Plaque honors American hero at courthouseRoger and Fran Searle knew the plaque on display at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Heritage Center wasn’t the kind of thing that should be in someone’s house.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Roger and Fran Searle knew the plaque on display at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Heritage Center wasn’t the kind of thing that should be in someone’s house.
When the Poplar couple had a chance to buy it, they had a plan in mind — give the gold plaque featuring Gen. Douglas McArthur giving Maj. Bong his Medal of Honor to the county where the World War II hero grew up.
McArthur awarded the medal to Bong on Dec. 8, 1944.
The county plans to display the plaque in the main foyer of the Douglas County Courthouse, 1313 Belknap St.
“Bong was a great hero in the nation and to Douglas County,” said Board Chairman Doug Finn, who accepted the plaque on behalf of the county.
Flying fascinated Bong as a boy. At age 20, he became a flying cadet with the U.S. Army Air Corps. When America entered World War II, Bong became America’s all-time Ace of Aces, downing 40 enemy planes in the Pacific theater.
“This is just a wonderful thing,” Bong’s sister, Joyce Erickson, told the couple following the acceptance. “That’s certainly nice of you.”
The Searles gift to the county took Bong’s sister, Jerry Fetchelkotter, by surprise.
“I see them all the time and I didn’t know about this,” she said.
Roger Searle, a veteran of WWII and Korea, said he’d never met Bong, who died Aug. 6, 1945, when the P-80 he was testing stalled and crashed.
Still, he couldn’t see the plaque in a home and came up with the idea of donating it to Douglas County where many people would be able to see it displayed in the courthouse.
“He was from Douglas County, born here in Superior and raised in Poplar,” Searle said.
“Being here, everyone can see it,” his wife Fran said. The couple is planning a trip back to the courthouse in Superior once the plaque is hung.
“Preserving local history is really important,” Finn said. “And Richard Bong is one of our great heroes in the history of the whole, entire country, as well as Douglas County.”
Finn said when Roger Searle contacted him about three months ago; he said he knew they could find a place to preserve a hero’s memory.
The plaque will hang on the wall opposite the Douglas County War Memorial, featuring the names of all veterans who gave their life to maintain the nation’s freedom.
“We’re very proud of him (Bong) just like we’re very proud of every one of them who goes into the service,” Fetchelkotter said. “Every one of them is our hero.”