An Iowa boy, a veteran of World War II and Vietnam, a combat pilot famous for his defiance in the face of five years of torture in the Hanoi Hilton, a veterans advocate, a political figure in his later years, and an American hero, Air Force Col. George Everett “Bud” Day passed away Saturday in Florida.

His roommate at the Hilton weighed in, calling him “my dear friend and the bravest man I ever knew.”

The citation for Day’s Medal of Honor:

On 26 August 1967, Col. Day was forced to eject from his aircraft over North Vietnam when it was hit by ground fire. His right arm was broken in 3 places, and his left knee was badly sprained. He was immediately captured by hostile forces and taken to a prison camp where he was interrogated and severely tortured. After causing the guards to relax their vigilance, Col. Day escaped into the jungle and began the trek toward South Vietnam. Despite injuries inflicted by fragments of a bomb or rocket, he continued southward surviving only on a few berries and uncooked frogs. He successfully evaded enemy patrols and reached the Ben Hai River, where he encountered U.S. artillery barrages. With the aid of a bamboo log float, Col. Day swam across the river and entered the demilitarized zone. Due to delirium, he lost his sense of direction and wandered aimlessly for several days. After several unsuccessful attempts to signal U.S. aircraft, he was ambushed and recaptured by the Viet Cong, sustaining gunshot wounds to his left hand and thigh. He was returned to the prison from which he had escaped and later was moved to Hanoi after giving his captors false information to questions put before him. Physically, Col. Day was totally debilitated and unable to perform even the simplest task for himself. Despite his many injuries, he continued to offer maximum resistance. His personal bravery in the face of deadly enemy pressure was significant in saving the lives of fellow aviators who were still flying against the enemy. Col. Day’s conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Armed Forces.

The New York Times catalogs his accomplishments outside military life, which would have been remarkable on their own. He got a bachelor’s and law degree after WWII while serving in the Iowa National Guard. After Vietnam, he was rehabilitated and able to fly again before retiring from the service and becoming a household name (at least for politicos) thanks to his high-profile campaign work for John McCain and George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

After coming home from Vietnam, Colonel Day underwent physical rehabilitation, regained his flight status and served as vice commander of a flight wing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. He retired from the military in 1977 after being passed over for brigadier general and then practiced law in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Colonel Day represented military retirees in a federal court case aimed at securing what they said were health benefits once promised by their recruiters. He campaigned for Mr. McCain when he challenged George W. Bush for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination. When President Bush sought re-election in 2004, Colonel Day worked with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth organization in sharply attacking Mr. Bush’s Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, over his antiwar activities after coming home. Colonel Day backed Mr. McCain’s presidential bid in 2008.

“His wife, Doris, told the Associated Press that her husband ‘would have died in my arms if I could have picked him up.'”

Day himself, as is the way of true heroes, had a rather understated way of talking about his own exploits:

“As awful as it sounds, no one could say we did not do well,” Day told the Associated Press in a 2008 interview. Being a POW “was a major issue in my life and one that I am extremely proud of. I was just living day to day. One bad cold and I would have been dead.”

And, following in Day’s footsteps, there are still heroes who walk among us. One of whom will receive only the fifth Medal of Honor given to a living warrior since the Vietnam War. Let’s be thankful that, with a few of these men, we are able to thank them while they’re still with us:

President Barack Obama will present the nation’s highest award for battlefield gallantry to Army Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter in a White House ceremony Aug. 26.

Carter, who will become the fifth living Medal of Honor recipient for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan, will be recognized for his actions in the Kamdesh district of Afghanistan’s Nuristan province on Oct. 3, 2009, while serving as a cavalry scout with the 4th Infantry Division’s Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team.

Carter earned the Medal of Honor during a six-hour battle that ensued when enemy fighters attempted to overrun Combat Outpost Keating using heavy small-arms fire and indirect fire. Carter resupplied ammunition to fighting positions throughout the battle, provided first aid to a battle buddy, killed enemy troops and risked his life to save a fellow soldier who was injured and pinned down by overwhelming enemy fire.

Eight soldiers were killed and more than 25 were injured in defense of the outpost.