Escaping death even once is already a stroke of luck, but for a man who can evade it at least seven times—now that’s legendary! A feat one rarely achieves, veteran hero Bud Day had gone through an extraordinary journey throughout his military career. He put his life on the line and fought not only one major war but three, including World War II, Korean War, and the most pivotal one, Vietnam War. This honorable man’s strength and courage amid adversity have earned him decorations, recognition, and respect and fostered inspiration for his fellow prisoners of war.
A Military Man and a Scholar
George Everette Day, born and raised in the northwestern part of Iowa on February 24, 1925, dropped out of high school at age 17 to enlist in the US Marine Corps months after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. Bud, as everyone calls him, was among the thousands of men shipped and served in the Pacific theater as part of a 5-inch gun battery. He, however, didn’t see combat and was honorably discharged over two months after the war’s end.
Upon returning to the States, Bud attended college and earned his bachelor’s degree before proceeding to law school at the University of South Dakota, where he received a Juris Doctor. Besides his eventual thriving military career, Day had built himself quite an impressive educational background. By late 1946, he joined the US Army Reserve until 1949, when he subsequently passed his bar exam and entered the bar in South Dakota. Bud would go on to earn his Master of Arts degree, a doctor of humane letters, and a doctor of laws, as well as being admitted to the Florida Bar, but that would all happen later after his retirement.
In May 1950, Bud received a direct commission as a second lieutenant and joined the Iowa Air National Guard. A year later, he took active duty in the US Air Force and attended pilot training, and by September 1952, he earned his wings.
When the Korean War broke out in early 1953, Bud served two tours as an F-84 Thunderjet pilot with the 559th Strategic Fighter Squadron until August 1955. Discovering a newfound calling and his eventual promotion to Captain, he decided to make the Air Force a career. He flew more fighter aircraft, including the F-100 Super Sabre, throughout his stay at Royal Air Force Wethersfield in the United Kingdom. Moreover, during this period, Bud escaped what could have been a freak accident and ended his thriving career. He was on a routine flight when his jet fighter caught fire, forcing the airman to bail out. Unfortunately, his parachute canopy failed, and Bud plunged to what he might have thought to his death. He was lucky enough that a 30-foot pine tree cushioned his fall, making him the first person to survive such an accident. Little did he know that this event would be the precursor of the extreme near-death experience he’s yet to go through.
After surviving his fall, Day became an assistant professor of aerospace science at the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) between 1959 and 1963. Then, as his retirement drew near in 1968, now-Major Bud Day placed his life on the line for one last time as he volunteered for deployment in Southeast Asia at the height of the Vietnam War. There, he served as an F-100 Assistant Operations Officer before taking the role as the first commander of the 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, or the Misty Super FACs, at Phu Cat Air Base in South Vietnam.
There, he braved the intense and grueling aerial assault efforts against the North Vietnamese for days on end until that fateful day in August 1967.
Bud Day was directing a flight of F-105 fighter-bomber aircraft over Northern Vietnam when his supersonic fighter F-100F got hit by a surface-to-missile that forced him to eject and bail out. Upon reaching the ground, he sustained severe injuries and had no choice but to surrender when hostile forces spotted his location. Even if we wanted to, he couldn’t run.
Like any other captured American, Bud endured excruciating and inhuman torture as the communist North Vietnamese tried to interrogate and force intelligence out of him, which he refused no matter what. He even tried to escape the hellish pit of the prison camp, which he successfully did, but Day eventually got recaptured and returned to the original camp from which he escaped. Finally, the airman reached the jungle and into the demilitarized zone, but because of his severe wounds and delirium, he lost his sense of direction. Ultimately, the Viet Cong found and shot him, adding injuries to his already weakened state.
Later, his captors transferred Day to the infamous Hanoi Hilton after he gave them false information. By then, the airman in his 40s could barely move due to his damaging injuries. His cellmate, Navy Lieutenant Commander John McCain, would have to assist Day and nurse him back to health. Nonetheless, he managed to demonstrate courage and maximum resistance against his captors, which his fellow POWs didn’t go unnoticed. Despite his state, Bud Day braved the torture and threats of his enemy in exchange for the safety of his fellow aviators, who continued to take on the skies and fight. He went above and beyond the call of duty, making him worthy of the Air Force Cross medal and the highest award of valor of all, the Medal of Honor.
Below is the excerpt from Day’s Medal of Honor citation awarded March 6, 1976.
“[Then] Colonel Day was forced to eject from his aircraft over North Vietnam when it was hit by ground fire […] was immediately captured by hostile forces and taken to a prison camp where he was interrogated and severely tortured […] His personal bravery in the face of deadly enemy pressure was significant in saving the lives of fellow aviators who were still flying against the enemy.”
Bud became the only person ever to receive both outstanding military recognition, making him the most-decorated airman in American military history. He also received Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, and Distinguished Flying Cross, among many others.
After more than 2,000 days in captivity, Bud Day finally returned home and was among the thousands of American POWs released during Operation Homecoming on March 14, 1973. However, he stayed and recuperated in a hospital for weeks before he went on to complete his Ph.D. in Political Science.
Day eventually retired from active duty just as he was being considered for promotion to brigadier general. Nonetheless, he continued to pursue his other career and practiced law in Florida. By then, the distinguished airman had nearly 8,000 flying hours under his belt. He had flown various types of fighter aircraft, including the F-80 Shooting Star, F-84 Thunderjet, F-100 Super Sabre, F-101 Voodoo, F-104 Starfighter, F-105 Thunderchief, F-106 Delta Dart, FB-111, F-4 Phantom II, A-4 Skyhawk, A-7 Corsair II, CF-5 Tiger, F-16, and F-15 Eagle jet fighters.
The veteran hero lived in Florida until his passing in 2013. He was buried at Barrancas National Cemetery at NAS Pensacola.
You might want to add “American Patriot” to your reading list and learn more about the life of Colonel Bud Day, his time in service, and how he rose a hero to hundreds of prisoners of war.