Ten Facts About The Ace of Aces – Richard “Dick” Bong

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Richard I. Bong was America’s top flying ace in WWII and was one of the most decorated American fighter pilots the US ever had. Here are ten things you should know about the Ace of Aces:

1. Became interested in flying at a young age

Richard Bong grew up on a Wisconsin farm near then-President Calvin Coolidge’s summer White House. Bong occasionally watched aircraft fly over their house as it carried mail for President Coolidge. As a kid, Bong was also an avid model builder.

2. Was a very bright student pilot

He attended the Superior State Teachers College, where he enrolled in a Civilian Pilot Training Program. Three years later, Bong enlisted in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program, where he was trained in a BT-13 and T-6 Texan. His instructor, Barry Goldwater, said he had already shown promise at such a young age.

3. Reprimanded for being a bit of a daredevil

Just five months after getting his pilot wings, Bong did a very low pass over a house in San Anselmo to celebrate a fellow pilot’s marriage. Bong was also allegedly part of the three other P-38 pilots who had looped around the Golden Gate Bridge the same day. They were reprimanded for their actions, though General George C. Kenney, the Fourth Air Force Commanding Officer, later wrote, “We needed kids like this lad.”

4. His first aerial victory came during the Battle of Buna-Gona

Bong’s long string of success started over Buna as part of the 39th Fighter Squadron. While stationed in New Guinea, the promising aviator shot down a Mitsubishi A6M Zero and a Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar. He would later be awarded the Silver Star for this action.

5. Renamed his P-38 Lightning during the war

Like any other pilot back then, Richard Bong would rename his trusty P-38 Lightning. This time, Bong renamed it to “Marge,” a reference to Marjorie Vattendahl, a girl she was dating back home. His P-38 also featured a nose art with her photo.

6. He didn’t trust his accuracy that much

You wouldn’t expect this kind of humility from a decorated man like Richard Bong. However, he did consider his gunnery accuracy to be untrustworthy and would, at times, get as close to his targets as possible to get a successful hit. This daredevil would even fly through the debris of an exploding aircraft because of how close he would get.

7. He is credited with 40 confirmed aerial victories

By the time he was sent home for good in January 1945, Richard Bong had already accumulated forty aerial victories, making him the United States’ highest-scoring ace in the Pacific during World War II.

8. Was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in combat

General Douglas MacArthur presented Richard Bong with his very own Medal of Honor in December 1944. Bong became one of only 27 airmen to receive the award during World War II. He would also be posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart for his contributions during the war.

9. The Ace of Aces died while test-flying the P-80 Shooting Star

Bong became a test pilot shortly after he was sent home from the war. He worked for Lockheed Martin and flew the US’ first operation jet fighter, the P-80 Shooting Star. Unfortunately, the aircraft’s fuel pump malfunctioned during takeoff and crashed into a narrow field as a result. 

10. The government honored him by naming an Air Force Base in his name

A new USAF installation south of Milwaukee was named Richard I. Bong Air Force Base. It was later abandoned in 1959 and is now known as the Richard Bong State Recreation Area.