From Life to Legacy: The Story of Richard I. Bong

Hailey Rose

September 6, 2023

Photo Credit: Discover Mediaworks

Major Richard I. Bong–the ace of aces–humbly served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Not only did he serve our great nation, he received a Medal of Honor for his notorious time of duty with a record-holding 40 victories. His roots run deep in American history and trace back to his humble beginnings in Northern Wisconsin. Join us as we uncover the captivating life and legacy of Richard I. Bong.

The Life of Richard I. Bong

Photo Credit: Discover Mediaworks

Richard’s beginnings all started in Northern Wisconsin. He was just a local Wisconsin boy born in the small town of Superior, Wisconsin on the Bong family farm. Throughout his childhood, he worked alongside his family and in the fields. Little did he know, he would find his aspiration soon soaring just above in the clouds. 

Miles away at the White House during this time, Calvin Coolidge served as the 30th president of the United States. Bong and Coolidge shared something in common–a love for Northern Wisconsin. In fact, Coolidge went as far as setting up his Summer White House in Superior so he could fish along the beautiful Brule River. 

In order to continue day-to-day operations, Coolidge had mail flown in by military planes so he could stay up-to-date with incoming news and messages. Coincidentally, these planes passed over the Bong family farm. 

In a way, you could say Coolidge holds responsibility for Bong’s original aspiration to become ace of aces, which he would later achieve. Each day, Richard watched as the planes passed over, pushing him to realize he wanted to spend his life in the sky.

His Long-Lasting Legacy

Photo Credit: Discover Mediaworks

After his service in World War II and playing an integral role in the United States Army Air Forces, he received both a Medal of Honor and recognition as America’s top flying ace. In addition, he became involved in funding for war efforts and speaking with experience. Along the way, he met his sweetheart, Marge, who was the main driver behind preserving his plane and paying tribute to Richard and all veterans. 

Fast forward to present day, Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center still defiantly stands today. The museum is run by the surrounding close-knit, caring community of Superior–Bong’s cherished hometown.Though at the life center of it all are the veteran volunteers that proudly honor and share stories. Such stories and dedicated time in the service continues to connect veteran volunteers with the museum and other visiting veterans that pass through. 

In several scenarios, the museum sparks a time of remembrance and openness for veterans to talk about their experiences. While offering an oral history program through the Library of Congress, the museum also allows the opportunity for veterans to sit down one-on-one and share their powerful stories. In honor of the local veterans, the museum houses a display made especially for them, which includes a photo and impactful write-up.

What began as a sole drive to preserve Bong’s plane has blossomed into chapters of the commemorative air force to restore even more vintage aircrafts of the past. The chapter takes aircrafts from eras back and renovates them into flying condition. Through the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, his legacy continues to live on.

Major Richard I. Bong will forever go down in American history as the ace of aces and in Wisconsin’s history. From his humble beginnings on the Bong family farm to his victorious time in combat, he has left a life-long legacy that will always live within the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center set in his hometown of Superior, Wisconsin.

Want to learn more about Richard I. Bong? Watch Discover Wisconsin’s moving original short ‘Richard Bong: Boy from Poplar’’ here:

*This article is brought to you with support from Enbridge. 

Hailey Rose: Writer for Discover Mediaworks. A born & bred Wisconsinite with a love for fishing, hunting, and enjoying the great outdoors.

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