with people, explain what's going on, keep them informed. And then it's amazing how much help you can get from people once they really do understand your situation. Whereas if we just try to slow pay people and string them out, we would have had angry suppliers and angry partners and understandably, they wouldn't have necessarily wanted to do business with us over time.
And I don't apologize. I don't have the quote right in front of me, but Warren Buffett's quote about how to handle crisis situations is all about speed and transparency. I mean, he basically says, get it out, get it out fast and make sure people understand what you're going to do about it. And most people, not all, but most people really do respond when they sense that someone is being candid and forthright and well-intended. If somebody perceives that you're trying to pull something, who can blame them for not really wanting to cooperate?
But if you really are trying to dig your way out of a tough situation that you didn't cause, a lot of people will, they'll cut you a lot of slack. So it was one of the most painful experiences of that, you know, 12 years of owning my own business, but it was really instructive because it ended up serving me later when we bought a company out of bankruptcy. And I really understood what those folks were dealing with, who were suppliers and creditors to that organization. Some of the strongest relationships I had from that experience, I maintain to this day where, you know, when you've gone through something tough with somebody and done it ethically and honorably, that frequently makes the relationship stronger. And you've been listening to Kirk Aubrey talking about, well, so many things, but the focal point is integrity and well, how to keep it.
When we come back, more of Kirk Aubrey's story, more of our, do the right thing series here on our American story. Hey, you guys, this is Tori and Jenny with the 9 0 2 1 OMG podcast. We have such a special episode brought to you by nerd tech ODT. We recorded it at I heart radio's 10th poll event. Wingo tango. Did you know that nerd tech ODT remejipants 75 milligrams can help migraine sufferers still attend such an exciting event like wingo tango? It's true. I had one that night and I took my nerd tech ODT and I was present and had an amazing time. Here's a little glimpse of our conversation with some of our closest friends. This episode was brought to you by nerd tech ODT remejipants 75 milligrams.
Life with migraine attacks can mean missing out on big moments with friends and family, but thankfully nerd tech ODT remejipants 75 milligrams is the only medication that is proven to treat a migraine attack and prevent episodic migraines in adults. So lively events like wingo tango don't have to be missed. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year, and UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.
It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit UHCmedicarehealthplans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.
Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Let's return to Alex on the second generation and 75-year-old family company. Savage has powerful vision and legacy statements, but they're a little long, so Kirk and the team decided to boil them down to three guiding principles.
Do the right thing, find a better way, and make a difference. Anybody, anywhere of our 4,500 team members know that if they're practicing those three phrases, they're never going to get in trouble. Fairly early on when I got here 10 plus years ago, we had a situation where, you know, for many of our customers, these are long-term relationships.
They're long-term contracts, and they have escalation clauses, and they have complexity in them that you really have to stay on top of. And although we work really hard to make sure we're on top of these things, there was one that a calculation was not being performed correctly, and so it wasn't caught by our customer, it wasn't caught by our auditors, it wasn't caught by anybody other than somebody in our accounting department who uncovered the fact that we'd been overcharging a customer to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars. And I was actually, this was one of my first meetings here, and I was sitting in a meeting and someone had, they came in just to tell us what they had done. And when I say tell us what they had done, not the mistake, they came in and told us what they had done to correct the problem, which was to immediately notify the customer that we'd had a miscalculation and immediately credit the account. And so to me, what that illustrated, I remember just sitting there thinking, man, that's amazing that nobody came in and checked, hey, should we talk about this? Should we tell the customer they didn't catch it? That was never a question.
And should we pay them back? That was never a question. It was, we're going to do the right thing.
And that's, that's where we start. And so that was a really reassuring, I came here primarily because of how connected I felt to that approach to business, but I got to witness it early in the process and everybody, no one was surprised. Nobody was angry. We did say, okay, how did this happen? And how can we prevent it in the future? But that was not to lay blame.
Nobody ever asked who did this, whose fault was it? And so that was a really important early lesson for me coming in to say, this is the kind of company I thought it was when I decided to join. And next Kirk shares a story that occurred before he had even joined Savage. They had sold their cement assets to a partner named Geneva Rock and in return acquired Geneva's trucking assets at what they believed was a fair market value. And it's what happened after that, that originally piqued my interest in Savage. After the transaction was completed, Savage was able to sell some of these assets at a significantly higher value than was anticipated in the transaction with Geneva. And so we went back to Geneva and basically wrote them a check for the difference, even though that was not required by a contract, it was just, again, it was just viewed as the right thing to do.
Geneva has been a partner and customer of ours for probably 30 years. And so, you know, again, you go back to the story I told you about that bank president, try to get somebody at Geneva to try to go to somebody other than Savage after having that relationship, you know, that kind of a gesture made pretty hard to do. Those are the kinds of relationships that we want to continue to promote and continue to earn the right to provide service to customers and continue to build the relationship in ways that they want to give us more.
That's the thing about all these stories, right? There are lessons that you learn. And one of the things I love about this company is this notion of finding a better way, which makes it not a bad thing to go back and look at how can we be better? How could we have done this better?
How could we have been more accurate? We shouldn't be in the habit of having to go write checks to people when we make a mistake on valuation. And so that's a big part of who we are. It actually is a big part of our safety process and our culture of safety, where we are wide open to both identifying hazards and things before they happen, but also going back when something hasn't turned out the way we wanted it to and doing a really full thorough root cause analysis to understand that that root cause analysis mentality goes across lots of our parts of our business. A lot of times we're out working with our customers' assets and working with their materials and doing things, and there's not an ability to have that much oversight.
So there's got to be an inherent trust in the relationship. And so the one thing I can tell you that I think is most interesting in terms of the biggest compliment I think we've ever been paid by a customer, somebody asked for a reference, can we talk to a current customer? Then we gave them the name and contact information of a large energy customer of ours. And the prospective customer was asking about the tenure of our contract.
How long is the contract? And our current customer said, I don't even know. He said, I know the contract's there, but he said, what's more important to me is that we have a relationship and relationships don't expire. And it was a really important thing for our team to hear and understand that yes, there needs to be a contractual underpinning to what we do, but we also have to honor the nature of these relationships and all of the things that go into having a strong relationship based on trust and integrity. So yeah, I can give you tons of examples of things where customers have said, boy, you guys went above and beyond and did things that we didn't expect. And that's just kind of what is expected of our team. And there's also the more rare expectation that the language which the team uses with each other is in the spirit of the ethical principles of respect, fairness, and builds mutual trust.
There've been some things that we've done in the past 10 years or so where we've gotten very purposeful about language that we use to describe situations. So we don't have a headquarters. We have a service support center and nobody is allowed to refer to it as a headquarters because of what that kind of represents. So this building is here to serve and support the team that's out in the field. And we frequently remind people who are here in this building that this building doesn't exist without the people who are doing the work on the front lines every day for our customers. We don't have employees. We have team members. And so I still bump into people every once in a while who refer to an employee, but we don't have them. We don't have bosses. We have team leaders. We don't have an HR department because I think the notion of human resources is a little insulting. So we have a people group and we have a chief people officer.
And those things can sound maybe a little trite, but they send a message about what's important to us. We built our service support center and nobody has a corner office. We did that intentionally because of what the idea of a corner office represents. And everybody in the building has a view.
Well, actually today we don't because somehow the mountains are missing over there because we've got something going on, some weather going on. But everybody in this building, we designed it so that we don't have kind of folks who don't get to enjoy that benefit. And our view is that there's no position in this company that's any more important than any other position.
There are no reserve parking spaces. That's just, it's all part of, you know, what we think is important to create the culture so that team members do really believe that we want them to do the right thing. We want them to find a better way and we want them to make a difference. I've been in companies where I've seen what we characterized as say do gaps, right? I've been in companies where there are lots of statements about integrity and the importance of integrity and all those things. And then you see behavior that isn't consistent.
That's worse to me than if the statement had never been made, right? I'd rather, the beauty of what we have created over the 75 years is it is part of a system that we're constantly working on and constantly trying to get better. And we're never going to get there. We're never going to just arrive.
We're going to always be looking for a better way. And great job as always to Joey on the production and to Alex for bringing us this story. And a special thanks to Kirk Aubrey as well, CEO of Savage. And my goodness, he talked about integrity, trust, and fairness. And those are just three of the principles in the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative. Our Do the Right Thing series about ethical dilemmas is always sponsored by the Daniels Fund. And to learn about bringing their ethics programs to your school, business, church, police department, or any other organization you're a part of, go to danielsfund.org.
The story of Kirk Aubrey, the story of Savage, a second-generation 75-year-old family company still working hard to keep the trust of their customers and to keep doing the right thing. Our Do the Right Thing series as always sponsored by the Daniels Fund here on Our American Stories. Hey you guys, this is Tori and Jennie with the 90210MG podcast. We have such a special episode brought to you by NerdTech ODT. We recorded it at iHeartRadio's 10th poll event, Wango Tango. Did you know that NerdTech ODT Remedipant 75 milligrams can help migraine sufferers still attend such an exciting event like Wango Tango? It's true! I had one that night and I took my NerdTech ODT and I was present and had an amazing time. Here's a little glimpse of our conversation with some of our closest friends. This episode was brought to you by NerdTech ODT Remedipant 75 milligrams.
Life with migraine attacks can mean missing out on big moments with friends and family, but thankfully NerdTech ODT Remedipant 75 milligrams is the only medication that is proven to treat a migraine attack and prevent episodic migraines in adults. So lively events like Wango Tango don't have to be missed. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year and UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.
It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit uhcmedicarehealthplans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.
Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. 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 air mail 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 Luke 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 the 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 across 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 a 20 millimeter round. Captain Bong was granted leave stateside when he reached 21 confirmed kills. He was able to spend the holidays in 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. And 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. But 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 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.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-16 05:58:15 / 2023-02-16 06:15:34 / 17