Washington Bureau

07.29.13

John McCain Pays Tribute to Bud Day

Retired Col. George “Bud” Day died Monday at age 88. A highly decorated Vietnam veteran, he spent five and a half years in a POW camp, during which time his cellmate was a young pilot John McCain. Senator McCain took to the Senate floor Monday to pay tribute to Day.

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Here are his remarks in full:

“Mr. President, Sunday brought the sad news that my dear friend, Colonel George E. ‘Bud’ Day, passed away. He was 88 years old. To say he lived a full life would be quite an understatement. His was filled with so many extraordinary experiences; adventures; challenges; accomplishments; and with such love, compassion and courage that it could have supplied enough experiences, excitement and satisfaction for ten lifetimes.

“Bud knew defeats and triumphs on a scale few will ever know. He lived in moments filled with every conceivable emotion. He knew terror and suffering. He knew joy and deliverance. He knew solidarity, self-respect and dignity.

“Knowing him as well as I did, I’m certain he faced his end satisfied he had made the most of his time on Earth. He will have faced it with courage, as he faced all adversity. He will have faced it with gratitude for the love and companionship of his beloved wife and best friend, Dorie; his sons, Steve and George; and his twin girls, Sandra and Sonya. He will have faced it with humility for having had the honor to serve his country with distinction in three wars—World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

“I had the honor of being Bud’s friend for almost five decades of his 88 years. We met in 1967, when the Vietnamese left me to die in the prison cell Bud shared with Major Norris Overly. But, Bud and Norris wouldn’t let me die. They bathed me, fed me, nursed me, encouraged me and ordered me back to life. Norris did much of the work. But, Bud did all he could considering that he, too, had recently been near death—shot, bombed, beaten savagely by his captors, and his arm broken in three places. He was a hard man to kill and he expected the same from his subordinates.

“They saved my life—a big debt to repay, obviously. But more than that, Bud showed me how to save my self-respect and my honor. And, that is a debt I can never repay. Bud was a fierce—and I mean really fierce—resister. He could not be broken in spirit no matter how broken he was in body.

“Those who knew Bud after the war could see how tough he was. But, my God, to have known him in prison—confronting our enemies day-in and day-out; never, ever yielding—defying men who had the power of life and death over us; to witness him sing the national anthem in response to having a rifle pointed at his face—well, that was something to behold. Unforgettable. No one had more guts than Bud or greater determination to do his duty and then some—to keep faith with his country and his comrades whatever the cost. Bud was my commanding officer; but, more, he was my inspiration—as he was for all the men who were privileged to serve under him. 

“Nothing offers more compelling testimony to Bud’s guts and determination and his patriotism than the account of his escape from captivity. In the entire war, he was the only American who managed to escape from North Vietnam.

“In 1967, then Major Bud Day commanded a squadron of F-100s that served as Forward Air Controllers over North Vietnam and Laos. They were called the ‘Mistys,’ named for Bud’s favorite song. Theirs was probably the most dangerous combat duty in the Air Force and they suffered high casualties. On August 26, Bud Day was one of those casualties.

“Bud was shot down by a surface-to-air missile twenty miles inside North Vietnam. He hit the fuselage of his F-100 when he ejected, breaking his arm, damaging his eye and injuring his back. Bud was immediately captured by North Vietnamese militia. He was interrogated by his captors in an underground prison camp. When he refused to answer their questions, they staged a mock execution. Then, they hung him by his feet for hours and beat him. Believing he was too badly injured to escape, they tied him up loosely and left him guarded by two green, teenage soldiers. They misjudged him. On his fifth day of captivity, he untied his ropes, and escaped.

“Bud stayed on the run for about two weeks. He wasn’t certain how long he was free. He lost track of time. He made it across the DMZ and into South Vietnam. A bomb, however, had fallen near him his second night on the run, striking him with shrapnel, concussing him and rupturing his eardrums. But, limping, bleeding, starving and in great pain, Bud kept heading south, across rivers, through dense jungles, over hills, crawling sometimes on his hands and knees—evading enemy patrols and surviving on berries, frogs and rainwater. On the last night of Bud’s escape, he arrived within two kilometers of a forward Marine base. Sensibly judging it more dangerous to approach the guarded base at night than to wait until morning when the Marine guards could see he was an American, Bud slept one more night in the jungle.

“Early the next morning, he encountered a Viet Cong patrol. He was shot trying to hobble to the base, recaptured and returned to the camp he had escaped, where he was tortured some more.

“A few days later, Bud’s captors took him to the prison we called the Plantation, where I would meet him two months later. He was one of the most grievously injured pilots to arrive in Hanoi. Norris helped nurse him back to some semblance of health, although he would never fully recover from his wounds. Then, Bud helped Norris nurse me.

“Whenever I felt my spirits and resistance flag, I looked to Bud for the courage to continue and for the example of how to serve my country in difficult circumstances. Bud was the bravest man I ever knew—and I’ve known more than a few. He was great company, too, and made it possible to actually have fun in prison once in a while.

“He received the Medal of Honor when he came home, the highest of his many decorations for valor. Despite his injuries, he managed to regain flying status and commanded a flight wing at Elgin Air Force base.

“When Bud ultimately retired from the Air Force, he practiced law. After his service in World War II—but before he deployed to the Korean War—he had graduated from college and law school. He devoted his practice to defending the interests of his fellow veterans.

“Bud and I stayed close through all the years that have passed since our war. We talked often. We saw each other regularly. He campaigned with me in all my campaigns and advised me always. We argued sometimes, agreed more often, laughed a lot, and always enjoyed each other’s company. I’m going to miss him terribly.

“Even though Bud had reached advanced years, for some reason, I could never imagine Bud yielding to anything—even, I thought, to the laws of nature. Tough old bird that he was, I always thought he would outlive us all.