Dual flag honors hero, crewThe Flag of Honor Program has a double feature planned for Friday at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center. At 9 a.m., members of the Richard I. Bong American Legion Post 435 will lift a flag in honor of those who served on the USS Bayfield.
By: Superior Telegram, Superior Telegram
The Flag of Honor Program has a double feature planned for Friday at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center. At 9 a.m., members of the Richard I. Bong American Legion Post 435 will lift a flag in honor of those who served on the USS Bayfield.
Fifteen minutes later, a second flag will be lofted on the center’s interior flagpole to celebrate the legion’s namesake, America’s Ace of Aces Richard Ira Bong of Poplar. Friday is the 90th anniversary of his birthday.
The Bayfield was acquired by the U.S. Navy in 1943 and converted to an attack transport. The vessel took part in the Normandy Invasion, serving as a supply and hospital ship as soldiers were transported to “Utah” beach and providing protective smoke to protect Allied soldiers from Luftwaffe attacks.
During World War II, the Bayfield and her crew served as part of “Camel” Force in southern France and with the campaigns at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
The outbreak of hostilities in Korea called the Bayfield and her crew back to the Pacific in 1950. The vessel provided logistic support to United Nations forces in Korea, and in 1954, assisted with the evacuation of refugees that resulted from the partition of Vietnam into a communist north and democratic south.
The Bayfield earned four battle stars for World War II service, four for Korean service and two for service in Vietnam. She was placed out of commission in 1968 and scrapped.
As many as 50 members of the USS Bayfield Veterans Group will be meeting at the historical center at 8:30 a.m. Friday for the flag-raising, which is one stop in a four-day reunion the group is holding in the Twin Ports area. The annual event pulls together shipmates for activities and remembrances.
Bong grew up on a farm in Poplar dreaming of airplanes. His dreams took flight when Bong earned his private pilot’s license from Superior State College.
The Poplar native joined the Army Air Corps on May 29, 1942. Following flight training, he was handpicked by Gen. George C. Kenney to fly a P-38 ‘Lightning’ plane.
Bong served in the Pacific Theater of World War II from bases in New Guinea and the Philippines. From December 1942 to December 1944, Bong shot down 40 enemy aircraft to become the leading American air ace of all time. It’s a fete that hasn’t been achieved since.
Pulled from the war effort, Bong was assigned to Burbank, Calif., as a test pilot for Lockheed Aircraft. On Aug. 6, 1945, the same day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Bong was killed when the experimental P-80 Shooting Star aircraft he was piloting crashed during take-off.
The two flags will remain up in their memory for a week, and information on the USS Bayfield and Bong will be on display in the center’s main lobby during that time.