George E. “Bud” Day (February 24, 1925 – July 27, 2013) was a United States Air Force colonel and pilot who served during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, including five years and seven months as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Day was a recipient of the Medal of Honor and the Air Force Cross, As of 2013 the only person to be awarded both medals.
Day’s actions from August 26, 1967, through March 14, 1973, were the last to earn a Medal of Honor prior to the end of U.S. involvement in the war on April 30, 1975 – though some honorees (e.g. Leslie H. Sabo, Jr., honored on May 16, 2012) have been cited for their Medal after Day’s recognition on March 4, 1976.
Early life and education
Day was born in Sioux City, Iowa, on 24 February 1925. In 1942 he dropped out of Central High School and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). After the war, Day attended Morningside College on the G.I. Bill, earning a bachelor of science degree, followed by law school at the University of South Dakota, receiving a Juris Doctor. Day passed the bar exam in 1949 and was admitted to the bar in South Dakota. In later life, Day was also awarded a Master of Arts degree from Saint Louis University, a doctor of humane letters from Morningside, and a doctor of laws from Troy State University. Day was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1977.
Enlisting in the USMC on 10 December 1942, Day served 30 months in the North Pacific during World War II as a member of a 5-inch gun battery with the 3rd Defense Battalion on Johnston Island, but he never saw combat. He was discharged (the first time) on 24 November 1945. On 11 December 1946, Day joined the Army Reserve, serving until 10 December 1949. On 17 May 1950, Day received a direct commission as a second lieutenant in the Iowa Air National Guard. He was called to active duty on 15 March 1951 for undergraduate pilot training in the U.S. Air Force. He was awarded his pilot wings at Webb Air Force Base, Texas, in September 1952, continuing through December 1952 in All-Weather Interceptor School and Gunnery School. From February 1953 to August 1955 during the Korean War, Day served two tours as a fighter-bomber pilot, flying the Republic F-84 Thunderjet in the 559th Strategic Fighter Squadron. Promoted to captain, he decided to make the Air Force a career and was augmented into the Regular Air Force. He was assigned to the 55th Fighter Bomber Squadron. He then trained to fly the F-100 Super Sabre in 1957 while stationed at Royal Air Force Wethersfield in the United Kingdom through June 1959. It was during this time that he had to bail out of a jet fighter without a parachute, becoming the first person ever to live through such a feat. Day was assistant professor of aerospace science at the Air Force ROTC detachment at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, from June 1959 to August 1963. Anticipating retirement in 1968 and now a major, Day volunteered for a tour in Vietnam and was assigned to the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing at Tuy Hoa Air Base in April 1967. At that time, he had more than 5,000 flying hours, with 4,500 of them in fighters. On 25 June 1967, with extensive previous service flying two tours in F-100s, Major Day was made the first commander of Detachment 1, 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 37th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Phu Cat Air Base. Under the project name Commando Sabre, twin-seat USAF F-100Fs were evaluated as a Fast Forward Air Control (Fast FAC) aircraft in high threat areas, given that F-4 Phantom II aircraft were in high demand for strike and Combat Air Patrol (CAP) roles. Using the call sign Misty, the name of Day’s favorite song, his detachment of four two-seat F-100Fs and 16 pilots became pioneer “Fast FACs” (Forward Air Controllers) over Laos and North Vietnam. All Misty FAC crews were volunteers with at least 100 combat missions in Vietnam and 1,000 minimum flight hours. Tours in Commando Sabre were temporary and normally limited to four months or about 60 missions.
Prisoner of war
On 26 August 1967, Major Day was flying F-100F-15-NA, AF Serial No. 56-3954, call sign Misty 01 on his 26th Fast FAC sortie, directing a flight of F-105 Thunderchiefs in an air strike against a surface-to-air missile (SAM) site north of Thon Cam Son and west of Đồng Hới, 20 mi (32 km) north of the DMZ in North Vietnam. Day was on his 65th mission into North Vietnam and acting as check pilot for Captain Corwin M. “Kipp” Kippenhan, who was upgrading to aircraft commander. 37 mm antiaircraft fire crippled the aircraft, forcing the crew to eject. In the ejection, Day’s right arm was broken in three places when he struck the side of the cockpit, and he also received eye and back injuries. Kippenhan was rescued by a USAF HH-3E, but Day was unable to contact the rescue helicopter by survival radio and was quickly captured by North Vietnamese local militia. On his fifth night, when he was still within 20 miles (32 kilometers) of the DMZ, Day escaped from his initial captors despite his serious injuries. Although stripped of both his boots and flight suit, Day crossed the Demilitarized Zone back into South Vietnam. Within 2 miles (3 kilometers) of the U.S. Marine firebase at Con Thien and after 12 to 15 days of evading, he was captured again, this time by a Viet Cong patrol that wounded him in the leg and hand with gunfire. Taken back to his original camp, Day was tortured for escaping, breaking his right arm again. He then was moved to several prison camps near Hanoi, where he was periodically beaten, starved, and tortured. In December 1967, Day shared a cell with Navy Lt. Cdr. and future senator and presidential candidate John McCain. Air Force major Norris Overly nursed both back to health, and McCain later devised a makeshift splint of bamboo and rags that helped heal Day’s seriously atrophied arm. On 14 March 1973, Day was released after five years and seven months as a North Vietnamese prisoner. Within three days Day was reunited with his wife, Doris Sorensen Day, and four children at March Air Force Base, California. On 4 March 1976, President Gerald Ford awarded Day the Medal of Honor for his personal bravery while a captive in North Vietnam. Day had been promoted to colonel while a prisoner, and he decided to remain in the Air Force in hopes of being promoted to brigadier general. Although initially too weak to resume operational flying, he spent a year in physical rehabilitation and with 13 separate medical waivers, he was returned to active flying status. He underwent conversion training to the F-4 Phantom II and was appointed vice commander of the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Day, In 2008, said of his imprisonment, “As awful as it sounds, no one could say we did not do well. …[Being a POW] was a major issue in my life and one that I am extremely proud of. I was just living day to day. One bad cold and I would have been dead
Pictures and some info courtesy of Wikipedia.com