Holding On To History: Richard Bong remembered on 78th anniversary of his death in plane crash

His last flight came August 6th, 1945, when his jet failed over a populated area.
Published: Aug. 7, 2023 at 9:15 PM CDT
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SUPERIOR, WI. (Northern News Now) - Major Richard Ira Bong is America’s real top gun Maverick. He and his P-38 fighter “Marge” claimed 40 aerial victories in the Pacific Theater of World War Two. That makes the Wisconsin native the nation’s all-time ace of aces.

“Major Bong was born in Superior and lived in Poplar on the family farm and he joined the Army Air Force early in the war.” said Briana Fiandt of the Bong Museum in Superior.

In the late days of the war, Bong was assigned to be a test pilot of early jet fighters. His last flight came August 6th, 1945, when his jet failed over a populated area.

“So, he stayed in the plane long enough to realign the plane to go into an empty field and doing so cost him enough altitude to get out.” said Fiandt.

News of the death of America’s aviation hero rated bigger headlines than even the dropping of the atomic bomb the same day. The Poplar VFW requested a surplus P-38 shortly after the war as a tribute to Major Bong. It perched on a pedestal over the town for decades in all weather.

“It was very rusted out so in the early 90′s they pulled it down off the pedestal and sent it up to the air base and we had about 20 volunteers spend about 20,000 hours restoring it.”

The restored Marge has been the star of the Bong Veterans Heritage Center for 20 years now. The passage of time has faded memories of Richard Bong in some but not all Americans.

“It’s about half and half, half know about Major Bong and other just wander in and wonder what we’ve got here.” said Duane Lasley, a worker at the Bong Center.

What we’ve got in Superior is a heritage center that pays tribute to the history of all service people along with Major Bong and that’s important to the museum’s youngest employee, 15 year old Dallas Jondreau.

“It’s nice to know what happened in the past and prevent it.” said Jondreau.

The P-38 “Marge” was named after Major Bong’s wife. She passed away in 2003.

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