Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Explorers Find What They Believe Is World War II Ace Richard Bong's Downed Plane in South Pacific
gvw_ap_news
By Associated Press
Published 4 weeks ago on
May 23, 2024

The wreckage of World War II ace Richard Bong's plane, nicknamed "Marge", has been discovered in the South Pacific, marking a significant find for historical preservation. (AP File)

Share

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

MADISON, Wis. — Searchers announced Thursday they’ve discovered what they believe is the wreckage of World War II ace Richard Bong’s plane in the South Pacific.

The Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior, Wisconsin, and the nonprofit World War II historical preservation group Pacific Wrecks announced in March they were launching a joint search for Bong’s Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter. Bong nicknamed the plane “Marge” after his girlfriend, Marge Vattendahl.

Another pilot, Thomas Malone, was flying the plane in March 1944 over what is now known as Papua New Guinea when engine failure sent it into a spin. Malone bailed out before the plane crashed in the jungle.

Discovery of the Wreckage

The expedition’s leader, Pacific Wrecks Director Justin Taylan, said that the search team discovered the wreckage in the jungles of Papua New Guinea’s Madang Province on May 15.

He released photos of himself in the jungle with chunks of metal on the ground. In one photo he points to what the caption calls a wing tip from the plane stamped with “993,” the last three numbers of the plane’s serial number. Enlarging the photo shows markings that could be two “9s” but they’re obscured by what might be dirt or rust and difficult to make out. Another photo shows a piece of metal stamped with “Model P-38 JK.”

Taylan said during a video news conference from Papua New Guinea on Thursday afternoon that the serial number and model identification prove the plane is Marge “definitely, beyond a doubt.”

“I think it’s safe to say mission accomplished,” Taylan said. “Marge has been identified. It’s a great day for the center, a great day for Pacific Wrecks, a great day for history.”

Taylan has been researching the location of the crash site for years. He said that historical records suggested it went down on the grounds of a 150-year old plantation. Local residents initially showed the expedition the wreck of a Japanese fighter plane before telling the searchers about wreckage deeper in the jungle.

The explorers hiked through the jungle until they discovered wreckage in a ravine, Taylan said. At the top of the ravine they found two aircraft engines sticking out of the ground, indicating the plane went in nose-first and buried itself in the ground. Taylan said Bong painted the wing tips red and the paint was still on them.

Bong, who grew up in Poplar, Wisconsin, is credited with shooting down 40 Japanese aircraft during World War II. He plastered a blow-up of Vattendahl’s portrait on the nose of his plane, according to a Pacific Wrecks summary of the plane’s service.

Bong shot down more planes than any other American pilot. Gen. Douglas MacArthur awarded him the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest decoration, in 1944. Taylan said that Bong shot down three planes while flying Marge.

Bong and Vattendahl eventually married in 1945. Bong was assigned to duty as a test pilot in Burbank, California, after three combat tours in the South Pacific. He was killed on Aug. 6, 1945, when a P-80 jet fighter he was testing crashed. He died on the same day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Vattendahl was 21 at the time of Bong’s death. She went on to become a model and a magazine publisher in Los Angeles. She died in September 2003 in Superior.

A bridge connecting Superior and Duluth, Minnesota, is named for Bong. A state recreation area in southeastern Wisconsin also is named for him.

“The Bong family is very excited about this discovery,” James Bong, Richard Bong’s nephew, said in the news release. “It is amazing and incredible that ‘Marge’ has been found and identified.”

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

Quiet Administrative Change Advances Far-Right Israeli Minister’s Effort to Control West Bank

DON'T MISS

NYC Audit Says Shotspotter Gunfire Detection System Is a Waste of Money

DON'T MISS

Ohtani Hits 21st Homer, Smith and Freeman Also Go Deep in Dodgers’ Victory Over Rockies

DON'T MISS

Give-and-Take Between Dyer & Council Yields a Fresno Budget. What’s In It?

DON'T MISS

This Giant Freshwater Fish — North America’s Largest — Gains California Protection

DON'T MISS

Superstar Boxer Canelo Alvarez Will Speak at Hispanic Foundation Gala at Table Mountain

DON'T MISS

California’s Budget Process Has Once Again Become Secretive and Needs Reform

DON'T MISS

Scorching Temperatures Will Raise Heat Risk This Weekend. How Hot Will It Get?

DON'T MISS

Hanford Hospital Settles With State AG in Controversial Stillbirth Cases

DON'T MISS

Kern Pistachio Grower Ordered to Pay $30 Million in Groundwater Pumping Case

UP NEXT

Ohtani Hits 21st Homer, Smith and Freeman Also Go Deep in Dodgers’ Victory Over Rockies

UP NEXT

Give-and-Take Between Dyer & Council Yields a Fresno Budget. What’s In It?

UP NEXT

This Giant Freshwater Fish — North America’s Largest — Gains California Protection

UP NEXT

Superstar Boxer Canelo Alvarez Will Speak at Hispanic Foundation Gala at Table Mountain

UP NEXT

California’s Budget Process Has Once Again Become Secretive and Needs Reform

UP NEXT

Hanford Hospital Settles With State AG in Controversial Stillbirth Cases

UP NEXT

Kern Pistachio Grower Ordered to Pay $30 Million in Groundwater Pumping Case

UP NEXT

Donald Sutherland, Iconic Actor of ‘M.A.S.H.’ and ‘Hunger Games,’ Dies at 88

UP NEXT

California Voters Lose a Shot at Checking State and Local Tax Hikes at the Polls

UP NEXT

The Supreme Court Upholds a Tax on Foreign Income Over a Challenge Backed by Business Interests

Give-and-Take Between Dyer & Council Yields a Fresno Budget. What’s In It?

13 hours ago

This Giant Freshwater Fish — North America’s Largest — Gains California Protection

15 hours ago

Superstar Boxer Canelo Alvarez Will Speak at Hispanic Foundation Gala at Table Mountain

15 hours ago

California’s Budget Process Has Once Again Become Secretive and Needs Reform

15 hours ago

Scorching Temperatures Will Raise Heat Risk This Weekend. How Hot Will It Get?

15 hours ago

Hanford Hospital Settles With State AG in Controversial Stillbirth Cases

16 hours ago

Kern Pistachio Grower Ordered to Pay $30 Million in Groundwater Pumping Case

16 hours ago

Tulare County Bust Uncovers Large Cache of Illegal Guns and Drugs

16 hours ago

Former Fresno Council Candidate, Business Partner Convicted in Multi-Million Dollar Fraud

17 hours ago

Donald Sutherland, Iconic Actor of ‘M.A.S.H.’ and ‘Hunger Games,’ Dies at 88

18 hours ago

Quiet Administrative Change Advances Far-Right Israeli Minister’s Effort to Control West Bank

Israel is putting key responsibilities in the occupied West Bank under an administrator who answers to a hard-line government minister, Beza...

11 hours ago

11 hours ago

Quiet Administrative Change Advances Far-Right Israeli Minister’s Effort to Control West Bank

12 hours ago

NYC Audit Says Shotspotter Gunfire Detection System Is a Waste of Money

12 hours ago

Ohtani Hits 21st Homer, Smith and Freeman Also Go Deep in Dodgers’ Victory Over Rockies

13 hours ago

Give-and-Take Between Dyer & Council Yields a Fresno Budget. What’s In It?

15 hours ago

This Giant Freshwater Fish — North America’s Largest — Gains California Protection

15 hours ago

Superstar Boxer Canelo Alvarez Will Speak at Hispanic Foundation Gala at Table Mountain

15 hours ago

California’s Budget Process Has Once Again Become Secretive and Needs Reform

15 hours ago

Scorching Temperatures Will Raise Heat Risk This Weekend. How Hot Will It Get?

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend