A petty officer assigned to the Aegis Training and Readiness Center (ATRC), the Dahlgren-based command responsible for training the Navy's future fire controlmen, has family ties to the highest scoring fighter ace in American history. Fire Controlman Second Class Joseph Bong Joseph Bong doesn't remember any exact introduction to the memory of his great-great uncle, Maj. Richard Bong; his memory was simply always there.
While serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, the ace of aces shot down no less than 40 Japanese aircraft. Flying the distinctive P-38 Lighting named "Marge" in honor of the woman he would eventually marry, Maj. Bong was a fearsome pilot in the Pacific theater and an iconic hero on the home front. In 1944, after less than two years of combat service, Bong surpassed America's top scoring ace from World War 1, Eddie Rickenbacker. By the time Bong was sent home in 1945, he was a recipient of the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, seven Distinguished Flying Crosses and 14 Air Medals. Tragically, Bong did not live to see V-J Day; on Aug. 6 1945, he was killed while test piloting a P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter. In many American newspapers such as the New York Times, news of Bong's death shared space on the front page with the bombing of Hiroshima.
Maj. Bong was not the only one in his family to serve during World War II. FC2 Bong's grandfather, Ray Bong, served in the Army and was a cousin of Maj. Bong. Bill Sotelo, FC2 Bong's maternal grandfather, served in the Navy.
Bong enlisted in the Navy in 2005 and served as a fire controlman on the USS Mustin before returning to ATRC, where the Oregon native maintains training equipment. While he hasn't made up his mind about whether or not he'll stay in the Navy, flying has dominated his thoughts since he was a young boy. "I would like to fly. I want to get my pilot license," he said.
Like many in his generation, Bong has a fondness for video games and in particular, flight simulators. While playing Aces of the Pacific, Bong found himself in an unusual position. "I wanted to be in the military since I was young," he said. "I used to fly in flight simulators all the time. I wanted to fly planes. I remember playing many different flight simulators, but my favorite by far was Aces of the Pacific. You could actually dogfight [against] a simulation of Richard. And he was very, very difficult."
FC2 Bong has not given up on his dream to fly, but less-than-perfect eyesight is an obstacle. "I would love to become a pilot, but one of my eyes is not so great," he said.
The possibility of flying drones, for which pilots may have corrected-eyesight, excites Bong. "I would love to fly drones."
In the meantime, Bong continues to enjoy flight simulators and has taken up target shooting at the King George Shooting Association. Bong's younger brother, AT2 Nicholas Bong, also serves in the Navy.
Despite the military greatness in his family lineage, Bong is soft-spoken about his heritage. "It's pretty awesome," he said. "It's pretty cool."