Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hiroshima bombing anniversary also that of Richard Bong death

By Jim Heffernan

August 6, 1945: Nationally recognized anniversary has local link...
Somewhere in my boxes of files I have a Xerox copy of the front page of the Los Angeles Times for Aug. 7, 1945. In bold headline type – probably 60 point – it states that World War II ace of aces Maj. Richard I. Bong had been killed the day before in the crash of an early jet plane he was testing.

Also on that front page, in smaller type (could be 36 point) a headline announces the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

This week most news outlets mentioned the 65th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing that was the start of a series of events – including the A-bomb devastation of Nagasaki a few days later – that brought World War II to an end in that August of 1945.

It was a truly momentous time, the dawn of the Atomic Age, worthy of sober recollection at each anniversary.

Lost in the shuffle – forgotten even in this, his native, region – was the fact that Aug. 6 was also the 65th anniversary of the death of Bong, the 24-year-old Army Air Corps (there was no branch of service called the Air Force in 1945) pilot who was the most decorated flying ace of the war for his exploits in the South Pacific.

He grew up in Poplar, just outside of Superior, and, since no one around here appears to have noted the 65th anniversary of his death, it seems worthwhile to recall that it is Bong whose name is on the western St. Louis River bridge connecting the Twin Ports -- just in case anybody has forgotten, or never has been told, just who they named the bridge for.

Bong would be 89 years old now, had he lived a normal life span and then some. Dying at 24, his picture vivid in the minds of those who pay attention to such things, he’ll be forever young.

Duluth - Superior Bong Bridge
Photo by Dennis O Hara
Northern Images Photography

To learn more about Richard Ira Bong, click HERE


Anonymous said...

How weird. I was just researching Richard Bong yesterday then I stumble on this blog. Bong learned to fly with guys like Chuck Yeager at this little AAF base called Gardner field (in the great San Joaquin Valley). The airfield is long gone but the memory of Richard Bong remains...

Have a nice day.


Jim Heffernan said...

Hello Johnny -- Thanks for writing. Don't know where you're from, but Bong looms pretty large around here. Yup, he flew with Yeager in California, but I believe he learned to fly back here in northern Wisconsin when he was quite young. You might recall that Yeager stated in his autobiography that Bong had somehow screwed up on that last jet test flight, causing his death. It became quite controversial at the time, I recall. We've got the Bong bridge, Superior's Bong airport, a Bong WW II museum (complete with a restored P-38), also in Superior, so he's pretty well honored, if not remembered by the younger generations, around here.

Enjoyed hearing from you. -- Jim Heffernan