War Hero Bud Day: A legacy of freedom, service and valor

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Dallas, August 12, 2013 | Ruth Guerra (202-225-4201) | comments

Dallas Morning News
By Rep. Sam Johnson

It’s been said that “What people don’t understand is that the battle in America is not political or economic or racial. It’s ideological. It’s that we have not taught an American generation what America means.” I want to be the kind of person who inspires people of all ages to become better citizens. Sharing stories of one of the finest patriots of the last century fits the bill.

Recently my dear friend and fellow prisoner of war George “Bud” Day went home to God on July 27. Some knew him as a Medal of Honor recipient or one of the most highly decorated veterans of the last century. I knew him as Bud.

At 17, Bud harassed his parents for permission to enlist in the Marine Corps. After his service in the South Pacific during World War II, he returned home and graduated from college and law school. He signed up for the reserves and was called up for duty in 1950 for Korea. He applied for flight school and went on to fly fighter jets. It’s no surprise that Bud decided to make a career out of the Air Force. He was a natural — cool, quick and assertive.

Set to retire in 1968, Day gladly took an assignment in Vietnam. On Aug. 26, 1967, while flying his 65th mission in his F-100, then-Maj. Day took enemy fire and ejected from his plane — shattering his arm and injuring his eyes and back. Captured nearly immediately, the local militia staged Bud’s mock execution and then hung him from a rafter … by his feet … for hours.

Around day five, Day persuaded his low-level soldier watchmen to loosen his ties and reduce their vigilance. Day untied himself, escaped and headed for South Vietnam. Despite his severe injuries, Bud pressed on for 12 or 15 days making a bamboo float to coast the river while surviving on frogs. (Delirium had set in, leading him to lose track of time.)

While tasting freedom and safety just two miles from a Marine Fire Base, a Viet Cong patrol shot Bud in the leg and hand — crippling him and taking him captive again — this time for five years and seven months. They tortured Bud even more for his bold and brazen escape.

The fingers on both hands curled into fists as a result of his torture. Bud regained some feeling and motion by peeling them back, flattening them against the cell wall, and pressing into them with his full weight. It seemed like only a matter of time before Bud started tapping on the walls in our special POW code, our only way to communicate.

My favorite Bud story dates back to 1971. We POWs in Room 7 of the prison we dubbed the Hanoi Hilton decided to defy our captors and hold a church service. They hated that we found unity and strength in God and one another. Heavily armed guards broke up our religious service and hustled out three POWs for more torture and solitary confinement.

As armed guards surrounded us, Bud pounced onto the poor excuse for a bed and belted out the national anthem and “God Bless America” — and other patriotic songs. Soon after, the POWs in other rooms chimed in and supposedly we could be heard outside the prison walls.

The magnitude of the moment and the magic of the music overpowered any illness or ache. For a fleeting time, we felt strong and faithful. It’s one of the greatest gifts he could have given us.

On March 14, 1973, Day left Vietnam and reunited with his wife, Doris, and children. Like me, with the help of many surgeries and physical therapy, Bud returned to flying. He retired from the Air Force and started practicing law again.

Bud’s a shining example of everything that America stands for. Learning about one-of-a-kind patriots like Bud should be mandatory in each schoolroom in this country. Rest in peace, Bud. You made me a better American and America a better place. As we tapped every night in the Hanoi Hilton — G.B.U. (God Bless You).

Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano, is a 29-year Air Force veteran who spent nearly seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, more than half of that time in solitary confinement. He can be reached at JohnsonTX03@mail.house.gov.

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