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Decorated veteran visits on Friday

Thursday, August 30, 2001

(Photo)
Col. George E. "Bud" Day
SIKESTON - Area residents will have the opportunity Friday to see the man behind the name that will grace one of Sikeston's new streets during its dedication ceremony.

The Col. George E. "Bud" Day Parkway bears the name of "a man our community can be proud to have named this after," said developer Scott Matthews, adding his sister, Dr. Elizabeth Brunt of St. Louis, "is as much a part of this as I am. She joins me in my appreciation of what Doris and Colonel Day did for our country."

"We're very fortunate that we can honor one of our great American living heroes," said Blair Moran, American Legion Post 114 chaplain. "The street will be a reminder to the citizens of our community of the service and sacrifice it takes to keep our nation strong and free."

Sikeston's relationship with Day began in September 1993 when the community named the decorated veteran parade marshal for the Cotton Carnival parade.

A recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Day served 30 months in the Pacific Theater of World War II as an infantry Marine, two tours flying air-to-ground and intercept missions in F-80 Shooting Star jet fighters during the Korean War, and as a F-100 Supersabre jet fighter pilot during the Vietnam War.

While flying in Vietnam, Day's plane was shot down, forcing him to bail out with severe injuries over hostile territory.

"I was on a SAM destruction mission," said Day. "It was the furthest south that we had ever seen one."

Before leaving on the fateful Aug. 26, 1967, mission, Day was shown a picture taken at dawn that day which was properly interpreted as being a three-missile RADAR van and trailer surface-to-air missile unit, he recalled.

Although he usually piloted the F-100 on his missions, on this sortie Day was in the back seat with a pilot making his first combat mission in the front seat.

Their first pass over the SAM site was made at about 3,000 feet moving from southeast to northwest at 500 knots. "Two to three miles out they opened fire," said Bud.

It turned out that not only had a SAM site been set up there, but also 20 mm and 30 mm anti-aircraft guns and several flak batteries which quickly filled the sky with over 100 flak bursts.

As a second pass at that time would have been much too dangerous to risk, they flew on to complete an in-air refueling before circling around for another pass, this time from the southwest to the northeast.

Traveling at approximately 510 knots this time, they were spotted early by the SAM's defenders. "As soon as we popped up over the ridge they were firing at us," he recalled.

Their aircraft was hit by what he believes to have been a flak burst "right smack-dab over the target," said Day.

Both he and the pilot were able to bail out in time. The pilot fortunately landed another mile and half south of him and was safely evacuated, but Day's troubles had just begun.

He was captured immediately. Despite injuries sustained while bailing out including a right arm broken in three places, a badly injured knee and a damaged eye, he was interrogated under torture before being imprisoned in a bunker until he could be moved to a prison near Hanoi.

Day realized his best chance for escape was before he got behind bars. He tricked the young guards into believing he was incapacitated, then worked free of his bonds shortly after nightfall and slipped away.

Despite additional severe injuries sustained from an artillery round on the second day of his 12-day journey and being caught in two different B-52 air strikes, he managed to achieve the distinction of becoming the only American POW to escape and make it south to the DMZ, coming within two miles a U.S. Marine base before being captured by two young enemy soldiers.

The soldiers promptly shot him in the left leg and hand before beginning the long trip north to the prisons near Hanoi where he endured further torture and interrogations during the next five and half years. Thirty-seven months of it were spent in solitary confinement.

Sen. John McCain, who was briefly a roommate of Day's during his imprisonment, said in a Sept. 20, 1993, Standard Democrat article: "I don't know how many Americans who became POWs were heroes. But I know Bud Day was one. In my life, I have never known anyone who better exemplifies the cardinal virtues: compassion, guts, determination, resourcefulness and intelligence. Bud Day is one of the great men I have had the honor to know."

Matthews said Day and McCain maintain a close and very warm relationship to this day.

In the same Standard Democrat article, retired Air Force General Robinson Risner said: "No one was tougher or smarter. No one encouraged the men around them to greater efforts. No one excelled Col. Day in the ability to plan ahead nor his ability to out think and outwit the enemy. Col. Day enjoyed near fanatical loyalty of his men and his decisions in his cell block were unquestioned."

During this time, his wife Doris, who will also attend the dedication, relentlessly fought to bring Day home and organized other POW wives to pressure Congress and the President into working harder to repatriate POWs in addition to raising their four children by herself.

"She was one of the key people in the United States of America that was still trying to get these people back," said Matthews, and bringing Day home was "a tremendous personal victory on her end as well as his."

In addition to Day's heroism during times of war, Matthews was inspired to name the street after him in recognition of his efforts in his latest battle.

Day is spearheading a class action suit filed against the United States Secretary of Defense on behalf of veterans who were "summarily stripped of their medical rights by the Clinton administration," according to Matthews. "He's been working diligently and has won the first couple of rounds."

The complete story of Day's imprisonment can be found in his book, "Return With Honor," according to Matthews, as well as being included in a PBS series on POWs by the same name.

In addition to his admiration of Day as a national hero and for his continuing effort on behalf of veterans, Matthews also made a personal connection.

"It turned out we each had common acquaintances back in the Air Force," said Matthews. "I was stationed with an F-100 squadron in England, and I knew a bunch of F-100 pilots he knew."