After my recent review of Bury Us Upside Down, a book detailing the Misty Fast FAC program in Vietnam, I was motivated to do more reading on the topic, and in regards to one man in particular. I just finished reading American Patriot: The Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day.
First off, I didn't know that Bud Day was a lawyer. After being discharged from the Marine Corp. following his service in World War Two, he used his GI Bill benefits to go to law school. However, a misdemeanor conviction kept him from being admitted to the Iowa state bar, so when the Korean war came along, he re-enlisted, this time in the Army Reserve. He then took a commission in the then-new Air Force and underwent pilot training, learning to fly the Air Force's new and dangerous jet fighters. In 1955, he earned the distinction of being the first jet pilot to survive a no-chute ejection when he bailed out of his F-84 fighter jet at low altitude and his parachute failed to deploy. Trees broke his fall, and he credited his survival to God wanting to keep him alive for a reason.
In 1967, then a major and contemplating retirement, Day volunteered for an assignment in Vietnam and wound up being ordered to start up a new unit, one that used aging F-100 jet fighters as "Fast FAC" (Forward Air Control) observation and target-spotting aircraft over North Vietnam. The unit's mission was so dangerous that it was volunteer-only and tours were limited to four months. Day personally chose it's call sign, Misty, and flew many of the missions himself. In August of 1967, on one such mission, his aircraft was hit by a Surface-to-Air missile. Both he and his co-pilot bailed out, and his co-pilot was quickly rescued but a badly injured Day was captured by North Vietnamese militia. Five days later, he managed to escape from them and trekked back south, crossing the DMZ and becoming the first American prisoner to escape from North Vietnam. Barefoot and virtually naked after being stripped of his boots and flight suit by his captors, Day evaded capture for nearly two weeks before being recaptured less than a mile from the Marine outpost at Con Thien. he was taken back to the camp that he escaped from and badly tortured before being sent to Hanoi, where he was held in the same cell as wounded Navy pilot and future Senator John McCain.
I learned a lot about McCain's ordeal from Day's story, and while I came to respect him for his service even more than I did before, I'm still at a loss to understand how he changed politically in his later years.
Held for over five years, Day resisted all efforts to get him to disclose information about his unit and other Air Force operations. For this, he was tortured severely enough to cause permanent crippling injuries. The torture wasn't enough to break him, however. he returned to America with his honor intact, and as a leader of the POWs in Hanoi, his resistance inspired other prisoners to stand strong and hold out as well.
Day remained in the Air Force on his return and even regained flying status, checking out in the F-4 Phantom. But an ungrateful Air Force passed him over for promotion to General so he retired a Colonel in 1977.
Now that would have been enough for most people, but Col. Day got admitted to the Florida Bar, began practicing law there, and wound up bringing a lawsuit against the federal government when Bill Clinton kicked our military retirees off of the military medical program and shunted them into Medicare. Day actually won the case at the District Court level only to have the Appellate Court overturn the ruling against the government. But as a result, Congress passed the TRICARE system which basically restored most of our veterans' medical benefits.
Col. Day also helped out the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth when they formed to oppose John Kerry's Presidential campaign in response to his comments and actions during the Vietnam war and his subsequent boasting of his "patriotism" and military service. (Yes, I'm one of the many who think that John Kerry should have been tried for Treason right alongside Jane Fonda...and I'd still be good with that trial starting tomorrow.)
Day is still the most-decorated veteran in Air Force history, being the recipient of the Medal of Honor, the Air Force Cross, The Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with three oak leaf clusters, and the Purple Heart (with three clusters) among others. Col. George "Bud" Day was and still is a giant among men and I do hope that I get the opportunity to shake his hand some day soon.
The book tells his tale very well from childhood to current day, and it also touches on other notables, including Sen. McCain, John Kerry (I've met him and would not piss on him if he was on fire), and H. Ross Perot.
Reading this, I also learned a bit about Ross Perot and his patriotism and willingness to put his own money behind our troops and POWs in particular. The media successfully marginalized him and made him look like a nut to much of America when he ran for president but there was another story that never got told, one where he helped bring about a change in official US policy when it came to our POWs. Like Col. Day, he's done a lot for America's vets and has not, in my opinion, ever been properly thanked.
I could go on and on about Col. Day and this book, but it would still just scratch the surface. Those who have read this book know what I mean, and those who have not...well you need to. Go buy it.
Go on...buy it. Click here.