Why is that road on base called "Bong" Street?

  • Published
  • By Dan Simmons and Jim O'Connell
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Historian Office
Bong Street is named after Richard I. Bong, America’s “Ace of Aces.” While flying the P-38 Lightning fighter in the Pacific during World War II, Bong achieved 40 aerial victories, the most by any pilot in United States history.

Bong grew up on a farm in Poplar, Wisconsin, 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 clotheslines. One housewife complained, which caught the attention of Gen. George Kenney, Bong’s future mentor and head of Fifth Air Force.

According to an account, 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. 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!”

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 1944, then-Maj. Bong received the Medal of Honor from Gen. Douglas MacArthur, with MacArthur saying, “Maj. 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 fortieth and final aerial victory on Dec. 16, 1944, 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, Bong climbed into an airplane for the last time. His P-80 Shooting Star jet malfunctioned after takeoff, and Bong’s bailout was unsuccessful.

Bong, America’s “Ace of Aces,” was gone.

On Fairchild Air Force Base, we can be proud to have a street named after this great Airman.

On Sept. 1, 1948, the base post office was renamed in honor of Bong. Because of that name change, people started addressing their mail to Bong, Washington, and the base became unofficially known as Bong AFB.

In June 1949, the Air Force asked the public to rename Spokane AFB. Several local war heroes were suggested following the Air Force’s new policy of naming installations after fallen military aviators. Bong was the frontrunner until Gen. Muir S. Fairchild, from Bellingham, Washington, died on active duty in 1950.