Richard Ira “Dick” Bong

America’s “Ace of Aces”

24 SEP 1920 / 6 AUG 1945

People have asked us on occasion why we chose this picture of Dick Bong to highlight the page, rather than the more famous one of him sitting in the cockpit of his P‑38.

That’s an easy one…we wanted to let everyone know just how young this hero was when he did all of those amazing things. This image reflects that perfectly.

And how young he was when he died.

Medals and Decorations

With 40 aerial victories, this Wisconsin farm boy became America’s top ace, only to die in a tragic P-80 crash at home.   While in the war, he was the one to beat…but nobody ever did.  The pilot who came closest, Tommy McGuire, died on the mission where he might have tied Bong’s record.  Of course, then Bong probably would have insisted on going back up again to give it another go!

Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star (1 OLC)
Distinguished Flying Cross (6 OLC)
Air Medal (14 OLC)
American Campaign Medal
American Defense Service Medal
Distinguished Unit Citation (1 OLC)
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (1 Silver Service Star)
Philippine Liberation Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Australian Distinguished Flying Cross

About Marge Bong

Marge Bong

The Beautiful “Marge”
Dick Bong’s P-38 Namesake

Memories, The Story of Dick and Marge Bong

The Richard and Marge love story is one for the ages. If you’d like to read about it, you can pick up a copy (called Memories) here.

The Richard Bong wedding vows

The Bongs take their vows

Richard Bong with his P-38 Marge

Richard Bong prouddly displays
his beloved P-38 “Marge”

Richard and Marjorie Bonb

Dick and Marge Bonb enjoying a quiet moment together

Born Marjorie Vattendahl in Grand Forks, ND, Marge grew up in Superior, WI. She was teaching art at Superior Teachers College in late 1943 when she met Bong, who had been drafted while on home leave to crown the college’s new homecoming king. As the past year’s homecoming queen, Marge joined him on stage. She and Bong had their first date a few days later.

Marge, a tall, dark-haired beauty, became a national celebrity in 1944 when Bong proclaimed his love by plastering her picture on the nose of his P-38. He explained that she “looks swell, and a hell of a lot better than these naked women painted on most of the airplanes.” For the quiet and reserved Bong to so publicly advertise his feelings “really astonished everybody,” said Christabel Grant, executive director of the Richard I. Bong World War II Heritage Center in Superior.

In January 1945, after his final mission, Bong was sent home for good and married Marge on February 10, 1945 in a ceremony attended by 1,200 guests and the international press.

That P-38 subsequently gained worldwide fame as the “Marge,” and his wife became what Bong teasingly referred to as “the most shot-after girl in the South Pacific.” Bong’s P‑38, Marge, was the most well-known of all Lightnings during the war and remains so today, with the possible exception of Glacier Girl.

*Exerpted from a Los Angeles Times article written by Elaine Woo on OCT. 10, 2003.

Bong Merchandise

Dick Bong Ace of Aces book

“Great book!” -Amazon Review
by George C. Kenney

Check price on Amazon
Dear Mom: So We Have a War

Dear Mom: So We have a War
by Carl Bong

Check price on Amazon
Marge Bond P-38 Model

Marge Bong P-38 Model

Check price on Amazon
Richard Bong WWII Flying Ace

Richard Bong, WWII Flying Ace
by Pete Barnes

Check price on Amazon


Richard Ira Bong, who would become America’s “Ace of Aces,” was born on September 24, 1920, the son of a Swedish immigrant.

He grew up on a farm near the small town of Poplar, Wisconsin. Dick did well in high school, helped on the farm, and pursued many interests as a teenager.

He played on the school’s baseball, basketball and hockey teams; played clarinet in the school band; sang in the church choir; and enjoyed fishing and hunting.

Like many boys of his era, he became interested in aviation at a young age, and was an avid model builder. He started at Superior State Teachers College in 1938, where he enrolled in the Civilian Pilot training program, also taking private flying lessons.

In 1941, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program.  He did his primary flight training at Rankin Aeronautical Academy in California in June 1941, and completed Basic at Gardner Field, California.

He then went to Luke Field near Phoenix, Arizona, for Advanced Training in single-engine (fighter) planes, where he learned to master the AT-6 under Captain Barry Goldwater.

In January of 1942, just after Pearl Harbor, Dick earned his Army Air Corps commission and his coveted pilot’s wings. After a few months he got the chance to train in Lockheed’s big new fighter, the P-38.

While mastering the twin-engine craft at Hamilton Field, San Francisco, he first attracted the attention of General George Kenney, his future mentor and head of the Fifth Air Force. When General Kenney went to the Pacific in September, 1942, Bong was one of the pilots he tapped to join the 49th Fighter Group.

Second Lieutenant Bong was assigned to the 9th Fighter Squadron, the “Flying Knights,” and was sent to Australia to “hurry up and wait.” While waiting for P-38s to be delivered, Bong flew with Captain Thomas Lynch, 39th FS of the 35th FG, operating out of Port Moresby, New Guinea.

On December 27, 1942, while flying with the 35th, Bong scored his first aerial victories, a Zero and an Oscar; for this he earned a Silver Star.

Bong’s “kills” were evenly spread out throughout his time flying combat. Although most of Bong’s victories were in the earlier stages of the war against very experienced Japanese pilots, Bong was considered extremely lucky in finding the enemy. Some pilots hardly saw any enemy fighters in all their time flying combat.

General Kenney took him out of action again and promoted him to Major.

Bong returned to the Southwest Pacific on September 10, reporting to Gen. Kenney at Hollandia. Bong’s latest HQ assignment was advanced gunnery instructor, and while allowed to go on combat missions, he had orders to only defend himself, and not seek out the enemy.

Kenney decided over 200 missions and over 500 combat hours were enough for any individual. So for Bong’s safety he was finally grounded and ordered home in December 1944. General Kenney (his overall CO) later wrote Major Bong’s biography. Following his decorated career in the US Army Air Forces, Bong became a test pilot.

In an unfortunate coincidence of historic events, on August 6, 1945, while half a world away the Enola Gay was dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, Bong stepped into an airplane for the last time. The P-80 he was testing had the primary fuel pump malfunction just after take-off, and while he ejected he was just too close to the ground for his parachute to open. He didn’t survive.

After living through two years of dangerous combat flying, Richard Ira Bong met his tragic end while on a routine acceptance flight at the young age of 24. Marge learned of her husband’s death while listening to the radio at their Burbank apartment.

Bong’s funeral was held in the same church where he and Marge had been married a few short months earlier. There were thousands of mourners, and the streets were lined with many more bereaved people along the 20-mile route of the funeral cortege.  Bong was buried in the family plot at Poplar Cemetery.

Be sure to visit the Richard I. Bong Veteran’s Historical Center website for more great photos and information.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur awarding Medal of Honor to Bong

Bong receiving Medal of Honor medal from Gen. MacArthur

Richard Bong showing his aerial victories

Dick Bong with his
P-38, showing his victories

Dick Bong & Tommy McGuire

Bong & McGuire

Dick Bong in his P-38

Bong in his P-38

Funeral for Richard Ira Bong

Bong’s funeral.

Save the P-38

We have a page to thank our Association's financial contributors and will add your name when you make a contribution.  No donation is too small!

What would you pay for a good aviation DVD or book? If you enjoy this website, please consider a financial contribution of the same amount to help defray our increasing costs and ensure that this part of aviation history continues to be available to people all over the world.

Find it here:

Come visit us on Facebook!

Lots of good stuff happening all the time!




Origins of the Women Airforce Service Pilots Ferrying Division Air Transport Command Up until three o'clock in the afternoon of May 29, 1941, there was no organization of any kind in American military aviation to provide for either the delivery of planes or air...

Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson

Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson

Clarence Leonard "Kelly" Johnson 27 FEB 1910 – 21 DEC 1990 Kelly Johnson is credited with designing the first 400 MPH aircraft -- of course, our beloved P-38.Kelly Johnson's motto says it all: "Be quick, be quiet and be on time." At the remarkably young age of 33 he...

Test Pilot: Benjamin S. Kelsey

Test Pilot: Benjamin S. Kelsey

Benjamin "Ben" Kelsey 9 MAR 1906 – 6 MAR 1981 Benjamin "Ben" Kelsey is most well known by P-38 fans as the pilot who first flew the Lightning cross country.XP-38 Kelsey co-authored the technical specifications which led to the development of the P-38 Lightning.In...