Last week I lost a friend, the military lost its most decorated combat warrior, veterans lost their most tireless advocate, and our country lost one of her most treasured sons. In an era when patriotism is frowned on, Colonel Bud Day was an unapologetic patriot and a persistent voice for duty, honor, and country. In an era when the term hero is used to describe entertainers, actors, and sports stars, Bud Day was a welcome reminder of what the term really means. We call our site “Patriot Update.” When we use the word “patriot” we are talking about people like Bud Day. If this article is the first you have heard of this American hero, read on—he is someone every patriotic American should know.
Colonel George “Bud” Day: Courage, Sacrifice, and Patriotism Personified
After serving in the Marine Corps during World War II, Colonel George “Bud” Day became an Air Force Pilot. He was shot down, captured, and became a prisoner of war for almost five years during the Vietnam conflict. After his release from the infamous Hanoi Hilton, Day was awarded the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions in the face of incredible adversity. In 1967, Day was a Major in charge of a squadron of F-100 jets nicknamed the “Misty Squadron.” Day and his pilots served as airborne FACs or forward air controllers who flew missions over Communist territory in North Vietnam spotting targets for American bombers. On one of these missions, Day’s jet was hit by ground fire from the enemy, knocking out its hydraulic system and sending it into a steep dive. Day had just enough time to bail out before the jet crashed into the jungles of North Vietnam. However, in the process of ejecting, Day was thrown against the fuselage, breaking his arm, fracturing his knee, and raising a golf ball-sized lump that left him temporarily blind in one eye. His parachute opened in time, but it brought him down into the waiting arms of the enemy. Upon landing, Day twisted his knee adding yet another painful injury.
Fully aware of his injuries, the enemy guerillas forced Day to hobble for miles through the jungle to their camp. Upon arrival, they immediately began to interrogate him. When Day refused to cooperate, they tortured him. Their methods were brutal and included hanging Day in an excruciatingly painful position and beating him. When this failed to break the courageously stubborn pilot, the enemy soldiers staged a mock execution that, as far as Day knew, was the real thing. They forced him into a kneeling position and placed a pistol against his head. Day heard the sickening click as the pistol was cocked. Certain he was about to die, Day thought one last time of his wife, Doris, and then said a prayer while awaiting his fate. Just before pulling the trigger, the interrogator turned the pistol away just enough to ensure that the round to would miss Day’s head, but by only a fraction of an inch. It did, but the guns’ explosive report damaged Day’s ear drum. It took the stunned pilot a moment to realize he was still alive.
Despite this cruel hoax, his painful injuries, and the brutal torture, Day persevered in resisting. He steadfastly refused to give in to his captors. The torture continued for several days until it appeared the beaten and bloodied pilot could not possibly live, much less escape. One night the guards failed to watch their battered prisoner as closely as they should have, and he slipped quietly into the jungle began an arduous 10 day trek using escape and evasion tactics. It was hours before his captors realized that their prisoner was gone. In the meantime, Day used those hours to put as much distance as possible between himself and his captors. When Day thought he had gained a sufficient head start, he began to sleep in jungle thickets during the daylight hours and travel mostly at night. After a couple of days on the run, the battered pilot was sleeping in a jungle thicket trying to preserve his failing strength when he was startled awake by an ear-splitting explosion. An American bomb or missile—no doubt intended for his pursuers—had exploded nearby driving hot shards of burning shrapnel deep into his leg.
Day’s growing inventory of injuries and wounds now included a broken arm, twisted knee, swollen and temporarily blinded eye, lacerations from the shrapnel, and contusions from the beatings. To complicate matters, in the harsh jungle environment his wounds were rapidly becoming infected. In spite of his mounting injuries, Day continued to slowly and painfully hobble in a southerly direction. His goal was to reach friendly territory in South Vietnam and rejoin his squadron. But his festering wounds, fetid jungle environment, and a lack of food and water began to take their toll. After around ten days—Day lost count—with little food or water, the pilot was suffering from dehydration, starvation, and a host of festering wounds. In spite of this, he persevered. With every ounce of strength he could muster, Day continued his trek south toward freedom. Then, one day he heard the sound of a helicopter. Knowing they had to be American, Day made his ways as fast as he could manage toward the noise, a noise that meant freedom. Unfortunately, unaware of his presence, the helicopter took off without Day.
On the plus side though, Day realized he had made it to the river separating North and South Viet Nam. On the other side of the river, freedom and access to the world’s best medical care awaited him. All that stood in his way now was a river, or at least that is what Day thought at the time. Unfortunately, a closer look proved otherwise. As he strained to see beyond the river, Day found that the jungle along the river’s edge was crawling with Viet Cong guerillas. So close, yet so far. Day was now only a few miles from freedom, but those last miles would turn out to be the most difficult and heart breaking of them all.
With all the patience and stealth he could muster, Day crawled down to the river’s edge and slipped quietly into the river. Taking advantage of a log floating by, Day used it for cover to float undetected down the river. When he could no longer see enemy guerillas, Day crawled ashore on what he thought of as the freedom side of the river—exhausted but full of hope. With new found strength, he quickly began making his way south to freedom. He never made it.
As Day hobbled toward freedom, hope growing with every step, he stumbled right into a Viet Cong ambush. Shots were fired, and Day was hit in the leg and the hand by rounds from an AK-47 rifle. After persevering in evading the enemy for two weeks while enduring dehydration, starvation, and a host of debilitating wounds, Day was recaptured within sight of freedom. The ordeal of escape and evasion were over, but the ordeal of his life had just begun.
Day was returned to the same camp from which he had escaped two weeks earlier. But this time his captors had a better idea of the type of person they were dealing with. Rather than waste time trying to torture him into submission, his captors tossed him unceremoniously into the back of a Russian-made truck and shipped him off to the infamous Hanoi Hilton; the prisoner of war camp in the capital of North Viet Nam. It would be years before Day would once again breathe the fresh air of freedom. As one of the senior officers in his cell block, Day knew it was his responsibility to set an example of resistance for the other prisoners of war (POWs). Day vowed that he would never give in to his communist captors and never quit on his men or his country. He would do whatever was necessary to maintain his honor as an Air Force officer and his dignity as a human being. Day kept that commitment but paid a heavy price for doing so.
Day and his fellow POWs were finally released from captivity on March 14, 1973, thereby ending a five-year ordeal that few people could not endure without breaking. But through it all, Day courageously persevered. He never gave up and never gave in. As a result, on March 6, 1976, Day was awarded America’s highest award for valor in combat—the Medal of Honor. After retiring from the Air Force, Colonel Day spent the rest of his life working on behalf of veterans and their families. At his funeral I thanked God for the privilege of knowing this American hero and for giving our country such men.