Sometimes, the things we do as Americans make no sense at all. Take, for example naming bridges after loathsome people. Why would we want to name a bridge after Rachel Carson, the biologist responsible for the early death of millions of people, because she (successfully) fought against the use of D.D.T. in controlling malaria? We’ve named bridges after crooked politicians, too — such as Huey Long in Louisiana and Oklahoma, after three ne’re-do-wells who were tossed out of office.
Every once in a while, we get it right — as if anyone remembers. George E. Day has a very short bridge named after him in Western Florida. Actually, it’s more of a by-pass bridge that takes traffic over the top of the main entrance of Hurlburt Air Force Base along U.S. 98 in Okaloosa County. It was a nice thought because Mr. Day deserves our remembrance.
George Everett Day, whom everyone called Bud, was born in Sioux City, Iowa, on 24 February 1925. After his seventeenth birthday in 1942, Bud dropped out of high school and joined the U.S. Marine Corps. By then, the war in the Pacific was raging. Mr. Day spent thirty months in the Pacific, assigned to the Third Defense Battalion on Johnson Island. After his discharge in November 1945, he returned home and joined the U.S. Army Reserve. By the time his four-year enlistment expired in 1949, Mr. Day had completed his high school and college education, graduating from Morningside College with a Bachelor of Science degree.
He afterward enrolled in the South Dakota School of Law, receiving his Juris Doctor degree and passing the Bar examination, and began a law practice in South Dakota while applying for and receiving an officer’s commission in the Air National Guard. Later, Bud would also receive a master’s degree from Saint Louis University, a doctorate in humane letters from Morningside University, and a Doctor of Laws from Troy State University.
Like many reservists in 1951, Bud Day was called to active duty during the Korean War. Sent to pilot training school in March 1951, he received his wings at Webb Air Force Base, Texas, and in 1952 attended all-weather interceptor aircraft. Bud Day flew the F-84 Thunder Jet during two combat tours in Korea while assigned to the 55th Fighter/Bomber Squadron. He transitioned to the F-100 Super Sabre in 1957. Two years later, an incident forced his ejection from the F-100, and he became the first person to live after his parachute failed to open. See also: Jarhead Adventures. Between 1959-and 1963, Day served as an assistant professor of aerospace science at the Air Force ROTC detachment at Saint Louis University.
Day anticipated retiring from military service in 1968, but he requested a combat tour in South Vietnam before he did that. The Air Force assigned him to the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing at Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam, in 1967. By this time, Day had acquired 5,000 hours as a pilot, 4,500 of those as a fighter stick. On 25 June 1967, Major Day assumed command of Detachment One, 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Phu Cat Air Base. Major Day and his pilots flew missions under the program titled Commando Sabre. This program employed twin-seat F-100F aircraft while performing Fast Forward Air Controller (Fast FAC) missions. Detachment One’s flights over Laos and North Vietnam were code-named Misty.
On 26 August, Major Day was flying as call sign Misty One, his 26th Fast FAC mission, directing a flight of F-105’s against a North Vietnamese SAM installation north of Thon Cam Son, twenty or so air miles above the DMZ. Enemy 37-mm antiaircraft fire crippled Day’s aircraft forcing him and Captain Corwin Kippenhan to eject. Day received a broken arm in three places during ejection, foreign object damage to his eye, and significant back injuries (which were common among those forced to eject from high-performance aircraft. Kippenhan was able to contact USAF SAR for extraction, but Day, with his injuries, could not utilize his survival radio and was soon captured by NVA militia.
Major Day escaped from his North Vietnamese captors during the night of his fifth day of captivity. Despite his injuries, he evaded the enemy for fifteen days and finally made it across the DMZ toward friendly units. He was within two miles of the Marine FSB at Con Thiên when a Viet Cong patrol shot him in the leg and hand and recaptured him. Returned to the unit which had initially captured him, Day suffered inhumane torture as they directed beatings against his broken arm to punish him for escaping. Major Day became the cell-mate of Navy Lieutenant Commander John McCain and USAF Major Norris Overly. Throughout his incarceration as a POW, Day was regularly beaten, starved, and tortured. After five years and seven months as a POW, the North Vietnamese released Bud Day, and he returned to the United States, his wife, and four children. On 4 March 1976, President Gerald Ford awarded Bud Day the Medal of Honor.
While incarcerated in North Vietnam, the Air Force promoted Day to lieutenant colonel and then colonel. Initially, Day was physically too weak to return to operational flying. After his release from captivity, he underwent physical therapy and began conversion training to the F-4 Phantom II with waivers to standard protocols. Once qualified, the Air Force assigned him as Vice Commander, 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Eglin USAF Base, Florida. Colonel Day retired from active service when the Air Force passed him over for promotion to Brigadier General. His aircraft qualifications included single and dual engine jet aircraft: F-80, F-84, F-100, F-101, F-104, F-105, F-106, FB-111, F-4, A-4, A-7, CF-5, F-15, and F-16.
Following retirement, Day was admitted to the Florida Bar. Besides a law practice, Day wrote of his experiences as a POW in two books: Return with Honor and Duty, Honor, Country. In 1996, Bud Day filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government alleging breach of contract on behalf of military retirees who were stripped of their medical care benefits at age 65 and told to apply to Medicare. Day won the case in federal district court in 2001, but the judgment was overturned on appeal. Congress redressed this situation by establishing the TRICARE for Life (TFL) program, which restored military medical benefits for career military retirees over the age of 65, making military retirees eligible for both programs.
In retirement, Bud Day was an active member of the Florida Republican Party and became involved in the so-called Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth (against John Kerry). He actively campaigned for John McCain in both 2000 and 2008.
General Day is the only individual to receive both the Medal of Honor and Air Force Cross. His other awards included the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, and POW Medal. Upon his death on 27 July 2013, the Air Force advanced Colonel Day to the rank of Brigadier General.
MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION
On 26 August 1967, Colonel Day was forced to eject from his aircraft over North Vietnam when it was hit by ground fire. His right arm was broken in 3 places, and his left knee was badly sprained. He was immediately captured by hostile forces and taken to a prison camp, where he was interrogated and severely tortured. After causing the guards to relax their vigilance, Col. Day escaped into the jungle and began the trek toward South Vietnam. Despite injuries inflicted by fragments of a bomb or rocket, he continued southward, surviving only on a few berries and uncooked frogs. He successfully evaded enemy patrols and reached the Bến Hải River, where he encountered U.S. artillery barrages. With the aid of a bamboo log float, Col. Day swam across the river and entered the demilitarized zone. Due to delirium, he lost his sense of direction and wandered aimlessly for several days. After several unsuccessful attempts to signal U.S. aircraft, he was ambushed and recaptured by the Viet Cong, sustaining gunshot wounds to his left hand and thigh. He was returned to the prison from which he had escaped and later was moved to Hanoi after giving his captors false information to questions put before him. Physically, Col. Day was totally debilitated and unable to perform even the simplest task for himself. Despite his many injuries, he continued to offer maximum resistance. His personal bravery in the face of deadly enemy pressure was significant in saving the lives of fellow aviators who were still flying against the enemy. Col. Day’s conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Armed Forces.
Actually, a short by-pass bridge commemorating the life, service, and devotion of General George E. “Bud” Day may not be sufficient. I often wonder how many people driving across this bridge know that Bud Day was awarded the Medal of Honor.