Bong, Richard Ira | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Bong, Richard Ira (1920-1945)

WWII Air Ace

Bong, Richard Ira | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargePortrait of Major Richard Ira Bong.

Bong — Ace of Aces

Portrait of Major Richard Ira Bong, medal of honor winner. Flying a P-38, Bong shot down more enemy aircraft than any other American pilot during World War II. View the original source document: WHI 11017

Dictionary of Wisconsin History.
b. Superior, Wisconsin, 1920
d. North Hollywood, California, August, 1945

Richard Ira Bong was a World War II air ace. He attended Superior State Teachers College, but left in 1941 to volunteer as a flying cadet.

Commissioned as second lieutenant, he arrived in Australia, in September, 1942, as a fighter pilot. He was promoted to captain in August, 1943. He had shot down 28 Japanese planes by the fall of 1943 — a new record. He was sent to the U.S. for a rest, and at his own request attended gunnery school.

Death and Legacy

In 1944, he was assigned to noncombat work in New Guinea as a gunnery instructor. But Bong insisted on flying additional combat missions, and shot down 12 more enemy planes to bring his confirmed total to 40, with 9 more planes probably destroyed. He was promoted to the rank of major in April, 1944. He won 26 decorations to become one of America's most decorated war heroes. On December 7, 1944, General MacArthur personally decorated him with the Congressional Medal of Honor in the Philippines. Other decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, and Air Medal. He became an army test pilot and was killed in the crash of a P-80 Shooting Star in California.

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Superior Evening Telegram, Aug. 7, 1945, Sept. 28, 1951, May 20, 1955; Wis. Mag. Hist., 30; H. R. Austin, Wis. Story [Milwaukee, 1948j; R. I. Bong Correspondence.