America – and the world – has lost a real hero. Not someone who can throw a football farther or sink a long 3-pointer better because of physical prowess, but a man of great moral strength, legendary courage, ethics and patriotism – Colonel Bud Day. Senator John McCain credits Day with saving his life when both men were POWs during the Vietnam War. “He was the bravest man I ever knew, and his fierce resistance and resolute leadership set the example for us in prison of how to return home with honor.”
During World War II, Day dropped out of high school and joined the Marines at age 17, serving for three years as an enlisted man in the South Pacific. After the War, he went to law school, passed the bar at the age of 24, and became a practicing attorney. Profoundly believing in service to his country, he joined the National Guard in 1950 and attended flight school. He was called to active duty in the Air Force the next year and did two tours as a bomber pilot during the Korean War.
In 1967 Day was shot down over North Vietnam. He bailed out, but the landing broke his knee and his right arm and left him temporarily blinded in one eye.
Captured by the North Vietnamese, he was hung upside down and tortured. Day escaped and spent two weeks crawling through the jungle into South Vietnam. Near starvation and weak from his injuries, he was recaptured by a Viet Cong patrol just before reaching a US outpost. He spent the next five and a half years in captivity, and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic resistance and example to other POWs.
After the war and his release, Day became a crusader for veterans’ health care benefits. He took his fight to the US Supreme Court in a 2003 lawsuit that alleged the government breached its contract to provide free lifetime health care to hundreds of thousands of Korean and World War II veterans. The nation’s highest court refused to hear the case.
Despite his patriotism, Day was understandably mistrustful of politicians and the Federal government. He compared politics to prostitution, saying, “You have to do a whole bunch of things and then there is a paycheck.”