View Full Version : Sioux City honors its hero

03-07-06, 06:47 AM
Sioux City honors its hero
Downtown city street renamed for 'Bud' Day
By Dave Dreeszen Journal business editor

Paying tribute to their hometown hero Monday, Sioux Cityans unveiled plans to ensure future generations will remember Col. George "Bud" Day's service to his country.

At a ceremony that gushed with patriotism, city leaders announced the renaming of a downtown street in honor of the former combat pilot and prisoner of war. A college scholarship also will be established in his name, and his story of heroism will become part of the curriculum in local schools.

In addition, the city designated the first Monday of March as an annual day of recognition for Day, who endured 67 months as a POW during the Vietnam War.

"You set an example for all of us today, for our children and for many generations to come," Mayor Craig Berenstein told Day, invited back to his hometown on the 30th anniversary of receiving the Medal of Honor.

Wearing the Medal of Honor and his old flight jacket at the ceremony, Day was taken back by the accolades, which event organizers had kept secret from him until Monday.

"I hope you will not be surprised if I tell you I'm absolutely speechless," the 81-year-old told the audience gathered in front of City Hall under blue skies on an unseasonably warm day. "I have been praised far beyond my efforts."

Close Day friend H. Ross Perot, the two-time presidential candidate and Texas businessman, praised the community for a richly deserved tribute.

"You haven't forgotten your hometown hero," Perot, a surprise guest at Monday's ceremonies, told the audience. "You are honoring this man in a way I wish our great heroes across the country should be honored."

A long-time supporter of Day and other POWs, Perot previously donated the 9-foot-tall statue of Day that stands in front of the Sioux Gateway Airport terminal. Four years ago, Perot and some of Day's fellow POWs attended a ceremony to dedicate the statue as the city renamed the airfield for Day.

Now, a city street also will bear his name. "Honorary Col. Bud Day" will be added to the top of signs for Sixth Street in downtown Sioux City. City leaders unveiled a drawing of the new sign and presented a framed copy to Day.

City Manager Paul Eckert said the council selected the one-way Sixth Street because it's a busy thoroughfare that goes past City Hall, the main city Library and the Orpheum Theater. The new street signs are expected to go up in a few weeks, he said.

"While we are recognizing Col. Day today, I think we as a community are recognizing all of our veterans," Eckert said.

Day, the nation's most-decorated living service member, said he also considers the recognition a testament to all members of the armed forces who have served their country.

I do not take all this personally," he told the audience. "You would have to believe I have an awfully big ego for me to say I am as good as all of you say I am."

In a military career spanning 34 years and three wars, Day received nearly 70 decorations and awards, 50 for combat. His F-100 fighter jet was shot down during a secret mission over North Vietnam on Aug. 26, 1967. Captured by the enemy, he spent the next 5 1/2 years in POW camps, enduring seemingly endless torture and countless threats of execution.

By feigning a back injury, Day managed to lull his guards into complacency and escaped from prison on Sept. 1, 1967. Free for 12 days, he made it back to South Vietnam and was within two miles of a U.S. Marine base before being shot and recaptured by a Viet Cong patrol.

His courage and determination in captivity earned Day eternal admiration and respect. Among those who haven't forgotten his heroism is U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former Naval aviator and fellow POW. In a video presenation shown at Monday's Downtown Rotary Club meeting, where Day was the featured speaker, McCain described Day as his "hero," "mentor" and "inspiration." Another video tribute came from retired NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, a Yankton, S.D., native.

Beginning with the next academic year, Day's heroism will be incorporated into the social studies curriculum for Sioux City elementary and high school classes, said superintendent of schools Larry Williams. A visit to Day's statue at Sioux Gateway Airport is part of a field trip fourth-grade students annually take, he said.

Brendan Burchard, a retired commander with the 185th Air Refueling Wing, Iowa Air National Guard, said his students at Bishop Heelan High School are already learning about Day's heroism.

As part of a busy schedule Monday, Day spoke at an all-school assembly at Heelan and also visited students at Riverview Elementary School. Though he attended classes in a different building in Riverside, the current school is located just across the street from the house where he grew up.

He left Central High School to enroll in the Marines during World War II and served 30 months as a noncommissioned officer in the South Pacific. He also served two tours of duty in the Korean War.

Local high school students will be eligible for an annual $1,000 scholarship named for Day. A panel of his friends will select the annual recipient, who Burchard said will embody qualities exhibited by Day such as honor, valor, courage and patriotism.

At Monday's ceremony, local leaders also honored Day's wife, Doris, whom he affectionately calls "The Viking." While he was a POW, Doris Day raised the couple's young children, and served as a leader among wives of other POWs, pushing Washington for action to free their husbands.

The Siouxland Chamber of Commerce awarded Doris Day with one set of a pair of bookends engraved with a Viking emblem. "As we all know, bookends work best when they are a pair or a team, just like Col. Day and Mrs. Day," said Chris McGowan, executive vice president of Siouxland Initiative and the lead organizer for Monday's ceremonies.

Local officials also unveiled a portrait of Day with his Medal of Honor. Taken by Nick Del Calzo, who has photographed all living Medal of Honor recipients, it's one of just 10 limited edition prints. One hangs in the Pentagon. Local leaders plan to purchase additional prints, which will be displayed at City Hall, the airport and other public places.

President Gerald Ford presented the Medal of Honor to Day at a White House ceremony on March 4, 1976.

Following the war, Day received his undergraduate degree in English and history from Morningside College and a law degree from the University of South Dakota. He and his wife now live in Fort Walton, Fla., where he practices law. For several years, Day has fought the federal government in court to ensure veterans receive the medical benefits they were promised.

Journal business editor Dave Dreeszen can be reached at (712) 293-4211 or davedreeszen@siouxcityjournal.com