America's ace with the highest ever recorded aerial kills was Major Richard Ira Bong. His 40 kills all were from a P-38 Lightning fighter plane.
In December 1944, Gen. Douglas MacArthur gave Bong the Medal of Honor. Apparently, Bong also killed a crocodile with his P-38.
Bong's Start In Aviation
Bong came from a tiny town in Wisconsin, He had eight siblings, and they worked on the farm together, operating and maintaining farm equipment. There, he also became very interested in flying.
He attended college in 1938 and earned his pilot's license through the Civilian Aeronautics Authority. He applied for the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program in February 1941.
When he demonstrated his abilities, he was accepted into the program in May. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Bong was made a 2nd Lt. in the Army Air Force Reserves. He became an instructor in Arizona and was eventually transferred to Hamilton Field by San Francisco.
He flew many stunts during his time there and even was reprimanded for flying a loop around the Golden Gate Bridge. While he may have gotten in trouble, he did get some attention from Gen. George C. Kenney.
Heading To War
Gen. Kenney chose Bong to be a combat pilot in the Fifth Air Force. Bong found himself in the middle of the war by September 1942. He quickly began piling up kills taking out Japanese planes.
Bong began building quite the reputation with the commanding officers and other pilots, eventually earning him a Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Bong said that close combat tactics are what made him successful.
Bong flew a rescue mission in Papua New Guinea with three other pilots to rescue another missing in the jungle. To get to him, they had to cross a lake.
Bong was providing cover for the pilots and saw a crocodile following their boat. He dove toward the water and shot the croc with 20mm cannon fire.
Bong reached an aerial tally of 40 kills by fall 1944 and became the top American ace of all time. When he came home in January 1945, he had a hero's welcome and a Medal of honor.
He worked at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation developing the P-80 Shooting Star. Unfortunately, while testing the aircraft, it had a mechanical failure and exploded. Bong was not able to eject in time and died.