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Emerald Coast pays tribute to Air Force legend

Service members salute retired U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day’s hearse as it arrives to Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., Aug. 1, 2013. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Parkinson)

Service members salute retired Col. George “Bud” Day’s hearse as it arrives Aug. 1, 2013, to Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Parkinson)

Pallbearers, made up of Airmen and Marines, carry the casket of retired U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day during his funeral service at Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., Aug. 1, 2013. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. John Bainter)

Pallbearers, made up of Airmen and Marines, carry the casket of retired Col. George “Bud” Day during his funeral service Aug. 1, 2013, at Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. John Bainter)

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day’s gravestone sits on display during his funeral service at the Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., Aug. 1, 2013. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Parkinson)

Retired Col. George “Bud” Day’s gravestone sits on display during his funeral service Aug. 1, 2013, at the Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Parkinson)

F-4 Phantoms fly over the funeral service for retired U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day at Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., Aug. 1, 2013. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Parkinson)

F-4 Phantoms fly over the funeral service for retired Col. George “Bud” Day Aug. 1, 2013, at Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Parkinson)

Pallbearers, made up of Airmen and Marines, lift the casket of retired U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day from his hearse during the funeral service at Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., Aug. 1, 2013. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Parkinson)

Pallbearers, made up of Airmen and Marines, lift the casket of retired Col. George “Bud” Day from his hearse during the funeral service Aug. 1, 2013, at Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Parkinson)

The officiating Priest during a memorial service for retired U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day speaks to the crowd at the Emerald Coast Convention Center on Okaloosa Island, Fla., Aug. 1. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo / Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)

The officiating Priest during a memorial service for retired Col. George “Bud” Day speaks to the crowd Aug. 1, 2013, at the Emerald Coast Convention Center on Okaloosa Island, Fla. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)

Doris Day, widow of retired U.S Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day, received a hug during a memorial service for Day at the Emerald Coast Convention Center on Okaloosa Island, Fla., Aug. 1. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo / Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)

Doris Day, widow of retired Col. George “Bud” Day, received a hug during a memorial service for Day Aug. 1, 2013, at the Emerald Coast Convention Center on Okaloosa Island, Fla. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)

Guests pay their final respects to retired U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day’s family upon the conclusion of his funeral service at Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., Aug. 1, 2013. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. John Bainter)

Guests pay their final respects to retired Col. George “Bud” Day’s family upon the conclusion of his funeral service Aug. 1, 2013, at Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. John Bainter)

The Hurlburt Field Honor Guard firing team performs a 21-gun salute at the funeral service for retired U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day at Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., Aug. 1, 2013. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. John Bainter)

The Hurlburt Field Honor Guard firing team performs a 21-gun salute at the funeral service for retired Col. George “Bud” Day Aug. 1, 2013, at Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. John Bainter)

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day arrives by hearse to his funeral service at Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., Aug. 1, 2013. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. John Bainter)
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Retired Col. George “Bud” Day arrives by hearse to his funeral service Aug. 1, 2013, at Barrancas National Cemetery on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. John Bainter)

U.S. Senator John McCain, fights back tears while speaking at a memorial service for retired U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day at the Emerald Coast Convention Center on Okaloosa Island, Fla., Aug. 1. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo / Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)
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Senator John McCain, fights back tears while speaking at a memorial service for retired Col. George “Bud” Day Aug. 1, 2013, at the Emerald Coast Convention Center on Okaloosa Island, Fla. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)

A row of Marine hats sit on chairs during a memorial service for retired U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day at the Emerald Coast Convention Center on Okaloosa Island, Fla., Aug. 1. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo / Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)
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A row of Marine hats sit on chairs during a memorial service for retired Col. George “Bud” Day Aug. 1, 2013, at the Emerald Coast Convention Center on Okaloosa Island, Fla. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 27 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)

A monument of clothing sits for viewing during a memorial service for retired U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day at the Emerald Coast Convention Center on Okaloosa Island, Fla., Aug. 1, 2013. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 28 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo / Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)
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A monument of clothing sits for viewing during a memorial service for retired Col. George “Bud” Day Aug. 1, 2013, at the Emerald Coast Convention Center on Okaloosa Island, Fla. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 28 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)

Pallbearers, consisting of Airmen and Marines carry retired U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day’s casket out during a memorial service for Day at the Emerald Coast Convention Center on Okaloosa Island, Fla., Aug. 1, 2013. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 28 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo / Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)
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Pallbearers, consisting of Airmen and Marines carry retired Col. George “Bud” Day’s casket out during a memorial service for Day Aug. 1, 2013, at the Emerald Coast Convention Center on Okaloosa Island, Fla. Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 28 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)

George Day Jr., son of retired U.S. Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day, speaks to the crowd during a memorial service for Bud at the Emerald Coast Convention Center on Okaloosa Island, Fla., Aug. 1, 2013. Bud, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 28 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo / Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)
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George Day Jr., son of retired Col. George “Bud” Day, speaks to the crowd during a memorial service for Bud Aug. 1, 2013, at the Emerald Coast Convention Center on Okaloosa Island, Fla. Bud, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 28 at the age of 88. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFNS) --

Nearly 1,000 service members, veterans and citizens from across the nation paid their respects to the life and legacy of a retired Air Force colonel during a funeral service Aug. 1 on Okaloosa Island, Fla.

Col. George "Bud" Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat pilot with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, passed away July 28 at the age of 88.

Airmen and Marines lined the sides of the solemn lowly-lit room where the memorial service was held. The sounds of soft classical music set the mood of a somber day. Attendees gathered together in one large line to pay respects to a man thawho made huge personal sacrifices to support the United States of America at all cost.

"The last word that was spoken to the love of his life, Dory, was 'home.'" said George Day Jr., Day's son, during the service. "This is a celebration of his life, and we are so thankful that you are here honoring him."

According to Day's biography, the Sioux City, Iowa, native enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942 and served 30 months in the South Pacific. At World War II's end, he joined the U.S. Army Reserve until he later completed training to become a fighter-bomber pilot in the U.S. Air Force in 1950.

North Vietnamese soldiers shot down Day's F-100 Super Sabre Aug. 26, 1967. He suffered multiple injuries and was captured and held captive for nearly six years during which he endured torture on a daily basis.

One of his fellow prisoners of war, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, attended the service and remarked on the colonel's dedication to service and devotion to his country.

"I had the privilege of being Bud's friend for almost five decades of his 88 years," McCain said. "He was a hard man to kill and expected the same from his subordinates, but more than that, he taught me how to save my self-respect and my honor, and that is a debt I can never repay."

McCain shared a story of Day's perseverance in the face of the struggle and possible death during one of his darker days of captivity.

"He could not be broken in spirit no matter how broken he was in body," McCain said. "Knowing him in prison, confronting our enemies day in and day out, (we never yielded) in front of 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."

The North Vietnamese released Day March 14, 1973, and he reunited with his wife and four children three days later. He retired from the Air Force in 1977.

For Day's actions as a POW and for upholding the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force, President Gerald Ford presented him with the Medal of Honor March 4, 1976, making Day the only recipient of the Medal of Honor along with the Air Force Cross. Of the nearly 70 military decorations and awards Day earned, more than 50 were the direct result of combat.

After returning home, the colonel dedicated his life to directly impacting the well-being of those who serve the country by advocating for military medical benefits as an attorney.

"What is it about a man who suffered more than any of us can even imagine," said Congressman Jeff Miller. "And yet was willing to take on so much more so others would not have to."

After the funeral service, a vehicle procession transported the colonel for burial at Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, Fla. Along the way, thousands of well-wishers lined the sides of the highway to render a salute of honor to one of the most highly-decorated combat veterans of the last century.

"It is the least I can do to pay my respect to a man who has done so much for our county," said Airman 1st Class Heaven Carroll, from 1st Special Operations Contracting Squadron. "Col. Day was a hero, and it is an honor to serve in his footsteps."

"Bud and I stayed close through all the years that had passed, talked often, saw each other regularly -- I am going to miss him terribly," McCain said. "I could never imagine Bud yielding to anything, even the laws of nature, but he is gone now to what I would expect an Iowa cornfield during the winter filled with pheasants. I will see him again, I know I will. I will hunt the fields with him, and I look forward to it."

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