Why is there a road on Fairchild called “Bong” Street?

  • Published
  • By Daniel Simmons
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Historian
On Fairchild, there is a street with an unusual name -- Bong Street. It is named after Richard I. Bong, America's "Ace of Aces." While flying the P-38 fighter in the Pacific during World War II, Bong achieved 40 aerial victories, the most by any pilot in U.S. history.
     Bong grew up on a farm in Poplar, Wis. and began flight training in California in June 1941. He later went to advanced fighter training in Arizona where his gunnery instructor, Capt (later Senator) Barry Goldwater called him a "very bright student."
     After he transferred to P-38 training near San Francisco, Bong allegedly was involved in some wild flying episodes--flying under bridges, buzzing Market Street, and blowing washed clothing off of clothes lines. One housewife complained, which caught the attention of General George Kenney, Bong's future mentor and head of Fifth Air Force.
     According to an account, General Kenney called Bong into his office regarding the housewife's complaint and told him: "Monday morning you check this address out in Oakland and if the woman has any washing to be hung out on the line, you do it for her. Then you hang around being useful--mowing the lawn or something--and when the clothes are dry, take them off the line and bring them into the house. And don't drop any of them on the ground or you will have to wash them all over again. I want this woman to think we are good for something else besides annoying people. Now get out of here before I get mad and change my mind. That's all!"
     Lt. Bong arrived in the Pacific in September 1942 and achieved his first kill on Dec. 27. After that, his aerial victories came quickly. His greatest single day of action was on July 26, 1943 when he shot down four enemy fighters. In December of 1944, then-Major Bong received the Medal of Honor from Gen. Douglas MacArthur, with MacArthur saying, "Major Richard Ira Bong, who has ruled the air from New Guinea to the Philippines, I now induct you into the society of the bravest of the brave..." After Bong achieved his 40th and final aerial victory on Dec. 16, 1944, Lt. Gen. Kenney relieved him of duty in the Pacific and sent him home to begin public relations trips around the country.
     On Aug. 6, 1945, the same day the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb to end the war in the Pacific, Maj. Bong climbed into an airplane for the last time. His P-80 Shooting Star jet malfunctioned after takeoff, close to the ground, and Bong's bailout was unsuccessful. Bong, America's "Ace of Aces," was gone.
    At Fairchild Air Force Base, we can be proud to have a street named after this great Airman.
     Note: For a brief period after World War II, Fairchild AFB (then Spokane Air Force Base) was unofficially known as Bong Air Force Base.  The new Air Force was implementing a policy of naming installations after fallen military aviators, and Bong was the front runner until General Muir S. Fairchild, from Bellingham, Wash, died on active duty in 1950.