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Marge Bong passes away

Sep 27, 2003

305 Harbor View Parkway
Superior, WI 54880
1-888-816-WWII (9944)


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Marjorie Bong Drucker, 79,
Widow of Ace of Aces, Champion of WWII Veterans

SUPERIOR, Wis., Sept. 27, 2003--Marjorie Bong Drucker,
widow of World War II hero Major Richard Bong, writer and
award-winning magazine publisher, and national speaker on
World War II topics, died today in Superior, Wis., with her
family at her side, after a six-year battle with cancer.
She was 79.

Mrs. Bong Drucker was first introduced to the American
public during World War II as the sweetheart of Ace of Aces
Richard Ira Bong. The most successful combat flyer in
America’s history, Bong affixed her college graduation
photo to the nose of his airplane, which affectionately
became known around the world as the P-38 “Marge.” Bong
later told her she was “the most shot-after girl in the
South Pacific.”

Their blossoming romance caught the nation’s eye. Her
marriage to Richard Bong on February 10, 1945, with 1,200
guests in attendance, was covered by reporters from across
the United States, the International News Service and
newsreel cameramen from several Hollywood studios. Just six
months later, on August 6, Bong was killed in Burbank,
Calif., while test-piloting the Air Force’s first jet. The
news was released publicly before his family was notified,
so his young wife learned of his death over the radio.

“My world turned upside down,” she wrote in the foreword to
the new edition of General George C. Kenney’s book “Dick
Bong: America’s Ace of Aces” (Richard I. Bong WWII Heritage
Center, 2003). “I withdrew as much as possible from public
view. I blocked out the pain of that tragedy and learned
how to survive by doing so.”

In the following years, she quietly moved on with her life.
First in the fashion industry, she worked for Hollywood’s
largest modeling agency. She moved into writing and
magazine publishing when she met (and later married) Murray
Drucker, who had come to the agency looking for someone to
write a column for his magazine “California Girl.” She soon
became the magazine’s fashion coordinator, and the couple
traveled internationally for photo shoots. “California
Girl” grew into one of the leading fashion magazines in
Southern California. In 1956, she launched “The Boxer
Review,” a dog magazine on the Boxer breed. When she sold
the publication in 2001 and retired from publishing, it had
grown to a 128-page magazine with an international
subscription base, and it had won national awards as best
single breed publication.

Mrs. Bong Drucker finally broke her 40-year silence about
her earlier life with Dick Bong in 1985. That year, Bong’s
sister Joyce Bong Erickson invited her to attend the
dedication of the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge, which
connects Duluth, Minn., and Superior.

With encouragement from her daughters--Kristina “Tina”
Drucker, a special education teacher who runs a school in
Cypress, Calif., and Karen “Tay” Drucker, an inspirational
singer/songwriter--she helped establish the Bong P-38 Fund
in 1989, with the goal of building a tribute to Bong and
the other veterans of World War II. In 1995, she published
“Memories,” a book chronicling her life with Major Bong,
all proceeds from which go directly to the Bong Heritage
Center.

Over the past two decades, Mrs. Bong Drucker dedicated her
time to ensuring that the stories of veterans would not be
forgotten. She was the vice-chair of the Richard I. Bong
WWII Heritage Center and an active speaker on behalf of
World War II veterans.

“The present generation is only now realizing how precious
are the freedoms that were handed down to them by the brave
patriots of the forties who defended the United States of
American without question,” she wrote in the foreword to
General Kenney’s book. “Let us never take for granted the
liberties we enjoy, and let us never forget the service of
others that has made, and continues to make, our nation
free.”

She frequently spoke about how ordinary people during that
time became heroes yet did not perceive themselves this
way. In a 2001 interview with Aviation & Business Journal,
Mrs. Bong Drucker said: “Richard was not unlike all of the
other fellows who volunteered, didn’t wait to be drafted,
and went to war. Some even tried to sneak in when they were
16 years old. That’s sheer patriotism. That, to me, sums up
that era.”

She logged more than 40,000 miles on behalf of the Bong
Heritage Center and was a frequent guest speaker around the
country, including presentations at the Holloman Air Force
Base in New Mexico, the Warbirds Museum Air Show in New
York, the Air Force Academy and the Seattle Museum of
Flight. For the 50th anniversary of World War II, she
attended the Congressional Medal of Honor Convention in
Philadelphia as well as ceremonies in Australia and Hawaii.
An active supporter of aviation foundations and museums,
Mrs. Bong Drucker was a member of such organizations as the
49th Fighter Group, the 475th, the 5th Air Force Memorial
Foundation, the P-38 National Association and the Planes of
Fame Museum.

Known for her quick wit and sense of humor, she loved
talking with WWII veterans and hearing their stories.
Christabel Grant, executive director of the Bong Heritage
Center, remembered how people always surrounded Mrs. Bong
Drucker at events to tell about their encounters with Dick
Bong or with her, to give her paintings or medallions they
had made for her, to have their photos taken with her.

“For so many people, Marge was their celebrity, hero and a
touchstone for what they had experienced during World War
II,” Mrs. Grant said. “And she took that responsibility
seriously.”

In 2002, Mrs. Bong Drucker moved from her home of 50 years
in Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon to return to Poplar, Wis.,
where she built a home on the Bong family farm. Having
championed the creation of the Richard I. Bong WWII
Heritage Center, she saw the dream become reality when she
helped cut the ribbon for the new museum on September 24,
2002, which would have been Dick Bong’s 82nd birthday.

“People have asked me what Richard would have thought about
the heritage center,” she said in her presentation at the
first annual Bong WWII Heritage Festival in June 2003. “He
would have been very upset if this was just for him. He
would have liked that it is a tribute for all World War II
veterans. We have done our job for them, and I am very
proud.”

Marjorie Vattendahl was born on October 25, 1923, in Grand
Forks, N.D. She grew up in Superior and graduated from
Superior Teachers College. Her first husband, Major Richard
Bong, died in 1945. Several years later she married Murray
Drucker, who died in 1991. She is survived by her brother
William Vattendahl, of Longville, Minn., and her two
daughters, Kristina Drucker, of Los Angeles, and Karen
Drucker, of San Francisco.

###

CONTACT: Christabel Grant, (day) 715-392-7151, (eve)
715-374-3691, director@bongheritagecenter.org.
Photos of Marge Bong Drucker available.

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