Friday, October 12, 2018

Richard Bong America's Top Ace of WWII, Wisconsin Deer Hunter

Richard Bong and Father Photo from Display at Bong Center, Superior, Wisconsin

Richard Bong was born on September 24th, 1920. My father was born on January 22, 1918, less than two years earlier. They grew up about 40 miles apart, on farms in northern Wisconsin.  Richard in the town of Poplar, Wisconsin. My father was raised  in the town of Lenroot, Wisconsin. Towns, (townships) in Wisconsin, are political units, six miles by six miles square.

Both were good deer hunters.  Richard Bong, the famous ace, was shown using a Savage 99 chambered in .300 Savage, while hunting deer in Northern Wisconsin. The picture was taken in 1943 during his first leave back to the U.S. It appears that Richard is wearing a military web belt. His father, Carl, was shown walking alongside him.

What struck me were the rifles. Richard's father, was carrying a Remington model 8 or 81, the first successful high powered semi-automatic rifle. It came on the market in 1906. I have one made in early 1907.

Richard Bong's Savage model 99 was advanced a different way. It sported a rifle scope. It was probably a 3/4 inch tube Weaver 3-30, 3-29, or 4-40. Weaver converted to one inch tubes for their high powered rifle scopes after the war, in 1947.

The Savage 99 Richard Bong used deer hunting has been donated to the Bong Center. It no longer sports a Weaver scope, but those scopes have long been obsolete.

The serial number on the Bong .300 Savage model 99 indicates it was manufactured in 1923.

Richard and Carl wore matching deer hunting outfits of the era, with plaid shirts, wool pants, and what appear to be lace up shoe-pacs.

I remember my father wearing similar clothing. I cannot tell if the pacs are Sorrels or some other manufacture.

Everyone wore Sorrel rubber on the bottom, leather on the top, felt lined, shoe-pacs when I was growing up in that country 20 years later.

By the time Weaver came out with the K-series scopes with one inch tubes, Richard Bong, America's top ace, was dead. He  died in a tragic test flight of an early jet fighter, the P-80. The crash occurred on 6 August, 1945, the same day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  He had been brought home after having 40 confirmed kills in the Pacific Theater.

My father loved the Savage model 99. He was a deadly shot on deer in the Wisconsin woods, where I grew up. He obtained his model 99 in 1946, and used it with a peep sight until he converted to the Weaver K2.5X riflescope.  He was rejected for military service because of an ulcer. There wasn't much deer hunting during the war. Ammunition for hunting was hard to come by. My father spent the war years in Milwaukee building armaments at A. O. Smith.

I shot my first buck with my father's Savage model 99 and the K2.5 Weaver.

Farm boys contributed greatly to the war effort. My 100 year old friend in Australia, Roy Eykamp, built airplanes for the war in California, at Lockheed. He was raised on a farm in South Dakota.

Roy was a deadly shot. In April, 2018, when he was over 100 years old, he told me he didn't think he could ever shoot a human being.  Roy was born two months after my father.

A neighbor, Lyman Williamson, was part the famous raid on the heavy water plant in Telemark, Norway. My father told me about it, and that Lyman did not like to talk about it.  Lyman was recruited because he spoke Norwegian like a native.

A local ski resort was named Telemark two decades after the war.  The man who developed Telemark also promoted the Birkebiner cross country ski race from The Telemark ski resort to Hayward, Wisconsin. I often wondered if the choice of the name had anything to do with the famous raid.

I have gotten far afield from the memories induced by the picture of those two Wisconsin deer hunters in 1943. Deer hunting in Wisconsin continues to be popular in the state.  The Savage 99 remains a popular deer rifle, and a Remington model 8 and 81 semi-autos remain in use.

WWII continues to be a fairly popular war, after the fact. I wonder if we will see local social justice warriors calling for the state to tear down Bong's memorial, close his museum, and rename the wildlife preserve and bridge named in his honor.

After all, he was a deer hunter.

For the humor impaired, the previous sentence was satire.

©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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