Since the Civil War, more than 39 million
men and women have answered the call to serve.
Of those, 3,440 served with such uncommon
valor and extraordinary courage that they
were presented with the Medal of Honor, the
nation's highest military award. In this collection,
more than one hundred of America's living
Medal of Honor recipients are honored. Their
tales of bravery are recounted by best-selling
author Peter Collier, and also feature portraits
by award-winning photographer Nick Del Calzo.
George E. "Bud" Day
Major, U.S. Air Force
Misty Forward Air Controller Squadron
By Peter Collier
George "Bud" Day was seventeen in late 1942 when he badgered his parents
into allowing him to volunteer for the Marine Corps. He spent nearly
three years in the South Pacific during World War II, then returned
home, went to college, and got a law degree. In 1950, he joined the
Air National Guard. When he was called up for active duty a year later,
he applied for pilot training and flew fighter jets during the Korean
War. After being promoted to captain in 1955, he decided to become
a "lifer" in the Air Force.
In 1967, Day, now a major, was put in command of a squadron of F-100s
in Vietnam involved in a top-secret program. Nicknamed the Misty Super
Facs, their mission was to fly over North Vietnam and Laos as "forward
air controllers," selecting military targets and calling in air strikes
on them. On August 26, ground fire hit Day's plane, destroying its
hydraulic controls and forcing it into a steep dive. When he ejected,
he smashed against the fuselage and broke his arm in three places.
North Vietnamese militiamen below, seeing his parachute open, were
waiting for him when he landed. They marched Day to a camouflaged
underground shelter. When he refused to answer his captors' questions,
they staged a mock execution, then hung him from a rafter by his feet
for several hours. Certain that he was so badly hurt that he wouldn't
try to get away, they tied him up with loosely knotted rope. On his
fifth day in the camp, while a pair of distracted teenage soldiers
stood guard, he untied himself and escaped.
On his second night on the run, Day was sleeping in thick undergrowth
when either a bomb or a rocket landed nearby. The concussion left
him bleeding from his ears and sinuses and sent shrapnel into his
leg. Even so, he continued to hobble south for the next several days,
eating berries and frogs and successfully evading enemy patrols.
Sometime between the twelfth and fifteenth day after his escape --
he had lost track of time -- Day heard helicopters and stumbled toward
the sound. It was U.S. choppers evacuating a Marine unit, but they
left just as he got to the landing zone. The next morning, still heading
south, he ran into a North Vietnamese Army patrol. As he limped toward
the jungle, he was shot in the leg and hand and captured soon afterward.
He was taken back to the camp from which he had escaped and subjected
to more torture.
A few days later he was moved to the "Hanoi Hilton." His untreated
wounds were infected, and he was suffering from malnutrition and unable
to perform even the simplest task for himself. The fingers on both
hands were curled into fists as a result of his torture; he regained
some motion by peeling them back, flattening them against the wall
of his cell, and leaning into them with his full weight.
For more than five years, Day resisted the North Vietnamese guards
who tortured him. On one occasion in 1971, when guards burst in with
rifles as some of the American prisoners gathered for a forbidden
religious service, Major Day stood up, looked down the muzzles of
the guns, and began to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner." The other
men, including James Stockdale, the ranking U.S. officer in the prison,
George Day was released on March 14, 1973. Three years later, on March
6, 1976, both he and Stockdale were presented with the Medal of Honor
by President Gerald Ford.