The most highly decorated member of the U.S. armed forces since Gen. Douglas MacArthur spoke Monday night at Papillion-La Vista High School to a nearly full auditorium.
Retired Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day, a Medal of Honor recipient who has more than 70 other decorations, spoke as part of Patriotic Productions ongoing series featuring veterans talking about their experiences both during and after their service.
Day, 87, began his military career when he enlisted into the Marines in 1942. Sent away from his home in Sioux City, Iowa, he spent 30 months in the North Pacific during World War II as a member of a gun battery team.
After the war, he earned a law degree at the University of South Dakota. He was called to active duty in 1951 and served two tours as a fighter-bomber pilot during the Korean War. After that, he decided to volunteer for a tour in Vietnam in 1967.
On Aug. 26, 1967, Day was flying in an air strike against a missile site north of the demilitarized zone. Antiaircraft fire destroyed his plane, forcing the crew to escape. Day’s right arm was broken in three places when he struck the side of the cockpit.
Day was captured by local North Vietnamese militia. Five days later, he escaped his captors and made it within two miles of the U.S. Marine base before being captured again by a Viet Cong patrol, who shot him in the leg and hand.
“They weren’t very happy with me,” Day said to the crowd. “The first thing they asked me during interrogations was what political party my family was.”
Day said he was so astounded by the question he felt he was in some sort of B-grade comedy movie.
“I lied and told them I was a Democrat,” he said.
Day was tortured for escaping and was constantly tied up with his arms and legs bound while being lashed with a fan belt.
“They would hit you so hard, the swelling was horrible,” he said. “Then they would make you sit on a stool, which was nearly impossible.”
Day brought up slides showing diagrams of the forms of torture he underwent. Metal clamps around legs and arms were often used to immobilize prisoners of war.
“They broke my wrist again by tying ropes on my arms and bending them back as far as they could,” he said.
There was also no love lost toward Jane Fonda, whom Day spoke about. Fonda, the daughter of acclaimed actor Henry Fonda, is famously known for her anti-war stance during the Vietnam era, and is criticized to this day by veterans for it.
Fonda was in the metropolitan area last week for an unrelated event. Day brought up a picture on the screen of Fonda while she was touring a gunline in North Vietnam.
Day was moved to various camps near Hanoi, including the infamous Hanoi Hilton. In December 1967, Day shared a cell with Navy Lt. Cmdr. John McCain, a future senator and presidential candidate.
Day was released after five years and seven months as a prisoner in 1973. He was brought back together with his wife, Doris Day, who was with him in Papillion Monday night.
On March 4, 1976, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Gerald Ford.
During his presentation, Day touched upon many subjects, including growing up in Iowa and his thoughts about and attitude toward peace protestors during the ‘60s.
“I hated Haight-Ashbury, and always will,” Day said, referring to the San Fransisco neighborhood that was the cradle of the hippie movement.
“One of the surprising things I’ve learned since I’ve got on the speaking circuit is they teach kids very little about World War II, Korea and Vietnam,” he said. “Many times we go and fight for our freedom, but other times we go and fight for someone else’s.”