Much of what gave retired Air Force Col. George "Bud" Day the strength to endure years of torture in North Vietnamese custody can be traced back to Sioux City, Iowa.
"It was a great spirit of sacrifice and help each other and high standards," he said Friday of his boyhood home. "You get those values from your parents, from your church. They expected a lot from us as kids, and we either gave it to them or they gave you a little corrective action."
Day will be inducted into the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame today at the Iowa Aviation Museum in Greenfield.
He joins 70 others with Iowa ties, including the Wright Brothers, Eugene Ely — the first man to take off and land from the deck of a ship — and pioneering trans-Atlantic pilot Clarence Chamberlain.
Day was surprised to be considered part of such a distinguished group, he told The World-Herald in a telephone interview from his home in Florida.
His eldest son, Steven, will accept the award for him. Day had planned to be there but recently had a pacemaker put in. Doctors told him not to travel.
"I'm flattered, you know, to be compared to some of those old heroes," he said. "You have to have some humility about that, because things were harder and far more difficult in those days than it was for me."
Day said it reminds him of when the unit he led in Vietnam received a prestigious award. His unit performed risky, classified, forward-air-control missions.
"They compared us with the Doolittle Raiders and the Flying Tigers," he said. "That's pretty big stuff when they start comparing you with people like that. And if you always thought you were always that good, there's something wrong with your ego."
But for Lee Ann Nelson, director of the Iowa Aviation Museum, he is exactly the kind of person who merits inclusion.
"He's just an outstanding Iowan and an outstanding example of the kind of person we put in the hall of fame," Nelson said of Day.
Day, 86, is a Marine Corps veteran of World War II. After graduating from Morningside College and the University of South Dakota law school, he became an Air Force fighter pilot.
He was shot down over North Vietnam on Aug. 26, 1967, and immediately taken prisoner. His captors tortured him, but Day escaped into the jungle and fled south on foot, crossing out of North Vietnam and almost making it to American forces before being ambushed, shot and captured by the Viet Cong.
He was returned north for more torture. Despite debilitating wounds, he continued to resist. He was held prisoner until being released in March 1973.
President Gerald R. Ford later presented Day with the Medal of Honor.
To Day, the code of conduct for U.S. prisoners of war came naturally — a distillation of all he learned as a kid in Sioux City: Do right by your neighbor. Be proud of your flag and your God.
"Just plain do the right thing. That code of conduct . That's all it said . I thought anyone raised like I (was) already knew that," said Day, who still practices law in Florida.
While a prisoner, he was also inspired by his wife's Norwegian relatives, who had resisted Nazi occupation in World War II.
"It was an issue of honor with me," Day said. "These people had done the right thing, and it was my time to do the right thing. Actually, I said to myself 'I'm coming home with my honor or I'm not coming home.' "
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