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Dick Bong, Ace of Aces: The Greatest Fighter Pilot in American History

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
June 12, 2024 3:02 am

Dick Bong, Ace of Aces: The Greatest Fighter Pilot in American History

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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June 12, 2024 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Richard “Dick” Bong was a hero in an era of heroes. Here’s the History Guy with the story.

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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 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 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. 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 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 five percent became aces and yet those five percent 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 146 missions that's crazy. The story of Richard Dick Bong here on Our American Stories. Hello iHeart listener.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-12 04:32:12 / 2024-06-12 04:38:01 / 6

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