SHALIMAR, Fla. — One of the most decorated Airmen in Air Force history, whose career spanned three wars and four decades, has passed away.
Retired Col. George Everett “Bud” Day, an Air Force pilot, shot down during the Vietnam War and imprisoned in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” along with Sen. John McCain, defiantly resisted the North Vietnamese for more than five years, and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. He passed away July 27, in Shalimar, Fla., at age 88.
Day received close to 70 medals and awards, 50 of them combat-related, during a career that began in 1942 when, as a young 17-year-old, enlisted in the Marine Corps. Day would spend three years in the South Pacific during World War II before returning home to get a law degree.
In 1950, Day joined the Air National Guard and was called to active duty a year later, where he would go through pilot training and become a fighter pilot in the Air Force, where he would fly sorties during the Korean War.
But it was during the Vietnam War that Day would make his mark on history. In 1967, Maj. Day commanded Detachment 1, 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, an F-110 unit, with the top secret mission to fly over Vietnam and Laos as forward air controllers. On Aug. 26, Day’s plane was hit by ground fire, and as he plummeted to Earth, ejected and smashed against the fuselage, breaking his arm in three places.
Day was initially captured and taken to an underground shelter, where he was threatened with a mock execution after refusing to answer the enemy’s questions. After five days, he escaped. In spite of his serious injuries and missing his boots, he traveled over 25 miles. During his arduous travel, he ate only local fruit and raw frogs, and he was further injured when a bomb went off nearby. After about 10 days, Day made it across the Ben Hai River into South Vietnam and a few days later was about two miles away from the Marine base at Con Thien. Tragically, Viet Cong insurgents discovered Day and shot him in the left thigh and left hand.
He was then moved to the “Hanoi Hilton,” where his wounds were left untreated, he suffered from malnutrition and constantly tortured. Day endured years of agonizing treatment. Many of his injuries did not heal properly, and his weight dropped to about 100 pounds. Still, Day remained defiant. In the spring of 1968, he was taken to the “Zoo,” a punishment camp for “hard resisters.” There, he was beaten so hard his vision became blurred. After Ho Chi Minh died in the fall of 1969, the POWs’ situation improved somewhat, but Day was still singled out for especially harsh treatment.
During one instance in 1971, guards burst in with rifles as some of the prisoners gathered for a forbidden religious service. Day defiantly stared the guards down and began to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” in protest. The other prisoners, including the prison’s top ranking officer, James Stockdale, joined him.
In 1973, after 67 grueling months in captivity, he was released. The damage by the enemy permanently scarred Day’s body, but he tenaciously fought to get well. A year later he was back on flight status, and he qualified as an F-4 pilot. Col Day became vice commander of the 33th Tactical Fighter Wing, and he retired from active service in 1976.
On March 4, 1976, President Gerald R. Ford presented Day with the nation’s highest award, the Medal of Honor, during a White House ceremony. In attendance was one of his fellow prisoners, Adm. Stockdale. Another fellow prisoner, Sen. John McCain, wrote about Day in his memoir, “Col. Day had an indomitable will to survive with his reputation intact, and he strengthened my will to live.”