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    America’s Top Ace: Maj. Richard Ira Bong and His Unmatched Combat Record

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    Airplane P-38 Lightning WWII fighter aircraft flying at the air show

    As the engines of his P-38 Lightning roared over the Pacific, Major Richard Ira “Dick” Bong cemented his place in the annals of military history, becoming America’s “Ace of Aces.”

    With a record-breaking 40 aerial victories against Japanese aircraft during World War II, Bong’s story is a saga of courage, skill, and an indomitable spirit.

    Starting as a flying cadet in 1941, Bong quickly demonstrated his flying prowess, earning him a position as a gunnery instructor.

    His assignment to the Pacific theater with the 9th Fighter Squadron put him squarely in the path of the adversary, where he first tasted aerial combat in December 1942.

    Bong was known for executing stealthy approaches to his airfield with both engines idling. With precision, he would soar over the field, perform a loop in his P-38, and smoothly touch down for landing.

    General Kenney decided to remove Bong from combat duty once his tally reached 40 victories, instructing him to return home to “settle down with Marjorie and consider starting a large family.”

    Richard and Marge Vattendahl exchanged vows on February 10, 1945, at Concordia Lutheran Church in Superior, in a ceremony attended by 1,200 guests and extensively covered by the global media.

    Following their nuptials, the couple enjoyed a honeymoon in California for a few weeks, exploring destinations like Hollywood and Sequoia National Park.

    Through the dense jungles of New Guinea to the tense airspace over the Philippines, Bong’s theater of operations was vast and unforgiving.

    In recognition of his exceptional bravery and outstanding accomplishments in World War II, Major Bong received numerous accolades for his valor and heroism, including the Distinguished Flying Cross with an Oak Leaf Cluster and the Air Medal with an Oak Leaf Cluster, among other decorations.

    At the age of 24, a mere four years after his initial solo flight, Richard Bong’s exceptional aerial skills led to him being bestowed with the Congressional Medal of Honor on December 12, 1944.

    This prestigious recognition was earned following his successful downing of eight enemy aircraft while in flight over the Leyte region of the Philippines.

    General Douglas MacArthur presented Bong, the nation’s highest honor, at Tacloban airfield on Leyte.

    During the ceremony, the Commander of all U.S. Army units in the Far East, discarding his prepared remarks, honored Major Richard Ira Bong with these words: “I now induct you, Major Richard Ira Bong, who has commanded the skies from New Guinea to the Philippines, into the esteemed company of the most courageous individuals, the recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor of the United States.”

    Tragically, Bong’s career as a fighter pilot ended not in combat, but in a test flight over Burbank, California. Testing the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, Bong perished when his aircraft’s engine failed during takeoff.

    Relevant articles:
    Bong — Maj Richard Ira Bong, Air Force Historical Support Division (.mil)
    Dick Bong… Americas Leading Ace…., ww2aircraft.net
    Richard Bong, acesofww2.com

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