Maj Richard Ira Bong

Maj Richard Ira Bong

Superior, Douglas County, Wisconsin, USA
Death 6 Aug 1945 (aged 24)
North Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Burial Poplar, Douglas County, Wisconsin, USA
Plot Plat I, Block 8, Lot 10, Grave 2
Memorial ID 2375 · View Source
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World War II Medal of Honor Recipient. A highly decorated fighter pilot in the US Army Air Force during World War II, he became the US highest scoring air ace, having shot down at least 40 Japanese aircraft in the Pacific Theater. Born one of nine children to Swedish immigrant parents in Superior, Wisconsin he became interested in aircraft from an early age. He participated in sports during high school and played clarinet in the school band. In 1938 he attended Superior State Teachers College (now University of Wisconsin-Superior and while there, he enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training Program and also took private flying lessons. In 1941 he enlisted in the US Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program and received his primary flight training at Rankin Aeronautical Academy in California, followed by his basic training at Gardner Field, California (inactivated in 1945) and went to Luke Field (now Luke Air Force Base), Arizona for his advanced training. In January 1942 he received his wings and commission as a 2nd lieutenant and became a gunnery instructor. His first operational assignment was with the 49th Fighter Squadron, 14th Fighter Group at Hamilton Field, California (now closed) where he transitioned into the twin-engine P-38 Lightning aircraft. In July 1942 he transferred to the 84th Fighter Squadron of the 78th Fighter Group at Hamilton Field was sent to the Southwest Pacific Area where in September 1942 he was assigned to the 9th Fighter Squadron ("Flying Knights") of the 49th Fighter Group, based at Darwin, Australia. On December 27, 1942, he claimed his initial aerial victory, shooting down a Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" and a Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscar" over Buna (during the Battle of Buna-Gona), New Guinea. For this action Bong was awarded the Silver Star. In March 1943 he returned to the 49th Fighter Group at Schwimmer Field near Port Moresby, New Guinea and on July 26, 1943, he shot down four Japanese fighters over Lae, an accomplishment that earned him the Distinguished Service Cross. By April 1944 he had been promoted to the rank of captain and had shot down 27 Japanese aircraft, surpassing Eddie Rickenbacker's American record of 26 credited victories in World War I. In September 1944 he was promoted to the rank of major and assigned to the 5th Fighter Command staff and not required to fly combat missions, but continued flying from Tacloban and Leyte, in the Philippines during the Philippines campaign, increasing his official air-to-air victory total to 40 by the following December. Upon the recommendation of Far East Air Force commander General George Kenney, he received the Medal of Honor from General Douglas MacArthur in a special ceremony in December 1944. In January 1945 he returned to the US for good and participated in a number of public relations activities, including the promotion of the sale of war bonds. He then became a test pilot assigned to Lockheed Aircraft's Burbank, California plant, where he flew P-80 Shooting Star jet fighters at the Lockheed Air Terminal. On August 6, 1945, the plane's primary fuel pump malfunctioned during takeoff on the acceptance flight of P-80A aircraft serial #44-85048. He either forgot to switch to the auxiliary fuel pump, or for some reason was unable to do so. He managed to bail out of the aircraft, but was too low for his parachute to deploy and died at the age of 24. Other than the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross, his military decorations and awards include the Silver Star with 1 bronze oak leaf cluster, the Distinguished Flying Cross with 1 silver and 1 bronze oak leaf cluster, the Air Medal with 2 silver and 4 bronze oak leaf clusters, the Presidential Unit Citation with 1 bronze oak leaf cluster, the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 1 silver campaign star, the World War II Victory Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal with 1 bronze service star, and the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation. A 4,500 acre wildlife/recreation area in Kenosha County, Wisconsin is named in his honor. His Medal of Honor Citation reads: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty in the Southwest Pacific area from October 10, to November 15, 1944. Though assigned to duty as gunnery instructor and neither required nor expected to perform combat duty, Maj. Bong voluntarily and at his own urgent request engaged in repeated combat missions, including unusually hazardous sorties over Balikpapan, Borneo, and in the Leyte area of the Philippines. His aggressiveness and daring resulted in his shooting down 8 enemy airplanes during this period."

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find A Grave Memorial 2375
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Maj Richard Ira Bong (24 Sep 1920–6 Aug 1945), Find A Grave Memorial no. 2375, citing Poplar Cemetery, Poplar, Douglas County, Wisconsin, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .