World War II Ace Richard Bong’s Lost Plane ‘Marge’ Discovered in South Pacific


A stunning breakthrough emerged on a Thursday, as devoted searchers unraveled a secret hidden in the depths of the South Pacific. A relic from a bygone era – the alleged wreckage of World War II ace Richard Bong’s plane – was discovered, carrying a narrative weighted with nostalgia for a hero past.

The discovery was a joint endeavor between the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, situated in Superior, Wisconsin; and Pacific Wrecks, a non-profit organization committed to World War II historical preservation. This collaboration had been set into motion in March with a singular objective – to locate Bong’s cherished Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter, “Marge”. Bong doted on his aircraft, emblematic of his affection for his sweetheart, Marge Vattendahl.

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The plane met its fateful journey in March 1944. Another skilled aviator, Thomas Malone, was steering the planes’ course over the territory we now recognize as Papua New Guinea, when an unfortunate engine failure coerced it into an uncontrolled spiral. Malone, valuing life over metal, bailed out just in time as the plane sank into the jungle, a casualty of mechanical betrayal.

In the dense jungles of Papua New Guinea’s Madang Province, Pacific Wrecks Director and expedition lead, Justin Taylan, spearheaded the search, finally stumbling upon the wreckage on May 15. Amidst the overwhelming green, he shared several photographs of himself, surrounded by metallic fragments that once constituted a fierce fighting machine.

One particular image, however, provided the compelling evidence they needed. Taylan was pictured pointing at what was identified as a wing tip from the plane. Upon it was stamped “993”, the concluding digits of the plane’s serial number. Despite the vague presence of a potential oxidizing element partially obscuring the numerical markings, Taylan remained adamant of their legitimacy. Further, he pointed to a piece of metal emblazoned with “Model P-38 JK”.

Taylan, during a video news conference conducted from Papua New Guinea, resolutely claimed that the dual proofs of the serial number and model identification vouched the plane as “Marge”, with absolute surety.

Flushed with victory, Taylan declared, “I think it’s safe to say mission accomplished. Marge has been identified. It’s a great day for the center, a great day for Pacific Wrecks, a great day for history.”

The search had not been a straightforward endeavor. Taylan, having dedicated years to speculation about the crash site, was initially led by local residents to the wreck of a Japanese fighter plane. However, hidden deeper into the jungle was the most awaited treasure, a fact divulged by the locals themselves.

The explorers threaded through the heart of the jungle, uncovering the wreckage entrenched in a secluded ravine. Two aircraft engines protruded from the ground at the ravine’s apex, suggesting a nose-first entry followed by an abrupt burial.

Richard Bong, a native of Poplar, Wisconsin, boasts a formidable record of 40 Japanese aircraft downed during World War II. His adoration for Vattendahl had been engraved on Marge, with her portrait plastered on the plane’s nose. An accolade of astonishing magnitude, Gen. Douglas MacArthur granted him the Medal of Honor in 1944. Bong and Vattendahl’s love story culminated into marriage in 1945.

In his three combat tours in the South Pacific, Bong downed successive enemy aircraft, solidifying his record as the pilot with the highest count. Subsequently, he was designated as a test pilot in Burbank, California. Tragically, Bong lost his life on August 6, 1945, in a P-80 jet fighter crash, the dreadful news coinciding with the infamous atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima. His beloved Vattendahl, only 21 at the time, transformed her grief into a successful career in modeling and publishing before passing away in September 2003.

In the joyful aftermath of the discovery, Richard Bong’s nephew, James Bong, expressed, “It is amazing and incredible that ‘Marge’ has been found and identified. The Bong family is very excited about this discovery.” A symbol of familial pride, Bong’s name continues to live on, commemorated in a bridge connecting Superior and Duluth, Minnesota, and a state recreation area in southeast Wisconsin.