Richard Ira Bong was rightly nicknamed America’s “Ace of Aces” during World War II. He is credited with shooting down 40 Japanese aircraft during combat while flying a P-38 Lightning fighter in the Pacific. He was one of the most decorated American pilots of all time and was awarded the Medal of Honor by General Douglas MacArthur in December 1944.

Richard Bong was killed on August 6, 1945, when a jet plane he was test-piloting in California, crashed soon after takeoff. He was only 24 years old at the time of his death.


An Early Love of Aviation

Richard Bong was born on September 24, 1920, in Superior, Wisconsin, the oldest of nine children. His parents had emigrated to the United States from Sweden. 

Richard, known as “Dick” by friends and family, was enamored with aviation at an early age. During summers in Wisconsin, he would watch the aircraft fly over the family farm en route to President Calvin Coolidge’s summer White House located nearby. 

After graduating from high school, he entered what is now known as the University of Wisconsin-Superior. While there, he enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training Program and took private flying lessons. 

In late May 1941, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program. One of his flight instructors was Captain Barry Goldwater, who later became a U.S. Senator and ran for the presidency against President Johnson in 1964.