The Northland Remembers America’s Ace of Aces Richard I. Bong
Northland Uncovered: The Richard I. Bong Veterans Center is in Superior
SUPERIOR, Wis. – What started as a plane and a dream has now turned into a haven for Northland veterans.
From Poplar, Wis. farm boy to America’s icon, U.S. Army Air Force Major Richard Bong was one of nation’s most decorated fighter pilots during World War II.
“He ended up becoming America’s ace of aces shooting down 40 confirmed enemy air crafts,” Richrd Bong Center executive director Hayes Scriven said.
Bong went down while testing P–80 fighter jet in California . He steered the plane away from a populated area and died on impact. This was the same day the nuclear bomb was dropped on Japan.
“We got a newspaper article– a high level newspaper– that shows: ‘Major Bong Killed’ and then it shows that the nuke was being dropped after that, so that just kind of tells you the level of where he was at when this war hero dies in a tragic way that was his status at the time in the nation,” Scriven said.
Bong normally flew P–38 fighter jets and in 1949, a replica P–38 was built as a memorial in Major Bong’s honor.
“This particular one was made right near the end of the war. It was gifted to the memorial– from the Air Force,” center board chair Terry Lundberg said.
The plane stood in Poplar for over 40 years, but eventually weathered down.
“The deterioration of the plane was getting more obvious. It needed to be protected– get it indoors,” Lundberg said.
In 2002, a series of grants allowed the construction of the Richard I. Bong Veterans Memorial Center in Superior.
“It went from a story about one person to stories about many people,” Lundberg said.
Today it has over 10 thousand artifacts including memorabilia from veterans involved in every war since the world wars.
“When they tell their story, you connect with that a lot better,” Scriven said.
And is run almost entirely by Northland vets sharing their own stories in addition to Major Bongs.
“I always had a great appreciation for the military and for our veterans, but I never really truly understood it until I started speaking with some of our current vets and what they’re going through and their struggles and what they went there so I can do what I do now. And that’s the connection I see when people leave out of here is they have a much better understanding and appreciation or what they do today,” Scriven said.
The Bong Center showcases only a handful of the stories veterans have to share here in the Northland. The center is always looking for new volunteers to share their experiences with the next generation.