Richard Ira Bong (September 24, 1920 – August 6, 1945) was an American aviator and fighter pilot who gained significant recognition during World War II for his exceptional combat skills and his status as the “Ace of Aces.” Bong’s extraordinary achievements in aerial combat, particularly in the Pacific Theater, made him one of the most celebrated pilots of his time.
Richard Bong was born in Superior, Wisconsin, and grew up in Poplar, a small town in the same state. Fascinated by aviation from a young age, he developed a strong interest in aircraft and flight. He joined the Civilian Pilot Training Program while studying at Superior State Teachers College, which laid the foundation for his future aviation career.
Bong enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in May 1941 and began his flight training. He graduated as a fighter pilot and received his commission as a Second Lieutenant. He was initially assigned to the 49th Fighter Group and later to the 5th Air Force in the Pacific.
Bong’s combat achievements during World War II are particularly notable:
- Aerial Victories: Bong’s most remarkable accomplishment was his 40 aerial victories, which earned him the title of “Ace of Aces.” He achieved this remarkable feat while flying the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, a twin-engine fighter aircraft known for its speed and versatility.
- Meticulous Approach: Bong was known for his disciplined and meticulous approach to combat. He studied his adversaries’ tactics and aircraft to devise effective strategies for engagement. His strategic insight contributed to his impressive success.
- Longest Ace Career: Bong held the distinction of having the longest career as an “ace,” which refers to a pilot who has downed multiple enemy aircraft. His streak of aerial victories stretched over a relatively short period, from December 1942 to December 1944.
- Recognition: Bong’s combat achievements earned him numerous honors, including the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Silver Star.
Post-War Period and Legacy:
After completing his combat tours, Bong returned to the United States and became a test pilot at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) in California. Tragically, on August 6, 1945, while testing a P-80 Shooting Star jet aircraft, Bong’s plane crashed, leading to his untimely death at the age of 24.
Richard Bong’s legacy endures as one of the most prominent American fighter pilots of World War II. His dedication to his craft, strategic brilliance, and exceptional flying skills earned him a place in history as a symbol of heroism and courage. The Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior, Wisconsin, preserves his memory and honors his contributions to aviation and the defense of his country.