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[Deathwatch] Marge Bong Drucker, "most shot at girl in WWII", 79



A reader sent this in.	I think she *must* qualify as a celebrity from
some part of this.  - Ed.

Marge Bong Drucker lived life to the fullest
Wife of WWII flying ace Richard I. Bong lived three lives before dying
at the age of 79

Marge Bong Drucker grew up in Superior and married Poplar native
Richard I. Bong, the most successful pilot in WWII. He put her picture
on the nose of his plane as he went on to shoot down 40 enemy aircraft
in the South Pacific, a record that still stands today. After Bong was
killed in a test flight, his widow remarried, had a successful career
in fashion and publishing, and was an instrumental backer of the
Richard I. Bong WWII Heritage Center in Superior. She died last week at
the age of 79.

Marge Bong Drucker died last week at the age of 79 in Superior, but
before she did, she lived three lives.

In her first life, she grew up in Superior as Marge Vattendahl and
married flying ace Richard I. Bong. While their marriage lasted only
six months before he was killed testing a new jet fighter, it secured
her a place in World War II history. Her picture flew with Bong on the
nose of his plane as he became the most successful combat pilot in
American history.

Her second life involved fashion, modeling, publishing and motherhood
as she married Murray Drucker and raised two daughters while traveling
all over the world as a businesswoman.

Her third life brought her back to Superior, and, after Murray Drucker
died, she focused her time and energy on keeping alive the memory of
the country?s most celebrated fighter pilot. A crowning glory in her
life was the opening of the Richard I. Bong WWII Heritage Center and
the restoration of a P-38 Lightning, the type of plane that Bong flew
in the South Pacific while shooting down more planes than any WWII
pilot. He amassed a record of 40 victories that still stands today.

Bong Drucker was a student at Superior State Teacher?s College, now the
University of Wisconsin-Superior, and just starting life No. 1 when she
met Bong, home on his first combat leave. They met at the college?s
homecoming dance, where the Poplar native Bong crowned the queen in
1943.

She was surprised when his sister, Jerry, tracked her down on campus
the next week and asked her to go out on a date with her brother, who,
at the time, was 23, a famous fighter pilot and one of the country?s
most eligible bachelors.

The two squeezed in as many bowling dates and movies as Bong?s rigorous
schedule raising money on the war bond circuit would allow.

Bong went back into combat and they both secured their places in
history. Bong put her college graduation picture on the nose of his
plane and named the aircraft ?Marge.? Then he had claimed his 26th,
27th and 28th victories and broke Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker?s World War
I record of 26 downed enemy aircraft. That brought them both worldwide
acclaim. Soon, everyone wanted to meet Marge, ?the most shot after girl
in the South Pacific,? as Bong wrote to her, apologizing for bringing
her into the media frenzy.

On leave again after breaking Rickenbacker?s record, the two became
engaged and married when Bong returned home from combat, after Gen.
MacArthur awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor. He came home a
hero, and America?s favorite son.

The couple?s wedding stands as one of the biggest in Superior?s
history, with 1,200 guests. The ceremony was taped and broadcast over
the radio in Chicago. The wedding was recorded by the national media,
and the film is in the National Archives today.

The couple settled in California, where the famous pilot still garnered
the limelight and was one whom the stars sought out for autographs,
including Judy Garland, Angela Lansbury, Bing Crosby and Lucille Ball.

The couples? shining star burned brightly, but not for long.

Just six months later, Bong was testing a prototype jet fighter for
Lockheed when it malfunctioned over North Hollywood. He tried to eject
after navigating his aircraft to a vacant lot, but he died in the
crash.

?After Richard was killed I stayed in California and did not come back
here until 40 years later,? she said just two weeks before her death.
?I was suffering from a great deal of pain. I just felt a bit like a
non-person, and I had to work myself out of that.? Despite being
married to one of the most famous Americans at the time, she did not go
public with her loss.

?I never wanted to trade in on Richard?s publicity,? she said. ?I was
invited out for movie interviews and I could have talked to any
reporter I wanted, but I chose not to do that. What did I do? I didn?t
do anything, I was just lucky enough to have married him.?

So she began life No. 2 on her own. It started with a modeling career,
and she worked for the largest agency in Hollywood. That led to her
marriage to Murray Drucker, who published both fashion and dog
magazines. They raised two daughters, Kristina and Karen Drucker, and
the family traveled around the world on fashion shoots and business for
the magazines.

Bong Drucker became a publisher herself in 1956 and started Boxer
Review, an award-winning dog magazine that she ran from her home office
until 2001 when she sold it.

?She was editing her pages the day after I was born,? said Karen
Drucker. ?She was a working mom. She was in the hospital editing
pages.?

She may have been a working mother, but in photos of her during that
era, she looked like a tall, stately model, who made the improbable
boxer look like a glamour dog. Pictures show her on photo shoots from
all over the world, in some posing, in others, assisting the models for
the perfect shot.

During those years, she kept her first life locked away.

?Nobody knew about it. It was really like separate lives,? said Karen
Drucker, adding that it wasn?t until she was about 10 years old that
she discovered pieces of her mother?s life with the famous WWII flying
ace.

?In a way, it was really honoring of my father. Here was this other
life and here is my life now,? Karen Drucker said.

Murray Drucker died in 1991, and with her children grown, Marge Bong
Drucker, successful publisher, world traveler, mother, opened another
new chapter on her life.

?Life No. 3 would be my fund raising for the Heritage Center,? she
said.

She came back to Superior after a 40-year absence to attend the
dedication of the Bong Bridge, and that began her re-entry to the Bong
era. She was touched by the reception she received in Superior on her
first visit back home. She was asked to speak to the 49th Fighter
Group, which was in town for a reunion.

?I was so shocked,? she said, ?to receive such a wonderful reception
and a welcome back, so that was really wonderful. That was the
beginning of my opening up to the press and the public.?

It was also the beginning of the Richard I. Bong WWII Heritage Center.
Bong Drucker and others, including Bong?s family, embraced the notion
of honoring their pilot with a museum. Bong Drucker began raising money
by accepting invitations to speak at veteran?s events all over the
country.

One of the high points of all three of her lives was the opening of the
center on Sept. 24, 2002.

?Many have asked me, ?What do you think Richard would feel about the
museum,?? she said. ?I think he would be very proud of what we have
done, mainly because we included other veterans. Every branch of
service is represented there. I think he would have felt a little
chagrined to see it was named just in his honor. But it includes the
stories of all veterans, and that?s why it is called the World War II
museum.

?I feel we were just doing our job in getting a very fitting tribute to
all the heroes, and many of whom lost their lives. Recognizing the
worth of these veterans is very important and even more important is to
pass down this information to the younger generations, many of whom
don?t know a thing about World War II,? she said.

With her mission on life No. 3 completed with the opening of the
Heritage Center, Bong Drucker was not ready to settle down to her old
life in California.

In 2002, she sold the house that she had lived in for more than 50
years in Hollywood and had a new house built on the original Bong
homestead in Poplar.

Just days before, she had no regrets. She did not feel cheated that her
time with Richard Ira Bong was short.

?I was just happy for the time I had with him,? she said.