After schooling in his hometown, Dick Bong enlisted as a flying cadet at nearby Wausau, Wisc., May 29, 1941. He took flying training at Tulare and Gardner Fields, Calif., and Luke Field Ariz., receiving his wings and commission on Jan. 9, 1942. He instructed other pilots at Luke until May when he went to Hamilton Field, Calif., for combat training in P-38s.
He went to the Pacific as a fighter pilot with the 9th Fighter Squadron of the 49th Fighter Group in Australia. In November 1942, Major Bong was reassigned to the 39th Squadron of the 35th Group and he destroyed five Japanese fighter planes before returning to the 9th Squadron in January 1943. He flew with the 9th until November, being promoted to first lieutenant in April and to captain in August.
On Nov. 11, 1943, he was given 60 days' leave and reassigned to Headquarters V Fighter Command, New Guinea, as assistant operations officer in charge of replacement airplanes. In this assignment Major Bong continued to fly combat missions in P-38s and increased his enemy aircraft kills to 28. In April 1944, he was promoted to major and sent home to instruct others in the art of aerial superiority, with assignment to Foster Field, Texas.
In September 1944. he returned to the Pacific with the Fifth Fighter Command as gunnery training officer. Though not required to perform further combat flying, he voluntarily put in 30 more combat missions over Borneo and the Philippine Islands, destroying 12 more planes to bring his total to 40.
Gen. George C. Kenney, his overall CO who later wrote Major Bong's biography, decided over 200 missions for a total of over 500 combat hours were enough for any individual and ordered him returned to the United States, in December 1944, with recommendation for the Medal of Honor for his second overseas tour. Major Bong then became a test pilot at Wright Field, Ohio. In June 1945, he went to Burbank, Calif., as Chief of Flight Operations and Air Force Plant Representative to Lockheed Aircraft Company, then engaged in developing and manufacturing P-80 jet aircraft.
Major Bong received a full training course for P-80s at Muroc Lake Flight Test Base, Calif., but died that August when his plane's engine failed during a flight over Burbank.
In combat he had earned the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, seven Distinguished Flying Crosses and 15 Air Medals, in addition to the Medal of Honor. This citation reads: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action in the Southwest Pacific area from Oct. 10 to Nov. 15, 1944. Though assigned to duty as gunnery instructor and neither required nor expected to perform combat duty, Major 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 enemy airplanes totaling eight during this period." The Medal of Honor was personally awarded to him by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific, who lauded him as the greatest fighter ace of all Americans.
Major Bong is the top American ace of all wars with 40 enemy aircraft destroyed in aerial combat.
See the full citation from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website.
For more information see the National Museum of the USAF website.