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Richard I. Bong
P-38 Pilot 49th Fighter Group, 9th Fighter Squadron and 5th Fighter Command
Highest Scoring American Ace of World War II

Richard Ira Bong was born September 24, 1920 in Poplar, Wisconsin. Nicknamed "Dick". He was one of nine children, the son of immigrant parents from Swedish. He was employed at a farm before he joined the military.

Wartime History
On May 29, 1941 he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) as an aviation cadet with serial number 16022192. He attended flight school and earned his wings. On January 9, 1942 commission as a 2nd Lieutenant with service number O-433784. During May 1942 assigned to Hamilton Field for training to fly the P-38 Lightning.

During the summer of 1942, Bong was charged with flying a loop over the the Golden Gate Bridge. Bong thought he would have been subjected to a court martial and forced out of the Army, had it not been for the fact that on the very same day, three other pilots flew under the Golden Gate Bridge including John G. O'Neill, John H. Mangas and Mitchell. Later while home on leave in November 1943, he confided to family that he did not fly under the Golden Gate, but was turned-in for buzzing the house of a pilot friend that had just been married. 

Wartime History
Bong was then flown overseas as a passenger aboard a B-24 Liberator from the west coast via Hickam Field to Australia. Four P-38 pilots were crammed into the nose: Carl G. Planck, Jr., Norman D. "Sneezy" Hyland, Walter Markey and Richard Ira "Dick" Bong.  Upon arrival Bong and Planck were assigned to a newly formed P-38 fighter unit, the 17th Fighter Squadron (Provisional).

By November 1942 both were transferred to the 49th Fighter Group (49th FG), 9th Fighter Squadron (9th FS) “The Flying Knights” operating the P-40 Warhawk who were famous from their aerial defense of Darwin between March 1942 until August 1942. Afterwards, the 9th Fighter Squadron was one of two units in the 5th Air Force selected for conversion to the P-38 Lightning.  Planck and Bong were among a group of new pilots in the South-West Pacific Area (SWPA) with experience flying the new twin engine fighter.  They began helping American fighter pilots convert from the P-40 Warhawk and P-39 Airacobra to the P-38 Lightning.

Assigned Aircraft
During his three combat tours in the South-West Pacific Area (SWPA), Bong flew or was assigned at least three P-38 Lightnings:
P-38F 42-12653  piloted by Bong January 8, 1943 ultimate fate unknown, likely scrapped.
P-38J "Marge" 42-103993  assigned to Bong and named after his wife. On March 22, 1944 crashed piloted by Tom Malone, 421st NFS.
P-38J "Marge" 42-104380  during 1945 crashed on a checkout flight over Manlia Bay.

Aerial Victory Claims
Bong was credited with a a total of 40 aerial victories and was the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) highest scoring pilot during World War II. All of his aerial victory claims were made piloting the P-38 Lightning over New Guinea, New Britain and the Philippines. His aerial victory claims include:

Victory Date Location Aircraft Notes on claim
1 12/27/42 Buna Zero First aerial victory claim, IJN A6M Zero from 582 Kokutai
2 12/27/42 Buna Ki-43-I Oscar Second aerial victory claim, JAAF Ki-43-I Oscar from 11th Sentai
3 01/07/43 Lae Oscar Third aerial victory claim, JAAF Ki-43-I Oscar
4 01/07/43 Lae Oscar Fourth aerial victory claim, JAAF Ki-43-I Oscar
5 01/08/43 Lae Oscar Fifth aerial victory claim, became an "ace"
6 03/03/43 Huon Gulf Zero Sixth aerial victory claim.
7 03/11/43 Oro Bay Zero Seventh aerial victory claim.
8 03/11/43 Oro Bay Zero Eighth aerial victory claim.
9 03/29/43 Oro Bay Doris [sic] Ninth aerial victory claim likely for Ki-46 Dinah promoted 1st Lieutenant.
10 04/14/43 Milne Bay Betty Tenth aerial victory claim off Cape Frere. Earned Air Medal.
11 06/12/43 Bena Bena Ki-43 Oscar Eleventh aerial victory claim. Promoted to the rank of Captain.
12 06/26/43 Markham Valley Ki-61 Tony Twelfth aerial victory claim.
13 06/26/43 Markham Valley Ki-61 Tony Thirteenth aerial victory claim.
14 06/26/43 Markham Valley A6M Zero [sic] Fourteenth aerial victory claim likely Ki-43 Oscar
15 06/26/43 Markham Valley A6M Zero [sic] Fifteenth aerial victory claim likely Ki-43 Oscar
16 06/28/43 Rein Bay Ki-43 Oscar Sixteenth aerial victory claim.
17 10/02/43 Cape Hoskin Ki-46 Dinah Seventeenth aerial victory claim.
18 10/29/43 Rabaul A6M Zero Eighteenth aerial victory claim.
19 10/29/43 Open Bay A6M Zero Nineteenth aerial victory claim.
20 11/05/43 Rabaul A6M Zero Twentieth aerial victory claim.
21 11/05/43 Rabaul A6M Zero Twenty-first aerial victory claim.
22 02/15/44 Cape Hoskin Ki-61 Tony Twenty-second aerial victory claim.
23 03/03/44 Tadji Airfield Ki-21 Sally Twenty-third aerial victory claim.
24 03/03/44 Tadji Ki-21 Sally Twenty-fourth aerial victory claim.
25 04/03/44 Hollandia Ki-43 Oscar Twenty-fifth aerial victory claim.
26 04/12/44 Hollandia Ki-43 Oscar Twenty-sixth aerial victory claim.
27 04/12/44 Hollandia Ki-43 Oscar Twenty-seventh aerial victory claim. Wreckage salvaged by divers to confirm
28 04/12/44 Tanahmerah Bay Ki-43 Oscar Twenty-eighth aerial victory claim promoted to Major.
29 10/10/44 Manggar Airfield Irving / Sally Twenty-ninth aerial victory claim.
30 10/10/44 Manggar Ki-43 Oscar Thirtieth aerial victory claim.
31 10/27/44 Biliran Island Ki-43 Oscar Thirty-first aerial victory claim.
32 10/28/44 Leyte Island Ki-43 Oscar Thirty-second aerial victory claim.
33 10/28/44 Masbate Island Ki-43 Oscar Thirty-third aerial victory claim.
34 11/10/44 Ormoc Bay Ki-61 Tony Thirty-fourth aerial victory claim.
35 11/11/44 Ormoc Bay A6M Zero Thirty-fifth aerial victory claim.
36 11/11/44 Ormoc Bay A6M Zero Thirty-sixth aerial victory claim.
37 12/07/44 Bohol Island Ki-21 Sally Thirty-seventh aerial victory claim.
38 12/07/44 Ormoc Bay Ki-44 Tojo Thirty-eighth aerial victory claim.
39 12/15/44 Panubulon Island Ki-43 Oscar Thirty-ninth aerial victory claim.
40 12/17/44 San Jose Ki-43 Oscar Fortieth aerial victory claim, his final aerial victory claim of World War II.

On December 27, 1942 Planck, Bong with ten 39th Squadron pilots took off from 14 Mile Drome (Schwimmer) near Port Moresby on a mission over Buna. Also flying that day were P-40 Warhawk pilots from the 7th and 9th Fighter Squadrons. The P-38 and P-40 pilots engaged in a dog fight with Japanese aircraft including D3A Vals and A6M Zeros from the 582 Kokutai and Ki-43 Oscars from the 11th Sentai. This mission was the first major P-38 Lightning combat in New Guinea. Bong claimed his first two victories, claiming a Zero (aerial victory claim no. 1) and an Oscar (aerial victory claim no. 2) and earned the Silver Star (at this stage of the war, the 5th Air Force was awarding the Silver Star for two aerial victories claimed on the same mission).

On January 7, 1943 Bong and Planck took off from 14 Mile Drome with six other P-38s on a combat air patrol (CAP) over Lae led by Captain Thomas Lynch. They engaged Japanese fighters defending the unloading of a convoy from Rabaul. During the air combat, he claimed two Oscars over the Huon Gulf (aerial victory claim no. 3 and aerial victory claim no. 4).

On January 8, 1943 Bong took off from 14 Mile Drome piloting P-38F 42-12653 on a mission over Lae. Over the target, he claimed his fifth aerial victory making him an ace.

On March 3, 1943 during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea Bong claimed an A6M Zero, his sixth confirmed aerial victory.

Click For EnlargementOn March 6, 1943 the 9th Fighter Squadron and 49th Fighter Group Headquarters moved from 14 Mile Drome to their new base at Horanda Drome (Dobodura No. 4) and camped nearby. The area was quickly developed from kunai grass into a major U.S. Army base area. Initially, the area lacked any facilities and tractors carrying fuel drums were used to refuel the squadron's Lightnings. This new base allowed aircraft to operate from the north coast of New Guinea. A month later, rest of the 49th Fighter Group including the 7th Fighter Squadron and 8th Fighter Squadron moved from Port Moresby to Horanda Drome (Dobodura No. 4).

On March 11, 1943 Bong took off piloting P-38 Lightning Squadron Number 80 from Horanda Drome (Dobodura No. 4) as part of "Green Flight" of the 9th Fighter Squadron led by Lt. Fowler with Carl Planck as his wingman with Hanning and Overson. After climbing to 26,000', they were vectored to intercept twenty-four G4M1 Betty bombers escorted by A6M Zeros flying at 15,000' east of Oro Bay. A formation of Woods, Mankin and Bong in close echelon formation attacked a Betty bomber. Bong fired at an inverted Zero in a dive and pulled out at 475 mph above sea level. After pulling up and reversing course, he made a head on pass at an A6M Zero with a centerline drop tank and fired a long burst at it causing it to erupt in flames. Then fired on another A6M Zero with a centerline drop tank with a short burst, followed by an attack on seven other Zeros head on with a 20 degree deflection shot at the nearest plane and accelerated away. As he departed the area, one of the Zeros fired on his P-38 from the left quarter and hit his plane, causing a coolant leak on the left engine. Returning from the mission, he landed at Horanda Drome with a single engine. Bong was credited for two victories for this mission, his seventh and eight victory claims.

On March 29, 1943 Bong claimed another aerial victory, a "Doris", his ninth aerial victory claim. Afterwards, he was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant.

On April 14, 1943 Bong took off from Horanda Drome (Dobodura 4) leading "Green Flight" on a mission to intercept an incoming Japanese air raid sighted over Goodenough Island. After take off two from Bong's element: 2nd Milliff and 2nd Lt. Nutter experience engine trouble and aborted the mission leaving only Bong and Planck to proceed together but Planck's P-38 had its own problems with a non-functioning generator causing a loss of power.  Nevertheless, he formed up on Bong's wing and climbed to 25,000' to serve as high cover. Unable to find the enemy, the P-38s were vectored to Milne Bay and intercepted a formation of three waves of G4M1 Betty bombers and attacked from the rear. Planck's starboard supercharger emitted smoke and flames and aborted the mission. Bong fired on G4M1 Betty left flank wingman and opened fire with all his guns hitting the cockpit and left engine and caused it to pull out of formation into an overcast when it was attacked by other fighters before crashing into Milne Bay. Afterwards, Bong was intercepted by A6M Zeros and hit by a 20mm cannon shell in his elevator. The damage prevented him from attacking more of the bombers. Bong was awarded his tenth aerial victory for the Betty and earned the Air Medal.

On June 5, 1943 Bong took off on a two hour patrol mission to observe a rescue party aiding 2nd Lt. Paul Yeager who bailed out of P-38G Lightning 43-2269 near Big Embi Lake on June 2, 1943. Observing a large crocodile in their path, Bong made a firing pass using his 20mm cannon to destroy the animal. His 'croc kill' was written up in Australian newspapers.

On June 12, 1943 Bong claimed an aerial victory, his eleventh confirmed kill. Afterwards promoted to the rank of Captain.

On July 26, 1943 Bong took off on a mission and was credited with four enemy aircraft, his twelve, thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth aerial victory credits.

On July 28, 1943 took off from Horanda Drome (Dobodura 4) on a mission to escort B-25s on a mission against Cape Gloucester. Over the north coast of New Britain off Cape Raoult at 8:15am, the P-38s spotted twelve to eighteen Ki-43 Oscars and the P-38s released their drop tanks and attacked. During the combat, two Oscars attacked Bong until Captain Watkins came to his aid. Afterwards, Bong made a head on pass against another Oscar and claimed it as shot down, his sixteenth aerial victory. Reference: Combat Report Captain Watkins July 28, 1943, 49th Fighter Group Aces of the Pacific inside cover).

On October 2, 1943 Bong claimed an aerial victory, his seventeenth aerial victory credit.

On October 29, 1943 Bong claimed two aerial victory credits his eighteenth and nineteenth aerial victory credits.

On November 5, 1943 Bong took off from Kiriwinia Airfield as flight leader of "Red Flight" on an mission to escort B-24 Liberators over Rabaul. Over the target, Bong claimed two victories, his twenty and twenty-first aerial victories. His wingman, P-38E "Sooner" 42-12655 piloted by 2nd Lt. George C. Haniotis went Missing In Action (MIA).

On November 7, 1943 Bong took off from Kiriwinia Airfield with wingman 1st Lt. Ralph H. Wandrey leading a mission to escort B-24 Liberators over Rabaul. Over Simpson Harbor, no enemy planes were spotted so the P-38s flew between the peaks of Mother (Mount Kombiu) and Daughter volcanoes then made a low pass over the Malaguna Road the main street in Rabual and claimed to observe vehicles pulling off the road to take cover before pulling up with anti-aircraft fire busting behind them. Afterwards, the formation returned without any interception. (Reference: Protect & Avenge page 214)

On December 4, 1943 Bong departed the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) and was flown back across the Pacific to the United States two days later. He returned home and in late December 1943 visited upstate New York to visit his friend and fellow 9th Fighter Squadron pilot John G. O'Neill and his family. On December 21, 1943 he returned to Ithaca Airport to visit the Ithaca Flying Service where he learned to fly in 1940. Fellow pilot and friend Richard Ira "Dick" Bong accompanied him and the pair went on a War Bond tour in the United States.

Returning to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA), Bong started his second tour of duty assigned to 5th Fighter Command (V FTR) and continued to fly combat missions over New Guinea, Netherlands East Indies (NEI) and the later the Philippines.

Click For EnlargementAssigned P-38J 42-103993 that he nicknamed it "Marge" in honor of his wife. Later, this aircraft was transfered to the 421st Night Fighter Squadron. Another aircraft, P-38J 42-104380 was assigned to him and also nicknamed "Marge" and operated from Nadzab Airfield.

On February 15, 1944 Bong claimed an aerial victory, his twenty-second aerial victory.

On March 3, 1944 Bong claimed two aerial victories, his twenty-third and twenty-fourth aerial victories.

On March 13, 1944, March 14, 1944, March 15, 1944 and March 16, 1944 Bong flew with a pair of P-38s from the 421st Night Fighter Squadron (421st NFS) on early morning weather reconnaissance flights to Tadji and offered tips to the newly arrived pilots. On March 23, 1944 2nd Lt. Tom Malone flew P-38J "Marge" 42-103993 on a weather reconnaissance mission. On March 24, 1944 again 2nd Lt. Tom Malone flew P-38J "Marge" 42-103993on a weather reconnaissance mission but suffered mechanical and electrical issues and bailed out. Afterwards, Bong was angry about the loss of his regular plane, but acknowledged it had some issues when he flew it previously.

On March 8, 1944 Bong took off from Nadzab Airfield with P-38J 42-103987 pilot Lt. Col Thomas J. Lynch on a fighter sweep over Aitape. Over the target, Bong witness him bail out at low altitude and hit the jungle, and his aircraft crash into a mangrove swamp.

Promoted to the rank of Major by General George C. Kenney.

On April 3, 1944 Bong claimed an aerial victory, his twenty-fifth aerial victory.

On April 12, 1944 Bong claimed three aerial victories, his twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh and twenty-eight aerial victories. He also claimed a Ki-43 Oscar as a probable. With these three victory claims, he exceeded the 26 aerial victory claims of American World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker and instead Bong became America's highest scoring ace pilot.

Bong was sent home for leave in the United States and to meet General Arnold.

Third Tour of Duty
Bong returned to the South West Pacific for a third tour of duty in the Philippines.

On October 10, 1944 claimed two aerial victories, his twenty-nine and thirty victories.

On October 27, 1944 claimed an aerial victory, his thirty-first aerial victory.

On October 28, 1944 claimed two victories, his thirty-second and thirty-third victories.

On November 10, 1944 claimed a victory, his thirty-fourth victory.

On November 11, 1944 claimed two victories, his thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth victories.

Click For Enlargement Medal of Honor
On December 12, 1944 at Tacloban Airfield on Leyte Bong had the Medal of Honor bestowed on him by General Douglas MacArthur. During the presentation, he tossed away his written remarks and said, "Major Richard Ira Bong, who has ruled the air from New Guinea to the Philippines, I now induct you into the society of the bravest of the brave, the wearers of the Congressional Medal of Honor of the United States."

CitationMedal of Honor Citation (October 10 - November 15, 1944)
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty in the Southwest Pacific area from 10 October to 15 November 1944. Though assigned to duty as gunnery instructor and neither required nor expected to perform combat duty, Maj. 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 8 enemy airplanes during this period."

On December 7, 1944 during the Battle of Ormoc Bay Bong claimed two aerial victories his thirty-seventh and thirty-eighth victory claims.

On December 15, 1944 Bong claimed an aerial victory, his thirty-ninth victory.

On December 17, 1944 Bong claimed an aerial victory, his forty aerial victory claim.

Click For EnlargementMemorials
The Richard I. Bong Heritage Center honors the memory of Major Bong. At the museum, P-38L 44-53236 was restored to the markings of "Marge". Previously, P-38L 44-27231 was also painted as "Marge". The American Legion Post #435 of Superior is named in Bong's honor.

NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Richard I. Bong
USAF Historical Study No. 85 USAF Credits For The Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II Alphabetical: Bong, Richard I. pages 25 (PDF page 30) Chronological List: 11/10/44 page 478 (PDF page 483), 04/03/44 page 428 (PDF page 433) 04/12/44 page 430 (PDF page 435)
Combat Report Captain Watkins July 28, 1943
The Evening Advocate (Innisfail, Qld) "U.S. Pilot Shoots Up Crocodile from Air" June 22, 1943 page 2
"NEW GUINEA. — First-Lieutenant Richard Bong, a U.S. .fighter pilot, who has shot down 10 enemy aircraft in the Southwest Pacific, has become the foundation member of the Crocodile Club.
With cannon fire from his Lightning fighter, he strafed and killed a crocodile which was trailing a frail rubber boat which contained three pilots who were bound on a rescue mission.
Previously a pilot from Lieutenant Bong's unit was reported lost in the jungle, and the pilot who located him radioed that he could best be reached by boat across a lake, as it would take hours to reach the spot through the jungle.
Three pilots of the unit inflated a small collapsible boat and set out to rescue their comrade. They saw what they took to be a huge log floating towards them from the edge of the lake, but paid it no attention.
The pilot who had started the rescue party saw the crocodile and radioed warnings to circling Lightnings. Lieutenant Bong skimmed across the surface of the lake, and with a short burst from his 20 mm. cannon destroyed the crocodile."
The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld) "Lightning Kills 'Gator" June 10, 1943 page 3
"NEW GUINEA, Wednesday — A United States fighter pilot has become the foundation member of the Alligator Club.
With cannon fire from his Lightning [he] killed a giant alligator trailing a rubber boat containing three pilots on a rescue mission. The pilot is First Lieutenant Richard Bong, who has shot down 10 enemy aircraft in the South-west Pacific.
A pilot from Bong's unit was reported lost in the jungle, and the Piper Cub (trainer plane) pilot who located him radioed that he could best be reached by boat across a lake.
Three pilots of the unit inflated a small collapsible boat and set out to rescue their comrade. They reported later that they had seen 'a huge log' floating towards them from the edge of the lake. One thought it was a native canoe.
The pilot of the Cub spotted the reptile and radioed to circling Lightnings for a strafing job. Skimming across the surface of the lake, Bong sent a 20 M.M. cannon burst into the alligator. The missing airman was rescued by another group of Americans."
General Kenny Reports (1949) pages iii, xii, 6, 12, 73, 125-126, 164, 171-172, 177, 319, 345-346, 362-364, 387, 393-394, 435-436, 339-441, 468-469, 470, 471-472, 475-476, 488-490, 495-496, 498, 503, 569, 571, 581
FindAGrave - Maj Richard Ira Bong (photos, grave photos)
Dear Mom: So We Have A War (1991) by Carl Bong (brother) biography of Richard I. Bong
Protect and Avenge (1995) page 92, 97, 101-102, 104, 108, 110-111, 117, 125-126 (March 11, 1943), 132-133, 138, 140, 164-165, 178, 188-191, 195-197, 207-208, 210-214 (last 9th FS), 232, 242 (photo), 245 (photo victory record), 268-271, 276-278, 289-292, 297, 299, 302 (Medal of Honor)
Stars & Bars (1995) pages 36 (9th FS, 49th FG), 154-155 (Bong)
49th Fighter Group Aces of the Pacific (2004) inside cover (July 28, 1943 mission)
Aces High: The Heroic Saga of the Two Top-scoring American Aces of World War II (2009) pages 121-122
The 421st Night Fighter Squadron in World War II (2010) by Jeff Kolln pages 29-30 (Bong March 13-16, 1944 missions with 421st NFS, loss of P-38 "Marge")
Initial Japanese Army Air Operations by Richard Dunn
Operation A by Richard Dunn

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