Dick Bong died at Burbank, California, while trying
to bail out of a disabled P-80 jet fighter. It happened on August 6, the
day the atomic bomb was dropped. In a seven month period America's top
two Aces were gone!
The nature of aerial combat has changed--gone the way
of the Cavalry steed, the fort, and the cross bow--the aerial dogfight
of World War I, World War II and Korea is now history.
The "Top Guns" of
today fly combat against each other, often with a weapon's officer
flying in the back seat. Scopes and instruments have changed aerial
combat from a one-on-one battle to a committee affair. Weapons are often
fired without the enemy even being seen.
The battles of the future, like so many things of
today, will be run by computers. Combatants will not see each other, or
smell the fumes of cordite in the cockpit as they try to outguess and
outfly each other. Instead they may complain about the eyestrain of
looking at the glowing phosphors of a CRT during the height of battle.
McGuire and Bong were the greatest two fighter pilots
the United States will ever produce--never again will we know two like
them. Their names go at the top of a small list with those of Boyington,
Foss, Gabreski, Johnson, Lufbery, Luke, MacDonald, McCampbell, Meyer and
Rickenbacker as the best of their times.
America was deprived of its two greatest air aces
essentially in accidents. After all the combat they had survived it was
a shame that neither of them had a chance to enjoy the hero's life like Rickenbacker or
Lindbergh. During World War I a reporter asked Raoul
Lufbery, our top ace at the time, what he planned to do after the war.
He replied, “There isn't any after the war for a fighter pilot.”
He died a few months later, like McGuire, in a borrowed plane.
Bong and McGuire never got to enjoy the way of life
they helped protect. If they were alive today they might complain about
Rock and Roll music, but it's sad neither of them lived to hear it.
Knowing these two guys, they may have liked Rock and Roll. One thing is
for sure-- they would surely have defended your right to listen to it if
you wanted to. They were the kind of people who could have made life
interesting for the people around them.
Marilynn McGuire and Marge Bong waited those tough
war years only to be left with a hollow spot in their lives. They both
did what human beings do--they went on living. It's a shame, after all
the pain of war, that these two young wives and their husbands never got
a chance to fully enjoy each other in a peaceful world. They had earned
the chance and deserved it.
Marilynn McGuire has said to me several times over
the years, “Charles, I still see Tommy as a young man. We’ve all gotten
older but he remains 23 years old to me.”
Adjacent to McGuire's grave at Arlington National
Cemetery is the grave of a Marine killed in the bombing at the U. S.
Embassy in Beirut. It is a sad reminder that conflict continues to take
many of our best young men before their time.