• Dick Bong writes home

    Posted on May 17th, 2014 John Dorcey No comments

    In the nearly 12 months since Dick Bong had been away from home he had written home about twice a week. He had written additional letters to his siblings, friends and other Bong relatives. In his letter of May 17, 1942 he provides more of his impressions of the P-38 Lightning and we get a glimpse of the 21-year-old’s ties with home.

    Dear Mom:
    Well I now have 7 hours in the P-38. It certainly is quite an airplane. It’s the fastest I have ever flown and is the easiest plane to fly that I have yet flown. However, it is nothing to get careless with. One boy was killed out here yesterday.

    P-38E lands at Hamilton AAF, California; USAAF photo

    P-38E lands at Hamilton AAF, California
    USAAF photo

    Dick continued his letter with comments about cookies in a care package…”I guess I told you that (the) cookies arrived and were promptly did away with in the proper manner.” Other comments regarded relatives living in California and acquaintances from home entering the military. Like most in the service, Bong wanted to ensure everyone had his correct mailing address. “Be sure when you write to me”, he wrote, “you address the letters to the 49th Pursuit Squadron here at the field.” He continued with a question that implies he missed his parents.

    How about that deal of coming out here? … Dad ought to be able to get away for two weeks right after the seeding is done. Let me know about it anyway. I have no expenses here to amount to anything so I could send you a $100 now and another hundred the first of the month. After that, I won’t have any use for money at all, I suppose. I’ll have to send my radio home before I leave too, I suppose.

    I guess that is all for now.

    Love, Dick

    It will be 29 days before Dick’s next letter home. An unusual event with a valid reason. Maybe it was the P-38’s speed, maybe it was the ease with which Bong found it flew, maybe it was his youthful exuberance. What ever the cause, a few weeks after writing this letter young 2nd Lieutenant Bong found himself in hot water. So much so that he would soon be standing at attention in front of the 4th Air Force Commander, Major General George C. Kenney. It would prove to be a meeting that would extend far beyond the office walls.

    70th Anniverssary MOH logoThe Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame is celebrating the 70th anniversary of Richard Bong being awarded the Medal of Honor on December 12, 1944. Touring Wisconsin with the Bong Anniversary Tour is just part of this educational effort. Learn more about the tour, where you can experience the story through a multimedia presentation, and other Bong information at the website.


  • Lt. Bong, meet the Lockheed P-38

    Posted on May 12th, 2014 John Dorcey No comments
    Hamilton AAF main gate

    Hamilton AAF main gate
    Photo courtesy the California State Military Museum

    It was 74 years ago today, May 12, 1942, that 2nd Lt Richard Bong first flew the Lockheed P-38 Lighting. In the book, Dear Mom – So We Have a War, his letters home set the stage for the big day in this young pilot’s life.

    2nd Lt. R.I. Bong
    49th Sqdn, 14th Group
    Hamilton Field, Cal.

    Dear Mom:
    Well, I’m here and settled in my new barracks. This is an old post and it is pretty complete and also pretty nice. I got my assignment today. I’m assigned to the 49th Pursuit Squadron of the 14th Pursuit Group stationed here at Hamilton. We start training tomorrow. Start out in ships like the airlines and then get shipped into P-38s. That is all they have here and so that is all we can fly.

    Richard Ira Bong entered the US Army Air Corps (USAAC) on May 29, 1941 at Wausau, Wisconsin. He had earned his Private Pilot Certificate through the Civilian Pilot Training program (CPTP) conducted at Superior State Teachers College (UW-Superior) in Superior, Wisconsin.

    Flight Cadet Bong went immediately to the Rankin Aeronautical Academy in Tulare, California, for primary training and became a member of Class 42A. He soloed the Stearman PT-17 “Kaydet” less than a month later on June 25, 1941. Next was basic training at Gardner Army Air Field (AAF), arriving on August 20. Here Cadet Bong flew the Vultee BT-13A “Valiant” and soloed this airplane on September 3, 1941. He then went to Luke AAF for advanced training in the North American AT-6A “Texan” arriving on November 4. Graduating from flight school on January 9, 1942 Bong received his wings and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant.

    Lockheed C-40, image courtesy National Museum of the USAF

    Lockheed C-40
    Image courtesy National Museum of the USAF

    2nd Lt Bong stayed at Luke as an instructor, building his skills as a pilot and adding one more aircraft type, the P-36, and flight time to his logbook. He arrived at Hamilton with 501 hours of military flight time, all of it in single engine aircraft. The “ships like the airlines” Dick wrote about in his letter home (above) was the Lockheed C-40, or its civilian designation, the Model 12 Electra. He received one hour of instruction in this type, his only twin engine time, and later that same day made his first flight in the P-38. This first flight would last 40 minutes.

    Here is Dick’s next letter home:


    Dear Mom:
    Well I flew a C-40, (a ship like the one that flies on the airways and comes into Duluth or Superior every day), and a P-38. WOOEY!! What an airplane. That’s all I can say, but that is enough. You know what they look like from the pictures.

    He continued a few paragraphs later,

    Our training program is supposed to finish on the 13th and we leave the states shortly afterward, I guess. I don’t know where to, but it will be a long ways from home.

    It won’t turn out quite like that, but that is another story.

    The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) kicked off its Bong Anniversary Tour at the Wisconsin Aviation Conference in Wausau on May 5-7, 2014. Learn more about the tour kickoff  or all of the tour details.

    70th Anniverssary MOH logo

  • November is Aviation History Month

    Posted on November 9th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    The Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Jacques, experimented with filling paper and fabric bags with smoke and hot air during November, 1782. Their experiments continued, the balloons got bigger, and on June 4, 1783 they gave their first public demonstration. Their 28,000 cubic foot balloon, weighing about 500 pounds, lifted off from Annonay, France. The 10-minute flight covered a little over a mile. Jacques would be the first human to go aloft in a hot air balloon on October 15, 1783. The Montgolfier’s earliest experiments are recognized as the birth of aviation and are the reason we celebrate Aviation History Month in November. I want to share two stories with you today. One is an old story that is new to me, the other a more recent one.

    Hugh Robinson biography

    The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame has shared stories of Wisconsin’s First Great Year of Flight this fall. The year 1911 saw nine different aviators demonstrate various airplanes in 13 cities throughout the state. One of those pilots was Hugh Robinson. Robinson’s early background was very similar to many of aviation’s pioneers. He was mechanically inclined, owned a bicycle shop, designed and built engines and automobiles, and finally in 1907, built and flew a dirigible. The next year, while working as a chauffeur in Europe, he witnessed an aerial demonstration by Wilbur Wright.

    Upon returning home to St. Louis, Robinson designed and built a monoplane that he exhibited at the 1909 St. Louis Centennial Exhibition. He met Glenn Curtiss while there, they became fast friends, and before leaving Curtiss had offered Hugh a job. Robinson was a Curtiss exhibition pilot when he visited Wisconsin. He made stops in La Crosse and Prairie du Chein during the fall of 1911. Curtiss and Robinson collaborated on various projects until Curtiss’ death in 1930. Robinson died in 1963. Serious students of aviation history will want to read the book, Hugh Robinson, Pioneer Aviator, written by George L. Vergara.

    Lance Sijan story

    A native of Bay View, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin suburb, Lance Sijan was a star athlete during high school. He graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 1965. Completing flight training, he was assigned to the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron/366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Da Nang AFB, Vietnam. Visiting Bangkok, Thailand, during R&R, Sijan returned to Da Nang in early November. His first mission back was 44 years ago today – November 9, 1967. He would not return.

    The story of Sijan’s fateful mission, the attempted rescue, his 46-day survival on the jungle floor, his capture and ultimate death in the Hanoi Hilton is one that every American should know. Sijan is known by his peers as a hero. He was a 26-year-old midwestern boy next door. He was doing his duty. He died, living the military code of conduct. I don’t have many heroes, but Lance Peter Sijan is one of them. Learn more about Sijan and his story in the book, Into the Mouth of the Cat, by Malcolm McConnell.

  • Lieutenant Colonel Austin A. Straubel

    Posted on July 4th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    Austin Straubel’s grandfather, H. August Straubel, was among the early settlers of Brown County, Wisconsin. His family put down roots in 1846, later he would join the army and fight in the Civil War. History would repeat itself in Austin’s life.

    Austin was born to Carl A. and Alice C. (Van Dycke) Straubel on September 14, 1904, one of four children and the couple’s only son. Austin played tackle on the Green Bay East High School’s football team. He attended the University of Wisconsin (Madison) where he continued playing football. After graduating in 1927, he returned to Green Bay and worked at his father’s business, Midwest Cold Storage.

    “He went to Oshkosh to take flying lessons,” his sister, Florence, revealed in an interview. “He didn’t exactly sneak off to learn to fly, but he didn’t broadcast it to our parents.” Steve Wittman may have been Straubel’s flight instructor as Wittman had recently been hired to operate the airport in Oshkosh.

    Straubel joined the Army Air Corps in 1928 and completed military pilot training in Texas and March Field, California. Among other postings, Straubel spent time in the Philippines during the 1930s before returning to the states for additional training.

    7th Bombardment Group

    7th Bombardment Group

    It was December 7, 1941, and Major Straubel was commanding the 11th Bombardment Squadron, part of the 7th Bombardment Group (Heavy), and things had just gotten crazy. The group was stationed at Hamilton Field, California, and their ground support troops had sailed on November 21 for the Philippines. Straubel’s squadron was preparing for their flight to the Philippines. Confusion continued and amazingly, orders called for some aircraft to fly west while others flew east.

    Joined by the eight others in his crew, Straubel flew Consolidated LB-30 (B-24) AL-609, via the African route, arriving at Singasori Field, Malang, Java, at 1130 on January 11, 1942. They were part of a mixed group of B-17s and LB-30s, some of which flew the Pacific while others, like Straubel, flew the Atlantic. Immediately after arriving each crew went to work removing their aircraft’s long-range fuel tanks and correcting maintenance discrepancies.

    Five aircraft were assigned the group’s first mission on January 16. Straubel would lead three LB-30s and two B-17s. The Liberators were to bomb the airfield at Langoan while the Fortresses were to attack ships in Manado Bay. Straubel would earn the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts that day.

    Douglas B-18 "Bolo"
    Douglas B-18 “Bolo”

    On February 2, 1941, Major Straubel was joined by 2nd Lieutenant Russell M. Smith, copilot, and Staff Sergeant George W. Pickett, flight engineer. The three were flying a Douglas B-18 “Bolo” (36-338) to Bandung. Straubel, unhappy with the relationship between 5th Bomber Command and his 7th Bomb Group, had decided to meet with Major General Brereton, Deputy Chief of Staff. After meeting with Brereton, he departed for Malang with three passengers the next day. While flying through a pass near Surabaya, Straubel’s aircraft was attacked by Japanese Zeros and shot down. All aboard were killed in the crash or died shortly afterwards at a nearby hospital.

    Straubel was the first Brown County aviator to lose his life in World War II. The Brown County Airport Committee, in a March 20, 1946 letter, asked the Brown County Board of Supervisors to “consider naming the new Brown County Airport in memory of Austin Straubel.” The facility is widely known today as Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB). Straubel, buried in Java, was reinterred at Green Bay’s Woodlawn Cemetery on January 8, 1949.

  • Air Force Armament Museum

    Posted on April 20th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    A quick review of our Spring 2011 museum/history tour. We left Wisconsin on Friday, April 15. An RON in Paducah, Kentucky, set up our first history stop at the Shiloh National Military Park. After an early departure Saturday morning, we arrived at Shiloh about 3½ hours later. We toured the Interpretive Center, watched the 1950s era movie, Shiloh: Portrait of a Battle, and visited the bookstore. After a picnic lunch we toured the battlefield. We then continued south to Birmingham, Alabama, for our next overnight. After Ft. Rucker we drove to Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida on Monday. We toured the National Museum of Naval Aviation yesterday.

    Entry at AF Armament Museum

    Plans for today called for a drive east to Eglin Air Force Base and the Air Force Armament Museum. Today was our third day in Florida and the Armament Museum is our third military aviation museum of the trip. The Air Force Armament Museum is located adjacent to Eglin AFB, just west of the main gate.

    The idea for an armament museum was approved by Eglin command staff in early 1974. Much like the Army Aviation Museum, a lack of facilities slowed the development process. Two years later, in 1976, the museum opened its doors for the first time, in a former Enlisted Club facility. The Air Force Armament Museum Foundation was established that same year. The on-base facility was closed in 1981 and the museum was again without a facility until 1985. In mid-November 1985 the museum again opened its doors, this time in a new 28,000-square-foot facility. The museum was now home.

    Gun Vault

    There are 25 aircraft displayed outside and four more inside the museum. In addition to the aircraft there are hundreds of munitions. A gun vault houses not only airborne guns but hundreds of pistols, rifles, carbines, and other munitions. Missiles and bombs are also well represented. A video tells the story of Eglin AFB and its role in munitions development.

    B-52G with Hound Dog

    The outside display included a Boeing B-52G Stratofortress or “BUFF” with a North American AGM-28B Hound Dog missile alongside. I spent six years working on the B-52H/Hound Dog system at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota. The missile is displayed on a storage/transportation trailer but without the pylon (adapter between the missile and the bomber’s wing).

    AC-47 "Spooky"


    Other unique aircraft displayed outside include: Douglas AC-47 Gunship “Spooky”; the first Lockheed AC-130 Gunship “Spectre”, AF Serial No. 53-3129; a Martin B-57 “Canberra” and a Boeing B-47 Stratojet. Outside aircraft are a little weathered and suffer from bird droppings but these are minor distractions.

    AC-130 "Spectre"

    Inside exhibits include tributes to USAF Congressional Medal of Honor recipients including Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) inductees John Jerstad and Lance Sijan. Another exhibit was a tribute to the Doolittle Raiders. The “Raiders” did training and their aircraft were modified at Eglin early in 1942 prior to their April 18, 1942 Tokyo Raid. WAHF inductee Richard Knobloch was the copilot on Aircraft 13 – “The Avenger “.

    F-105 with munitions

    We enjoyed our time at the Air Force Armament Museum. Some of the displays are in need of minor repair while others are beginning to show their age. These are minor discrepancies and should not deter anyone from visiting.

  • Robert J. Goebel – Gone West

    Posted on February 28th, 2011 John Dorcey 1 comment

    Today would have been Robert Goebel’s birthday. Mr. Goebel died last Sunday, February 20, just days short of his 88th birthday. Goebel, a member of the greatest generation, was typical of the group. He enlisted on April 4, 1942 as an aviation cadet. Goebel graduated flight training, earning his wings and second lieutenant commission in May 1943. His first assignment, defense of the Panama Canal, would last a scant five months. He flew the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and Bell P-39 Airacobra while gaining invaluable fighter pilot experience.

    Lt Robert Goebel in his P-51 "Flying Dutchman"

    Robert shared his World War II combat pilot story in the book, Mustang Ace, Memoirs of a P-51 Fighter Pilot. In the book’s forward, Goebel states, “Like the rest of my generation, in combat I did what I had to do, the best way I knew how. There was no hating, no anguish, no sense of guilt. Only of getting the job done.”

    First Lieutenant Robert J. Goebel was awarded the Silver Star on August 18, 1944. The citation reads in part, “Displaying outstanding aggressiveness and courage, with complete disregard for the overwhelming superiority of enemy aircraft, Lieutenant Goebel immediately engaged the hostile ships, and, in the ensuing engagement destroyed two enemy fighters and forced the rest to withdraw, thus saving the life of his comrade. En route to base, though having serious mechanical difficulties, he again intercepted enemy aircraft and accounted for another enemy fighter destroyed.”

    Lt. Robert Goebel, wife June, and son Gary

    He flew 61 combat missions in the North American P-51 Mustang during World War II. He had 11 aerial victories over enemy aircraft. In addition to the Silver Star, Goebel was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Silver Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Air Medal with 17 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters.

    After the war, Goebel attended the University of Wisconsin and earned a bachelor’s degree in physics. He served as commander of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 126th Fighter Squadron until being recalled into the Air Force in 1950. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Goebel retired from the USAF in 1966. After retiring from the Air Force, he worked for NASA and the Atomic Energy Commission.

    Robert J. Goebel, 2003

    Goebel was born on February 28, 1923, in Racine, Wisconsin. He was the youngest of seven children. Robert married his high school sweetheart, June Meany, while awaiting orders to San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center. They were married for 64 years. Together they raised nine children. June died March 6, 2006. In addition to their children, he is survived by 27 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren.

    Robert was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame in 2003.

  • Who was first to fly the Pacific?

    Posted on June 28th, 2010 John Dorcey No comments

    Today we celebrate the 83rd anniversary of the first trans-Pacific flight. The significance of many historic achievements is often lost when competing with current events. In this case, the crossing from San Francisco to Honolulu was overshadowed by the solo trans-Atlantic flight of Charles Lindbergh a month earlier.

    The Fokker F.9 aircraft, designated C-2 by the US Army Air Corps, had been significantly modified at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. Powered by three Wright J-5 Whirlwind engines, each developing 220 hp, the airplane cruised at 105 mph. The crew met with the press before their departure, this interview  is from a silent newsreel. Lt. Albert Hegenberger (navigator/pilot) is on the left, Lt. Lester Maitland (pilot) on the right. A second video shows the C-2 departing Oakland’s still under construction airport.

    Maitland would land the large transport at 6:29 am on June 29, 1927 after flying 2,416 miles, all of it over water. Total flying time was 25 hours, 49 minutes. In addition to each being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the crew earned the Mackay Trophy for 1927. F. Trubee Davison, Assistant Secretary of War, said, “The flight is unquestionably one of the greatest aerial accomplishments ever made.”

    The flight was described as a test flight of radio navigation equipment the Army had been developing for years. Hegenberger, an MIT graduate in aeronautical engineering, would spend his career advancing aviation technology.  Major General Hegenberger retired from the Air Force in 1949.

    Maitland had a long and storied career in the military, retiring from the Michigan Air National Guard as a Brigadier General. He was director of aeronautics for both Wisconsin and Michigan. In 1956 he was ordained an Episcopal minister; he retired as rector emeritus.

    Video footage courtesy the Prelinger Archives.

  • Happy Birthday Billy

    Posted on December 28th, 2009 John Dorcey No comments

    William L. “Billy” Mitchell was born 130 years ago today in Nice, France.  Mitchell was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) in 1986.

    Mitchell began his military career as a private in the First Wisconsin Infantry. He soon became an officer and later transferred to the US Army’s Signal Corps. Billy learned to fly in 1916 at the Atlantic Coast Aeronautical Station in New Port News, VA. WAHF inductee Walter Lees provided Mitchell, now a major, some of his flight instruction and later soloed Mitchell. That first flight did not end well for the new pilot; the aircraft came to rest inverted at the end of the landing roll.

    Colonel Billy Mitchell in Curtiss DH4B

    Assigned as an aviation observer, Mitchell arrived in Europe during April 1917. He became the first American officer to fly over the French battlefields. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in June 1917 and served in the AEF.

    Promoted to colonel in May 1918, he assumed command of the Air Service, First Army Corps. This position gave him opportunity to fly, command, and learn air combat firsthand. Major General Mason Patrick, Air Service Commander, described Mitchell as “aggressive, courageous, and fearless.”

    Colonel Billy Mitchell would lead the 1500-aircraft bombing raid against the Saint-Mihiel salient in September 1918. Promoted to brigadier general, Mitchell took command of all allied air forces in time for the Meuse-Argonne offensive in October.

    While serving in Europe, Mitchell discussed the future of airpower with Hugh Trenchard of England and Italy’s Giulio Douhet. These discussions would serve as the foundation of Mitchell’s plan for a separate US air force. This air force would, in Mitchell’s vision, win the next war, single-handedly.
    Mitchell’s downfall was not his message but in his method. Today, Billy Mitchell is considered the father of modern airpower.

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    A Question of Loyalty by Douglas Waller

  • Madison Air Scouts

    Posted on May 10th, 2009 Tom Thomas 1 comment

    At the age of 12, I joined the Madison Air Scouts sponsored by Truax Field, a US Air Force Base in Madison, Wisconsin. The base was also known as Madison Municipal Airport, today it is known as the Dane County Regional Airport.

    Madison Air Scouts, ca 1954

    It was 1954, I grew up on Madison’s east side, between the Yahara River and East High School. My home was right under the flight path for Truax’s Runway 36. All the neighborhood boys playing baseball or football would stop and watch the military jets whenever they flew overhead.

    I had three uncles that served in the Army Air Corps in World War II and they were my mentors. Every aviation magazine or book that I came by was read over and over. I spent hours studying the missiles and aircraft they covered.

    I don’t recall how I found out about the Air Scouts, but when the opportunity presented itself, I joined. I was never in the Boy Scouts so this was my first uniform and I was pretty proud of it. We would get briefings from Air Force staff and I recall seeing many movies on life in the Air Force and of course airplanes. The movies with airplanes were my favorites.

    Several months back, I was given a photo that I had completely forgotten about. It’s an official Air Force photo taken of the Madison Air Scouts in 1954. We are assembled in front of a Convair F-102, Delta Dagger. I am standing in the back row, seventh from the left, under the ‘C’ in Air Force.

    My dream of flight began early in my trip on this planet and has just continued to grow over the years. At that time, in 1954, I never thought I’d be able to fly fighter jets at my home airport, Truax Field. Providence and persistence paid off and I was able to do just that. I flew the A-37 Dragonfly and the A-10 Warthog with the Wisconsin Air National Guard throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

    My life-long involvement in aviation and flying only goes to prove – Where there is a will, there is a way. The dream of flight lives on…

  • BUFF driver and an…ostrich?

    Posted on April 11th, 2009 Pete Drahn No comments

    Main gate, Travis AFB, CALt. Pete Drahn (left) with his crew, 1966

    I flew BUFFS before and after my year as a FAC in SEA. In about 1966, as a young copilot, myfirst operational assignment was to Travis AFB, where we had a wing vice-commander who was a terror.

    Colonel King would usually officiate over the crew changeovers in the alert shack after each seven day alert cycle. Being the grand leader that he thought he was, he would present an award to the crew that screwed up the most during the previous week. The award was a 3-foot tall statue of a crow, a former advertisement for Old Crow bourbon. He had the crow painted with white jailbird stripes and a plaque around his neck announcing “Awarded to the Worst Air Crew of the Week”, or some such language.

    After a half-year of this arrogant and sorry display of leadership and enough beers between us, another copilot, Todd Jagerson, who was a talented artist, and I built a paper mâche model of our own. It depicted an ostrich bending over with its long neck going between his legs and the head shoved up where the colonel’s was at that time. The sign announced “Awarded to the Worst Staff Officer of the Week,” or some such wording.

    Lt. Pete Drahn (left) with his crew, 1966

    The day of reckoning arrived with Todd and me on alert. We sneaked into the large briefing room after we saw the Colonel’s staff drop off the “jailbird” and retreat to the alert shack mess hall to await “The King’s” arrival. We deposited the “Staff Ostrich” right next to the “Old Crow” and beat tracks out of there.

    The briefing room was packed with around 16 tanker and bomber crews (both coming on and going off alert) 10 minutes before Col. King made hisgrand entrance. Todd and I were tucked fairly well back in the room, but sweating bullets; seeing our careers fly out the window if we got caught.

    The Old Man arrived, gave his usual glare at the assembled troops and proceeded to the stage. He stopped dead cold about 4-feet way from the Crow and Ostrich. He studied it for what seemed like 5 minutes, turned around, and departed the room. We never did get caught, but the old buzzard never hauled out that award again, and actually became a lot more respectful.

    Of course, we never told anyone and just hope the statute of limitations has run out.