The first of nine children, born in 1920 to a Swedish immigrant father and an American-born Mother, Richard (Dick) Bong’s upbringing epitomized the values and expectations of that era – loyalty to his family and a deep sense of patriotism. Like all farm children, he had chores to perform and was expected to drive farm machinery at an early age. He hunted and fished in the surrounding woods and streams like most Wisconsinites, played on his school athletic teams and sang in his church choir. Even in his 4H project he planted an extensive evergreen tree windbreak on the family farm amongst the rolling hills to help his Father. At that time he modeled the ideal all-American boy!
Dick Bong became enamored of flying as a small boy, watching planes fly over the farm which were supposedly carrying mail for President Calvin Coolidge’s summer White House in Superior, Wisconsin.
As a college student at the State Teachers College in Superior (now the University of Wisconsin, Superior), he learned to fly in the Civilian Pilot Training program; at the age of 20 he became a flying cadet in the US Army Air Corps, in time for the entry of the United States into World War II.
Dick became America’s all-time Ace of Aces, downing 40 enemy planes in the Pacific theater of the war while flying P-38 fighter planes. His many decorations for outstanding skills and extraordinary courage included the Congressional Medal of Honor and every other medal besides the Purple Heart.
Major Bong was ordered home for his own safety as America’s Top Pilot. He quickly married his sweetheart, Marge, at a Cathedral in Superior. ‘Marge’ was the name of his famous P-38 Lockheed Lightening, as Bong stated to her – “the most shot at girl in the Pacific!”.
Only six short months later Bong was killed test piloting the first Lockheed jet fighter plane in California. It was said that he bailed out too late after steering the aircraft away from civilian homes. His death at the very young age of 24 occurred the same day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, yet he received banner headlines in the national newspapers.
Thousands attended Dick’s funeral services in Superior, and many more lined the funeral route to the Poplar cemetery, where he was buried in the family plot. In 1955, ten years after his death, a memorial was dedicated to Dick Bong in his hometown of Poplar, Wisconsin, where it stayed until Funds were raised by his family and Marge many years later, leading to the development of the Richard I Bong Veterans Historical Center today.
Subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest news.