America’s Highest Scoring Air Ace in World War II was a 4-H’er

The following story is from the National Compendium of 4-H Promotion and Visibility on the National 4-H History website at

The following story is from the November 2015 issue of the 4-H History Preservation Newsletter

Richard_I_BongMajor Richard I. Bong grew up on a farm in Poplar, Wisconsin, as one of nine children, a member of a strong 4-H family, as noted in a feature in National 4-H Club News. While at Superior State Teachers College, Dick Bong enlisted in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program. One of his flight instructors was Capt. Barry Goldwater (later U. S. Senator from Arizona). He received his wings and commission as second lieutenant on January 19, 1942, only weeks after the U.S. declared war on Japan. Dick Bong became the United States’ highest scoring ace, having shot down at least 40 Japanese aircraft during World War II [Surpassing Eddie Rickenbacker’s American record of 26 credited victories in World War I.] Bong was a fighter pilot in the U. S. Army Air Force and a recipient of the Medal of Honor, at a special ceremony in December, 1944, from General Douglas MacArthur.

Near the end of the war, Major Bong became a test pilot assigned to Lockheed’s Burbank, California, plant, where he flew P-80 Shooting Star jet fighters. On August 6, 1945, his plane’s primary fuel pump malfunctioned and Dick Bong was killed; news of his death shared headlines in newspapers across the country with the bombing of Hiroshima. Bong is well remembered and memorialized in several settings: the Richard Bong State Recreation Area on the old site of Bong Air Force Base in Kenosha County, Wisconsin; the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge in Duluth, Minnesota; Richard I. Bong Airport and Richard I. Bong Veteran Historical Center in Superior, Wisconsin; Richard I. Bong Bridge in Townsville, Australia; Richard Bong Theater in Misawa, Japan; as well as streets and avenues with his name in Glendale, Arizona, Anchorage, Alaska, Spokane, Washington, San Antonio, Texas, Mount Holly, New Jersey, and Okinawa, Japan.

4-H Alumni Distinguished Themselves in World War II and Beyond

As we celebrate Veterans’ Day this month we would like to remember and share short stories about some of the many 4-H alumni that served their country proudly in the Armed Services. The following excerpt comes from “Wartime 4-H Support – World War II” which is currently being researched and written by the National 4-H History Preservation Leadership Team for inclusion of the website.

When the United States entered World War II in December, 1941, many older 4-H members and 4-H alumni enlisted in our country’s military services, soon to be actively serving on the battlefields and seas of the war. There were an estimated 800,000 4-H alumni in total enlisted in the war effort.

Not surprising, many of these young men and women who had grown up on farms and experienced the “can do” attitude of successful 4-H projects and activities also became some of the heroes of the war.

Knocking out Japanese at Saipan and Tinian won a promotion for Marine gunnery sergeant Marion J. Franklin, former 4-H Club president at Mount Vernon, Illinois. As a scout with the fourth Marine Division artillery, he served with forward observer parties throughout the Marines’ campaign, and was a crack shot, specializing in hunting enemy snipers. Fighting throughout the war, Marion became old enough to vote on November 11, 1944, near the end of the war.

American boys of Japanese ancestry born in Hawaii made up the celebrated 100th Hawaii Infantry Division of the United States Army and one among them was Kenneth Otagaki, former 4-H Club member with a seven-year record of poultry project experience on the Island of Molokai. A graduate of the University of Hawaii, he was an assistant in the University’s dairy department, before enlisting. He closed out the war at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. because of combat wounds received at Cassina, where he lost a leg, an eye and several fingers.

Winner of the 100th Congressional Medal of Honor, Sgt. Oscar Godfrey Johnson, from Foster City, Michigan, was a member of the Sturgeon River Dairy Club five years and the Felch Forestry and Handicraft Clubs for each of several years. Sgt. Johnson’s citation tells a story of supreme courage. Detailed to a forward scouting battalion, his party was ambushed by Germans. All others were killed or wounded. He himself was responsible for killing 40 Germans, silencing six machine gun nests, and caring for the wounded. Later he was wounded and received the Purple Heart. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor from General Mark Clark.

The October 1945 issue of National 4-H Club News announced that Col. Creighton W. Abrams is now home in triumph in Agawam, Massachusetts. Abrams was a 4-H’er for several years, raising baby beef. During the war he served as tank battalion commander with Gen. Patton’s army. [Later, as a U. S. Army General, Abrams commanded the military operations in the Vietnam War from 1968-1972.]


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