America lost a true hero over the weekend with the passing of Col. Bud Day, an Air Force fighter pilot and Medal of Honor recipient who was shot down in the Vietnam War, and led a life of inspiration for his peers and those who followed him. Day was the most highly decorated member of the U.S. armed forces since Gen. Douglas MacArthur. He was 88.
"Bud Day was a very dear friend and a hero of gigantic size to me. I will miss him, but I will never forget the twinkle in his eye and the eminent humility in which he lived," said Paul W. Bucha, a fellow Medal of Honor Recipient from Vietnam told Veterans Advantage.
"Bud Day was that rare person who is really larger than life, but never spoke about himself. He once said, ‘If you need to brag about it, it probably isn't true’," added Bucha, who is an Advisory Board Member and spokesman for Veterans Advantage.
According to Bruce Whitman, Co-Chairman of the Medal of Honor Foundation and CEO of Flight Safety International, and a close friend of Day's, "he was very humble, a great leader, a warrior and everyone was inspired by him."
"He embodied all the great qualities of a human being, and someone who wanted to serve and protect the country," Whitman added.
Day survived over five years of captivity at the hands of the North Vietnamese and was recognized for his extraordinary courage in the face of great adversity. Despite countless beatings and torture, Day never divulged sensitive information to the enemy.
On August 26, 1967, Major Day was flying on his 65th mission into North Vietnam, and ejected after surface to air missiles brought his F-100 to the ground. Unable to contact his rescue helicopter before the North Vietnamese reached him, Day was stranded with his right arm broken in three places with eye and back injuries.
He subsequently escaped his North Vietnamese captors, surviving on raw berries and frogs, but was re-captured by a Viet Cong patrol after he re-entered South Vietnam, with leg and hand gunshot wounds. Taken back to his original camp, Day suffered a re-breaking of his right arm, and ultimately was brought to the infamous "Hanoi Hilton."
It was during this time that he shared prison cells with Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain, and former vice presidential candidate James B. Stockdale. For over five years, Day was beaten, starved and threatened with execution. His captors demanded information on escape plans and methods of communication among prisoners of war, as well as on America’s Air war.
Day was finally released on March 14, 1973, and awarded the Medal of Honor three years later by President Gerald R. Ford. According to his citation:
"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."
A military retiree with over 35 years of Active Duty service, Day was an enlisted Marine serving in the Pacific during World War II and joined the Army Air Corps and the Air Force in the Korean and Vietnam wars. 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, and other post-graduate degrees from St. Louis University, Morningside, and Troy State University.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, Day’s over 70 medals and awards include the Air Force Cross, the highest combat decoration awarded to airmen.