William P. Bonelli, US Army Air Corps/US Air Force (Transcript)

Interview with William P. Bonelli, US Army Air Corps/US Air Force

Name: William P. Bonelli

Military Branch & Rank: US Army Air Corps/US Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel

Dates of Service: 1940 – 1960

Date of Interview: March 19, 2019

Interviewer: Michael D. Brown

Audio Producer: Laura Bang

Length of Interview: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Transcribed by: Keith M. Mathews

Edited and annotated by: Laura Bang

URL for Audio: https://veteransvoices.library.villanova.edu/william-p-bonelli-us-army-air-corps-us-air-force/



INTRO (MICHAEL BROWN): [Music playing in background.] Thank you for joining us today. My name is Michael Brown and we are here today at Villanova University recoding another installment of the Voices of Villanova’s Veterans. [Music stops playing.]

MICHAEL BROWN: Hello! Today is March 19th of 2019 and today I have the pleasure to interview Lieutenant Colonel William Bonelli, and today we will be talking about his time in the United States Army Air Corps – which transitioned to the United States Air Force. Uh, he is a World War II veteran and a Pearl Harbor survivor…


MICHAEL BROWN: …And we are here today at Villanova University… um… to listen to your story, sir, and we are anxiously awaiting that. So, without any further ado, uh, introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about where you’re from and where you were born.

WILLIAM BONELLI: Very well. Born… Indiana, Pennsylvania[2]… March 17th.

MICHAEL BROWN: What year, sir?

WILLIAM BONELLI: 1921. [Chuckles]

MICHAEL BROWN: So, a couple of days ago!

WILLIAM BONELLI: Yes! Two days after the Ides.[3]

MICHAEL BROWN: And we, we just celebrated your 98th birthday, I understand.


MICHAEL BROWN: Uh, did you do anything special for your birthday?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Well…yes! We went out and, uh, had dinner and, uh, lot of activity and I- I- You’ll have to forgive me I have a short memory now and I’m catching up with me… [Laughter]

MICHAEL BROWN: That’s alright!

WILLIAM BONELLI: I’m not as fast on the draw as I used to be. [Laughter continues.] And that’s what I miss most—


WILLIAM BONELLI: … is instant recall.


WILLIAM BONELLI: Really do. It’s, uh, it’s slipping away.

MICHAEL BROWN: Well, it sounds like you’ve lived a good 98 years so far and we hope to have many more with you.

WILLIAM BONELLI: I have no complaints. I’ve gone beyond the limit. I’ve been very lucky and, of course, I’ve made my luck and, uh, as I shall point out as we go.

MICHAEL BROWN: Sure. So, talk to me about growing up in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Uh, did you have a big family…?

WILLIAM BONELLI: No. One brother.


WILLIAM BONELLI: A very, very good brother. [Extended pause.] Excuse me.

MICHAEL BROWN: No, it’s okay! Yeah it’s fine.

WILLIAM BONELLI: … And, uh, [clears throat] my brother said to me, uh, one day, uh, he said he had signed up with the, uh, National Guard. And he said to me, “My commander said to me that, uh, it’s time for you to sign up.” And I said “Mark, you tell your commander – sorry about this – that I have no intentions of carrying a rifle in this coming war!!” It was pretty obvious – it should have been to anybody. And, uh, but anyhow, I left home with a dime in my pocket, and I can still see my mom looking out the kitchen window, and as I was closing the door I said, “Goodbye, Mom” and the tears rolled down her eyes. [Pause.] So, I never saw her til three years later, but I’m coming to that. S-sorry, [clears throat] I apologize. And, um, after walking the streets for a few days, I pull into a recruiting office.

MICHAEL BROWN: What year was this, sir?



WILLIAM BONELLI: [Chuckles.] And I said, “Sergeant, [sniff] I’ll sign up if you can get me near airplanes.” And, uh, he got on the phone and he spent about an hour or more, no kidding! And finally, he said to me, he says, “There’s no place in the United States so you’ll have to go to Hawaii.”[4] “I’ll take it!” [Laughter.] So, there I was on a boat to… oh, from Indiana, signed up again at Harrisburg[5], and then Fort Dix[6] here, very close by. I finally got something to eat that night at 9 o’ clock, believe it or not! And, uh, on the boat around Panama Canal up through, uh, Frisco[7] and then there we got on an army boat Republic to Hawaii. And, uh, I had a hard time getting into, uh- into the mechanic school, and the reason was they were cutting back. We were in a depression at that time – a hell of a depression. As a matter of fact, believe this or not! [WB pounds table for emphasis.] [Chuckles.] I was getting $30 a month pay and Congress was looking for more ways to cut. They cut me 9 bucks down to 21 dollars a month! I, I meant to, uh, [Chuckles.] and I made the mistake of telling my mother in a letter that they cut my pay and my mom thought I was destitute or something like that, and about a week later in the mail here’s three one-dollar bills, “Here Bill, I hope this helps.” [Laughter.]  That hurt and I know she needed it more than I did, but anyhow [WB pounds table for emphasis] let’s cut the story short on that one. [Sniffs.]

MICHAEL BROWN: What, uh, what was the- why did you want to be around airplanes so badly?

WILLIAM BONELLI: In the long run, get to fly ‘em. If I can’t fly ‘em, I want to maintain them, I wanted to work on them and, uh, and finally, uh, before Pearl Harbor Day – December 7 – I was, um, I- I finally got to go to mechanic school. And boy I ate that stuff up. I became a specialist in, uh, electrical, uh, hydraulics, engines, and even the constant-speed propeller. And, uh, I was pretty well-trained, I felt. And, uh, the reason I mentioned that, or emphasized that point is that, uh, after Pearl Harbor, they reorganized and, uh, my commander- I had put an application in for, for flying school. They needed cadets. And, uh, I think he ignored it and, uh, I had to be onboard with the advanced crew of seven B-17’s[8] to Fiji Islands and I lost all hope of ever coming back to the States or ever even seeing the mainland again. Yes, I was really- but I’m coming- I want to back up a little bit to Pearl Harbor. Uh, yes, indeed, December 6th,[9] Saturday night, downtown Honolulu,[10] I had never seen so many white uniforms on the streets. I mean it was crowded, ‘specially some of the streets, and, uh, the shore patrol, by the way, was going back-and-forth with a lot of inebriates, if you put it that-a-way. And, um, I understand- I heard- I believe it – that they filled the brig up with, with drunks and, uh, and they laid them out on the deck, which I want to point out that some never woke up that December 7 morning. There were even in some establishments, uh, free drinks. Yes, indeed. And, uh, but anyhow, what I want to point out is that evening, uh, we ended up on the North side of the island to where we had a recreational facility. But it was a total flop, just barracks it turned out. No messing[11] facilities whatsoever. So, we thought, “Let’s go back to Hickam Field,[12]” and then, “Well no, let’s just sleep here and, uh, go first thing in the morning.” Well, but, the reason for telling this story is, I want to point out, before I [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] went to bed, shall we say, I noticed a vehicle on the beach. And I thought, well, I’m gonna go over there and get on the running board and rock-and-roll this lovers’ meeting [chuckle] and then run away! Like we used to do as a kid in, uh, [WB pounds the table for emphasis] Indiana, PA.

MICHAEL BROWN: You’re being sentimental then. You’re trying to-

WILLIAM BONELLI: Yeahhhh… I’m going back to my old habits there. And, uh, and I got about 50, 60 feet from the vehicle [WB pounds the table for emphasis] and I could see through the coast on the far distance – two heads up front, two heads in the back and it didn’t look like they were in any compromising position of- shall we say. And I’m already backing up- my sixth sense is telling me to back up. And, uh, then I noticed on the rear bumper [WB pounds the table for emphasis] each corner, two large antennas. Pole antennas. Four heads, very motionless. And, boy, I felt something sinister, and I backed up real fast and ran- turned around and ran behind a palm tree and, uh, waited to see if anybody got out of the car. Nobody got out of the car. Apparently, they didn’t see me, didn’t hear me. Now, I paid no attention to this, even the next morning. We were on our way to Hickam Field to get breakfast and be- just before approaching Wheeler Field, which is north of Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu, Wheeler Field, three aircraft fighters right overhead.[13] I looked up and I could see the red ball[14] on the side and I says, “Who in the heck are those- who does those aircraft belong to?” And I says, “You know,” – jokingly – “we might be at war.” And then about three minutes later, we were passing – I think it was Schofield Barracks[15] – and now they’re pounding – excuse my language – the hell out of the ships moored around Ford Island[16], within Pearl Harbor. Wow. What a shellacking we took, there’s no two ways about it. And the reason for wanting to point that out is, uh, I had no knowledge of a communication that I just learned about 6 or 7 years ago. And I’m still learning some things about it and I was there! But you can’t be every place at one time. Uh, Marshall, George C. Marshall[17], Chief of Staff at the time, had sent a communication to Kimmel[18], Navy, and Short[19], Army, to “anticipate activity” – I read that about 5 or 6 years ago and, uh, anticipate activity but don’t pass this information to the lower-ranking officers, which, by the way, in my opinion completely exonerates the lieutenant who was in charge of those five radar sights that, uh, we had- one at Diamond Head[20] a friend of mine- and, by the way, he- he explained a few things to me that he could pick up a tin can in the middle of the ocean and that kind of stuff and he gave me the name of the radar – radio detection and ranging[21] – and begged me not to tell anybody he- he- he gave me that information. It was classified. [Chuckle.] And I thought, oh okay. But, anyhow, what I want to point out is that had I known that, I might have been able to put- I kind of think I would have put two and two together. I think I would’ve been beating General Short’s door down if I had heard that communication “anticipate activity.” My personal opinion is that I believe boats came on shore, “anticipated activity” from within, after all the island was at the time 51% Japanese – and so, and there were some Rising Suns[22] downtown every now and then, so, you- you can draw your own conclusions there. Ah, let me say this, uh, I don’t- could not understand why Yamamoto-[23] he was very successful. He- He beat the hell out of us, I’d like to point it out. But he gave it up. Why didn’t he dump off a couple of troop ships of Kamikaze-mentality[24] troops and slaughter the rest of us? [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] He pulled them all out. He did us- in my opinion, did us a favor. Withdrew all of his troops. We didn’t have to rout them out. And here I was by that time, around 10 o’clock, 10:30[25], I had already now had acquired a rifle and a load- I had bullets all over my right shoulder and on my left shoulder. I think I looked like Pancho Villa[26] and, uh, I had a .45 and my pockets were loaded with .45. I was ready for action! But it never happened. He g- Yamamoto gave up, uh, quite an advantage.

MICHAEL BROWN: So, you think, strategically, he should have…

WILLIAM BONELLI: Oh yeah. In my opinion, he would have been able to, uh, control all that iron busted up, he could have hauled/towed it back to Japan, even had time and made a bunch of cruisers out of it, no two ways about it. And, uh, I- I think, in my opinion, it would have been about another 10 years before we could have taken Oahu, yeah. And that’s my personal opinion now. [Chuckles.] Who am I to say? But, uh, I thought I would, uh, point that out, uh…

MICHAEL BROWN: So, what’s going on in your head though? Are you scared? Are you angry? Are you- what are you feeling right now, just moments after Pearl Harbor?


MICHAEL BROWN: No, on that day.

WILLIAM BONELLI: Oh! Yes, indeed! I was angry that we were caught off-guard. There’s no two ways about it, there was no excuse for it, in my opinion I think Kimmel and Short got the idea that, uh, “anticipate action” could have been action within. That’s how it came across to me, yes indeed. Yes, I- but- but we should have been prepared, there was no two ways about it, not knowing where the Japanese fleet was, uh, to me that was in itself, without any other bits of information, peace or not, uh, we should have known where that fleet was. Yes, and not only that, the fleet came to the north of Oahu, the island of Oahu- about 2 to 3 hundred miles, which further threw this lieutenant off in charge of the radar antennas, that he knew 12 B-17s were coming in and, uh, and he kept tellin’ the radar operator- I don’t think he even told the operator that the B-17s were coming in. Yes, 12 of them! So, there was a lucky situation for the Japanese that helped them out actually. Yes. Okay.

MICHAEL BROWN: Now, so- So now it’s December 8th. What does that do for the rest of your- What do you want to do now in the military? [MB pounds the table for emphasis.] You’re saying you’re angry, what’s your next steps?

WILLIAM BONELLI: My next step was trying to get to go to every school I could go to in the military and, uh, I’m not going anywhere- We’re at war, I better stay right where I’m at. And, uh, … and try to get all the schooling I can get out of the Air- the Army Air Corps at the time. [Chuckles.] Go ahead, please.

MICHAEL BROWN: And, what’s, uh, what is your rank at this time?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Uh, I believe at Hickam Field I was a PFC[27] or a Corporal, one or the other. [Chuckles.] And, uh, from there, uh, in ’41, ’41 or ’42, they reorganized several times. Now I’m on my way with the advanced crew seven B-17s to Fiji Islands, and, uh, I don’t mind telling you, I was depressed. If you really want to know how I felt- because my commander I believe, had reason to believe that he denied me release, and I hate to say that, but what else could it be? But, anyhow, I ended up in, uh, Fiji Islands and, um, I lost all hope. I’m a mechanic going to be a B-17 specialist – electrical, hydraulics, engines – and, uh, also on the B-24s[28] that were coming through. And, uh, mainly, matter of fact, I worked more on the B-24s. And, matter of fact, I worked until midnight sometimes to get them ready to, uh, [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] go on to Australia, to support MacArthur.[29] Oh I would say about 4 months or 5 months after I was there, I had noticed a, uh, African American ward officer with the coast artillery came down to the gravel runway we had at one dinky hangar, beat-up hangar, and he come down to the hangar and, uh, looked and looked and looked and after 4 or 5 days, I went over to him. I had some spare time. And, uh, I said would you like to see the airplane? Oh yeah! He was all arms and feet and what have you. So, I decided to give him the royal treatment. And, uh, took him around the airplane, showed him all the positions, everything I could explain to him, took him inside the airplane tail, showed him the tail, the waist, the ball-turret, took him through the bomb bay [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] and into the nose of the bombardier.




WILLIAM BONELLI: Yes, oh indeed I did. Indeed! Wait’ll you hear this! [Laughter.] Then I sat him in the pilot’s seat. And I had him move the controls and look out the windows and see what he was doing. And then I had him turn the battery switch on and run the flaps down and up a little bit, [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] open the cowl flaps a little bit and then I explained all the engine instruments, all the flight instruments, all the navigational instruments, and then he turned around and he looked at me and he says, “well, if you know so much about this airplane, why don’t you fly them!?” And I said, well, I says “long story there and I said, uh, I did apply back in Hawaii but I have reason to believe my commander kind of short-changed me and, uh, but I said I did apply here about, uh, 3 or 4 weeks ago, I haven’t heard anything.” I said that I resubmitted my application and, uh, that was the end of the conversation. And, to this day, I’m very sad that I did not get his full name and what have you, where he was from in back in the States, but about 4 or 5 days later, I was in a meeting in this dinky hangar and he came over to me, he came down, came over to me and in a half-voice and he said “Your papers are on top.” Sure enough, in another 4 or 5 days I was on a little boat to the other island where a Dutch freighter – apparently, they contracted with to drop off a few of us guys in Los Angeles, I was on it! I don’t mind telling you when I was on that boat, uh, the first night was thunderstorm. Yes, I’ll never forget that – rocked and rolled like mad and everybody was getting sick. I didn’t, but I was getting sick from the sick! [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] And so, I went up on deck and, uh, [Laughter.] and, uh, sat down where the railing was and wrapped my legs around one of the up-and-down railings. Took my belt off and strapped my legs together so I wouldn’t get washed overboard, and I can remember screaming like hell, “I have a chance! I have a chance! I have a chance!” [WB pounds the table excitedly for emphasis.] And I did that several times – when it was nice and calm – at midnight on the way- 20 days from Fiji Islands on this Busch-Fontaine[30] boat to Los Angeles.

MICHAEL BROWN: So you went from depressed to thinking you’re not going to have a chance to screaming I have a chance on a rockin’ boat in the middle of the sea.

WILLIAM BONELLI: Indeed. Yes indeed. So, uh, I took a bunch of tests – mental and physical – and, and I almost got washed out on this wrist. You see that- [WB shows MB a defect in his wrist.] this was a broken wrist when I was a kid. And they- it healed one bone and they had to re-break it and re-save it and everything else and he said to me, [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] this flight sergeant, “suppose you were in a dive and you couldn’t pull out”. And I said, “well, wait a minute captain, I says, if I can change engines on a B-17, I don’t know why the hell I can’t pull back on the stick!?” “Alright alright alright!” [Laughter.]

MICHAEL BROWN: How long was flight school for you over there?


MICHAEL BROWN: How long was flight school for you?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Well, let me come to that. Okay! Uh, I passed all the exams, physicals, and everything else, and, uh, so there- from there I was sent to, um, uh, Thunderbird One,[31] just east of Phoenix, Arizona – Stearman.[32] Finished that. Went to Marana, Arizona on the BT-13[33], single engine, and just south of- about 45, 50 miles south of Phoenix, Arizona. And then I want to San Marfa,[34] Texas about 2 or 3 hundred miles due east of El Paso, uh, Texas. And that’s where I got my wings and my commission. And I couldn’t wait on my first check to take out a hundred-and-fifty bucks for my mom. Oh boy I was so- I don’t know what I was more happy doing that than the commission and the wings! [Laughter.] And, uh, there was something else I wanted to say there. [Laughter.] But, anyhow, um, I was asked, “What airplane do you want to fly?” And, uh, filled out a form and, uh, so I put down number 1: B-17. Number 2: B-17. Number 3: how did you guess? [Laughter.]  Well, I wanted fighters, 51. But, um, I decided I better, if I want to live, I was also interested in one more thing, or three things – survival, survival, survival too you know! And, uh, so, uh, I better stick with my assets. I knew the airplane. All I have to do is learn how to fly it, for crying out loud! [Laughter.] So, uh, the Lieutenant thought I was being a smarty and he sent me in to see the Major. And I said, “Major, let me explain here.” “Well that’s what the hell you’re in here for!” And I says, “Well, I says, I’ve been a mechanic on a B-seven-…,” – I didn’t tell him about the B-24 because I didn’t want the B-24 – “and I said B-17…So, why can’t I fly the airplane?” “I get you! I get you! I’ll make damn sure you’re on the right train to [WB taps the table while thinking.] Hobbs…” I think it was Hobbs.[35] I might have made a little mistake here. I’m losing my recall here at my age. And so, I got it. Finished it. Sent to Pine Park, Florida. Gave me a crew – bombardier,  navigators, and, uh, six gunners, and a co-pilot. And then went to Gulf Port, Mississippi. Now, to answer your question, it was, uh, it was March, or very close – in February I got my commission, of ’43 and, uh, now I, yeah, let’s see. The latter part of ’44. Oh, I finished Gulf Port combat crew training, I could tell you a few stories about that too! And, uh, finished combat crew training at Gulf Port, Mississippi, and then railroaded to Hunter Field, Georgia, given a brand-new B-17, and then I flew, uh, to, uh, Italy- Foggia, Italy via Grenier, New Hampshire; Gander, Newfoundland; the Azores, just about, uh, 500 miles west of Lisbon, Portugal; and, uh, yeah. And, uh, then the Marrakesh[36], Tunis[37], Africa, and then north across the Mediterranean to, uh, Foggia, Italy, which is at the “heel” of Italy, about 300 miles north of the heel of Italy. Yeah. And from, from there, uh, I- I was- I had to fly co-pilot for a few missions there initially to get started, uh, and, uh, unfortunately my pilot- I had to teach him, I ended up teaching him rather than him teach me. [Chuckles.] I would- when flying formation, I would be able to overlap wings. I kind of enjoyed that. And, uh, he almost came out of his seat one day when [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] he had to have a cigarette, believe this or not. We were passing through 17,000 alt.[38] and he was all over worn out, sweating and everything else, and, uh, we, uh, he had to have some nicotine. So, uh, he pulled out his lighter and he couldn’t get it lit and I- so I had him turn on the oxygen full 100% and then we got the lighter lit and it was only about half a flame – and he finally got his cigarette lit. [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] And man did he drag on that cigarette! That ash, red ash was that long, passing through 17- or 18- thousand. I just wanted you to know there’s not much oxygen around 17. They- for your information, the airlines, um, hold an altitude equivalent to roughly 12,000 feet, now when you get up to 12, they maintain at 12 level just up to wherever you’re going.[39] And, so, but anyhow, to my surprise, I was asked after I was through with him, I now had my crew back and I’m flying formation and then I was well, and not necessarily asked, I was somewhere in between being told [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] and asked to fly squadron-lead! Well, I, the only reason I hesitated was I would lose my ball-turret gunner. They’re- in the lead aircraft- did not have ball-turret gunner, they had radar antenna. I had a radar operator now as a lead squadron- squadron lead, uh, sorry. And, uh, so I- I- I- went ahead and I decided alright, so they checked me out – two flights, “you now are a Squadron Lead,” somewhat early in the game I thought. I thought I would fly maybe another 10 sorties before I was turned loose but then here I am flying Squadron Lead, less than 10, uh, sorties, and uh, yeah much less. And, uh, by the way, while I’m on it, uh, I flew out of 30- total of 30 sorties, 21 of which were Squadron Lead and my last one- Group Lead, 28 aircraft. And, um, and this Sergeant in the orderly room said to me, “Captain!” – Yeah, I was promoted to Captain, can you imagine that? [Laughter.] I got there in the latter part of ’44 and I was Lieutenant in December and 5 months later I was a Captain, yes! And, uh, he says you have an unusually long list of squadron leads, I am going to make a list for you. And I’m so thankful that he had the [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] brains to help me out, he- he- made a list, an official list, which I have. I don’t have to prove anything, here it is in black and white. And, uh, so, uh, but anyhow I had a full 30 sorties and uh…

MICHAEL BROWN: So, we were just talking about your 30 missions, right? So, where are you flying out of? What is your home- so, you’re flying 30 missions, where are you coming back to? Are you still in Italy?



WILLIAM BONELLI: And that is at the “spur” of Italy.


WILLIAM BONELLI: On the east side! On the … [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] Adriatic…

MICHAEL BROWN: Near the Adriatic Sea…

WILLIAM BONELLI: Thank you, Billy![40] [Laughter.]

MICHAEL BROWN: And where are you flying to? Where are your missions consisting of? Were you going over Germany or…?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Oh indeed! Yes, and my furthest one is, uh, to, um, Ruhland,[41] southeast of, uh, Berlin by 25, 30 miles roughly. That’s my longest flight. Uh, but Vienna[42] 5, 6 times and Regensburg[43], Fürstenfeldbruck[44], and, uh, were in several of the lower German area, and quite a few in North Italy. They d- The Germans were still just north of Rome[45]! And I’m on the east side opposite, so to speak, pretty close. And as a matter of fact, two of my sorties- I bombed German soldiers positioned just on the north side of Rome, through the clouds. Now, how we performed that operation was, uh, I was up at 17,000 in this case and the top of the clouds was at about 12,000 – 11, 12 thousand – and, uh, the radar would give me, uh, fixes- I would head outbound from Rome, to the west on the Mediterranean, turn around, open my bomb bays – and the reason for opening my bomb bays because now I’m flying over my own troops- in other words, just west on- west side of Rome we had American troops. And, uh, on the east side and north side it was German troops and our coast artillery would send up practice explosions that would burst just above the clouds telling us, as pilots, not to- or my bombardiers, now they’re “toggliers” now that’s all- not until they were over those black bursts, then they could flip the switch and release the bombs and that would be on to the German troops. How successful, I will never know, the mission was. And I did two like that. Yes, they were still- still in Italy and, uh, I bombed, uh, several bridges in North Italy, and uh, – Verona[46], Parona[47]. There were several others, I can’t think of it at the moment. Yes.

MICHAEL BROWN: Did, uh, so you’re the- you’re the lead of the squadron, correct?


MICHAEL BROWN:  Did all your squadron-mates make it back each time? Did you lose any other planes?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Uh, let me- that’s a very good question. Uh, I want to, uh, point out, um, what I want to point out, definitely point out, is around my second sortie as a Squadron Lead pilot, I almost gave it back. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Because I almost got shot out of the sky. On the second or third [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] – I forget precisely, mission as Squadron Lead. It was downright suicidal to fly Squadron Lead. What we did was, when turning on to the final track to the target, got squadrons in trail, Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog.[48] [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] Now when the Germans calculated Able aircraft, they knew where- it was just that damn simple. And they were good with lining up their 88 millimeters[49]. Oh, they- they were accurate! And I almost got shot out of the sky. And I thought, “Hey, I don’t want any part of this, I’m giving it back. This is downright suicidal.” So, what can I do? What will I do? Finally, I decided, well I’m going to fly my squadron offset. In other words, if the, using figures, if the final track was, let’s say, 030 to the target, I would extend my base leg[50] and then turn on to the final track of 060 degrees. That would offset me and my bombardier knows what I’m doing. Oh! Let me back up at, uh, at- at breakfast one morning, I said to my bombardier, I said, “Andy” – Fred Anderson – he was a first lieutenant as a bombardier when I got him. I wondered what the hell they were doing to me. And, yeah, he outranked me! He was a [WB taps the table while thinking.]- but then I learned he was- I knew he had a nice personality and liked to talk, and oh well he could entertain the crew and that kind of stuff, you know. And then I learned that he was an instructor bombardier and I thought well how lucky can I get!? Now I know he knows how to manipulate that Norton bomb sight, you see? And, uh- Anyhow, I said, “Andy, let’s go for a walk.” And I said, “Andy, do you-” I knew the answer, but I wanted to open the conversation and I said, “Andy, will you have any problem if I extend my base leg before turning on to the final track- before turning onto a final track to the target?” And he says, “no, no, long as I can see the target it don’t make a damn bit- …oh I get you!” And I- he was fully with me there that- I am going to do this deliberately– to extend my base-leg out a little more. Now to answer your question, yes I was losing aircraft, but not too many, because I started early [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] on doing what I’m now doing is flying my offset and I stopped losing aircraft. But, we got hit. And I want to point this out, is that how do I know it was suicidal? After all I flew total of 21 squadron- and 1 group lead of 28 aircraft. How do I know? Very simple. I’m flying my- I’m more of an instrument pilot and I’m flying my instruments, but I had a chance to take my eyes off my instruments and glance to the right or to the left of where I’m supposed to be, just a couple hundred feet, pop-pop-pop-pop- right where in the hell I am supposed to be. I could not have survived that- any one of them! And I witnessed with my own eyes, 9 or 10 times, I know damn well it had to be more, because I flew a total of 21. Yes. Yes. So, in a sense, I guess you could say I made my own luck. Had I not done that, I can assure you several times [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] I would not be here. Did I answer your question?

MICHAEL BROWN: You did answer my question, uh, and I appreciate that. So, I want to go back, uh, just to sort of bring our listeners to, um, a sense of the time and where you were and what was going on. You said “at breakfast with Andy,” right? So, talk to me about typical meals back then. What were you eating? Were-


MICHAEL BROWN: -you eating surf-and-turf, uh, eggs-and-bacon every day? What was a typical meal like for you, uh…

WILLIAM BONELLI: Well, we had scrambled eggs and pancakes and what have you. And, so far as I was concerned- well, there were times when you used a mess kit- aluminum mess kit. And you went out in a barrel and washed it and that kind of stuff. Uh, but some of the potatoes, if you were to stick your knife in the potatoes, you would lift up the whole mess kit! [Laughter.] Very much like glue! But, I seldom ate much bread. I ate the meat, I ate everything else, but when it came to the dough, I had very little so to speak. And a matter of fact, I weighed less than I do now. I think I weighed about only 135 or something like that.

MICHAEL BROWN: And what was your living situation like? So, food was okay. What was your living? Were you living at the Four Seasons with air conditioning and indoor pool?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Well… well, I got a little story there. We arrived at, uh, Foggia, Italy somewhere around late afternoon and it was, uh, late in the year and it was, uh, colder than hell. Almost freezing. And, uh, the ground was very muddy, and, uh, I- here I am with my crew in the orderly room- this building, waiting for instructions where the- if there is a place to stay. [Sigh.]  “Hey Sarge! Where do we stay tonight?” “Well, Lieutenant, it’ll be just a few minutes yet.” And, after a half hour, “Hey Sarge! Where are we staying tonight?” “Well, it won’t be long, uh, Lieutenant.” Well, alright. And a third time. “Hey Sarge! Where in the hell do we stay?” “There- It’s coming!” [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] The hell’s he talking about? [Chuckles.] A two-and-a-half ton truck pulls up about 200 feet away from the orderly room. He dumped something off. Drove about 200 feet and dropped off another bale of something. And he says, “There you are Lieutenant! The officers over there where that bundle is and the airmen over there where that bundle is.” It’s getting dark! Now. And it’s right on the erge- verge of freezing- snow and then hitting the ground, melting and that kind of stuff and we were until midnight getting that da- four corners and a center-pole up. And here we’re in the mud- and hem- I- we have a ditch running- It took me 2, 3 months to find enough stone – flat stone – to put in my corner of the tent. The 4 officers in, uh, in each corner of the tent, and 6 airmen in this other tent. That’s where we stayed. Did tha- did that answer your question?

MICHAEL BROWN: That answers my question.

WILLIAM BONELLI: I won’t forget that as long as I live. God-almighty!

MICHAEL BROWN: Were there- Did you have heat in that tent?

WILLIAM BONELLI: [Sigh.] We had- I had to roundup- not that night, no. And I don’t know if I had it that next night. I rounded up a- half a barrel- these oil barrels, you know? 50 gallons, around that I think they are. Finally got one, half. And, what I did was put- laid out some stones near the center, and, uh, put this barrel with a opening in it and a tank, belly-tank, P-51 belly-tank outside, copper tubing, a little valve, drip-drip-drip— [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] that’s our furnace. [Chuckles.]


WILLIAM BONELLI: Yeah, that’s it!

MICHAEL BROWN: You’re reacting to the surroundings and you built yourself a heater.

WILLIAM BONELLI: That’s it. And- And then it took me 3 or 4 months to find enough flat stones to put under my cot. Oh, it was a good thing- let me tell you, I was a thief, in this case. In Marrakesh, Africa, they gave me several bales of blankets, uh, and, uh, blankets and there was something else they gave me, um, uh… But anyhow, when it came to the blankets, my engineer said, uh, “I’d like to keep some.” And I said, “That is a damn good idea.” [Laugher.] I didn’t turn them all in. I says, “Okay give, uh, give 4 to the officers and give 6 to the airmen.” And thank God I did it because the- they didn’t give me a mattress for my cot. I slept on a cot! [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] Yeah! And- And if I hadn’t been for those blankets I laid on and made a mattress out of it, I’d have had a hell of a time sleeping I think. [Chuckles.]

MICHAEL BROWN: And how long were you in this tent for?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Uh, I got there September- October, November, December- about Octo- September or October, and, uh, I was there until May… ‘bout May of ’45. Yes. 8, 9 months. Somewhere in that neighborhood.

MICHAEL BROWN: Sounds like, uh, you know, it’s- it’s interesting ‘cause, you know, I want to bring that up because, you know, you think about service during that time and- and you know I want to make sure everyone has an awareness of the conditions.

WILLIAM BONELLI: Well, it, I considered it- and I’m still downright angry about that. My commander should have seen to it that we had a place to stay that night at least!


WILLIAM BONELLI: Oh yeah! But he was somewhat on the drunk side. I hate to say that, but he certainly was. He liked his booze. That’s unfortunate. And he should have looked into it, even if we had to spend the night in the orderly room [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] was what we should have done and then the next day we should have put up the tent instead of putting it up at nighttime trying to-.  Oh yeah, I still get angry, but he promoted me to Captain within 9 months. So, I can’t complain about that part! [Laughter.]

MICHAEL BROWN: Uh… And so, your times- you’re flying missions. Are most of your missions bombing German troops? Are they-


MICHAEL BROWN: – bombing German cities?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Most of my missions, and I can see the, uh, strategy behind it, was to disrupt communications and transportation. That was the main thing. This was why I bombed Vienna about 5 times- was to hit the railroad yards, and, uh, they figured out if they could prevent the German troops from being transported here-and-there quickly, that that would help break- shorten the war, and which it did, there’s no two ways about it. Yeah. Yeah.

MICHAEL BROWN: Talk to me about some of the men y- you served with.

WILLIAM BONELLI: [Sigh.] I, uh, I can’t say that I ever met one within the service, uh, that I- The only time I ever ran into, I would call someone I didn’t like I guess, was when I- after the war I worked in Headquarters Training Command[51] and I had control – oversight – over all 80 training for the Air Force. And I was- spent 5 years there. And the Air Training Command at Scott Airforce Base[52] consisted of- broke down into 5 air forces like: strategic, tactical, and technical. And I was in the technical, which were most “ground-pounders” or non-pilot officers- uh, by the way, these figures that the Air Force, about 6, 7 months ago I saw statistics, uh, the Air Force was 330-something-thousand and out of that only 4% were pilots, and I never gave much thought. “I’m a pilot. Everybody’s a pilot.” But anyhow, I dealt mostly with non-pilots, technical, and I’m technical. I, um, prior to being at Headquarters Training Command 5 years, uh, that’s where I made Major, uh, I was in Chanute Air Force Base[53], I went through the school- the aircraft maintenance officers’ course – 32 weeks long – and then I was an instructor in it, and then I ran the course, and then I was asked to come down to Headquarters Training Command oversight of all 80 training for the Air Force, special training. Lot of it. I even had a few words with General LeMay[54] one day. I was going to send- uh, decided to send a crew to various bases, how to install an angle iron on a T-33, uh, stall strip which increased the- lowered the stall speed of the aircraft. And, uh, it was only a 6-hour course – instead of having the students come to the base, I was going to send the team out to various bases and, uh, but General LeMay calls me up and says he didn’t want to do that. And I said “Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir.” [Laughter.] You don’t say anything else to him. Well, that was his business. I’m not going to argue with him.

MICHAEL BROWN: So, let’s backtrack to the end of the war. Um, it’s- so- they’ve surrendered and you’re- what’s- what’s the homecoming like for you when you- when the- when you find out the war is over? What are your- What’s going through your head?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Let’s see. Where was I at that time here? Oh! Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course, I’m still in Foggia, Italy! Oh yeah. Wow. The way things begin to look then, I now already have 5 years of service and I thought oh hell 15 more years and I can retire from the Air Force! And, uh, I could do one of two things. Oh by the way! Let me- let me explain how I was going through cadets. I was a cadet they called me in the room and they asked me, “you want to be a flying student or a cadet?” and I looked at them like they were nuts. And I said, “What in the hell is the difference??” And they said, “Well, uh, if you was a student, you’d revert back to a Staff Sergeant.” I came back from the Pacific as a Staff Sergeant, see- and he says, “You will be a Staff Sergeant on flying pay, means you’ll be getting more than double what the cadet was getting.” Why, hell yes! I’m not going anywhere, so I went through and finished as a flying Staff Sergeant. [Laughter.] I felt tickled, oh that was retroactive too, I really got a bundle next pay day. Where was I?

MICHAEL BROWN: So, going back to the end of the war. You were in Italy and the war is coming to a close. What’s- What’s going through your head?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Okay! Um, uh, here I have 5 years, I’m still in Foggia, Italy. I have 5 years and I decided, well, I’m not going anywhere. Uh, why don’t I just finish the 15 years and see what happens? And, uh, and I’m glad I did because, uh, from there I- I made it a point- and here I’m at- first I’m at Chanute Air Force Base, went through this course and instructor, then I’m down at Scott Air Force Base for 5 years! [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] And uh- Now that I’ve got that behind me, and, I mean, like you say leaving Foggia, Italy, uh, I decided to go to every school I could- that was open to me, including helicopter school. [Laughter.] So, I got to fly everything. I made it a point to do so. And, uh, they wanted me to stay back as a flight instructor. This was when the R5 and R6- matter of fact, Dick Tracy[55] flew in the R5 in the funny-papers way back then. But they asked me to fly- stay back as an instructor. I didn’t like localizing. That’s what I wanted to avoid. And then, so, yeah, I got checked out in fighters, bombers, and jet-fighters, and, uh, ooh yeah! I might bring this up, after Air Training Command Headquarters – 5 years – I almost went to Korea, and I decided, well, wait a minute, I had enough and, uh, so I’ll send myself to Amarillo[56] where I had a course developed for the F-84F Thunderstreak[57] fighter, delivery of the A-bomb[58]. This was during the Cold War. Nikita Khrushchev[59] was a- was a, uh, chief at the time, so I’ll get 2 weeks of maintenance training on the airplane and then a couple weeks later I sent myself to, I think it was Hobbs, New Mexico to get checked out in the F-84F Thunderstreak, which I did. I got 10 hours, checked out, and now I’m on my way to England. This was ’56, -7, and -8. Geraldine[60] was 2 years old when we started out. [Chuckles.] And, uh, so I ended up with a 20th Fighters Squadron group, uh, 55th Squadron, I think it was. Yes. And, uh, uh, at- but then, when they found out that I had been an instructor in the maintenance officers’ course, they sent me for 6 months to Holland[61] as an advisor to the Dutch because we had given the Dutch anywhere in the neighborhood of about 60 F-84Fs to do the same thing we were doing. We had squadrons at Soesterberg, Holland, squadrons in England, and in Germany, Fürstenfeldbruck, to counter Nikita Khrushchev and we were prepared. Now, let me explain that, F-84F aircraft, uh, small fighter, in my opinion should’ve been 3-times the horsepower, thrust I should say. And, uh, for combat take-off, the aircraft was loaded with a 230-gallon tank on number 1 – on the left wing, number 1 position, 230-gallon tank. And then under the left wing again, close to the fuselage, the A-Bomb. And then under the right wing, a full 120-gallon tank, almost as long as the fuselage of this Thunderstreak. And then under 4 position, another 230-gallon tank. In other words, all this fuel was to take the aircraft to the target. [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] Period. That was what it was all for. And the maneuver was this. As soon as the pilot identifies the target and gets in position and drops his tanks, outboard fuel tanks, the only thing that he’s got onboard is the A-Bomb. He drives up to the A-Bomb as close as he can get, then he performs a loop, in other words, uh, let’s say [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] this point here is the target. He’ll drive right up to it. Now he’ll pull a 4G loop. Let’s say here’s the center of a loop, a circle…

Audio Producer’s Note: Here, Bonelli used his hands to demonstrate the maneuver he was describing.

WILLIAM BONELLI: …the pilot goes up, now here’s 90 degrees, straight up. Another 20 degrees, the bomb releases under number 2 pylon. The A-Bomb releases. Now, it- it is thrown over your shoulder, so to speak, so here’s the airplane and here’s the bomb and it looks something like this. This gives the pilot the opportunity to live, shall we say. He could not have survived if he dive-bombed. [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] He would have been cooked. But up here, all he gets is a shockwave. [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] So, he lives. That’s the maneuver to the delivery of the A-Bomb at the time. And this did do a good job of, uh, holding back the Russians, there’s no two ways about it. Uh, we- What bugged the hell out of me, though, I was- I was, uh, with the Dutch. They had, believe this or not, maybe I shouldn’t say it, but anyhow, it’s true! And, uh… [WB chuckles.] They had, uh, most of their F-84Fs we gave them out of commission – or, more correctly, A.N.F.E. A- Out of commission aircraft A.O.C.P.  Uh, A.N.F.E. “Aircraft Not Fully Equipped.” In this case, they claimed that oh, over 20-something J-A gyros[62], you need that for instrument flying. That’s the main instrument- that’s your artificial horizon[63]. Therefore, if the bell rang, in my opinion, [WB pounds the table for emphasis] they didn’t fly. You see what I’m driving at?


WILLIAM BONELLI: And I remember one day, after I was there about a month, and I says, “Okay!” I says, “Round me up about 20 J-A gyros and I’ll put them in the backseat of the T-Bird, fly down to” – I used to fly their T-Bird around quite a bit – “I’ll fly down to Châteauroux[64], France and exchange them in our supply.” “Oh no! If I let anything go out of the country I would be fired!” and this and that. And I said, “Well, wait a minute, these aren’t usable. They’re- They’re not even- they’re not serviceable. They’re not repairables now. They’re not serviceable. You say they’re bad.” Which they weren’t. I’ve only had one J-A gyro in my whole lifetime go bad on me. And here they have 20 aircraft – nobody else had this situation. But they dreamed up how to avoid, in my opinion, being part- a participant in the nuclear war if we had one – I don’t mind saying it! You can quote me on that part, I’m sure. That’s the way it came across to me…


WILLIAM BONELLI: …to this day. Yes, indeed.

MICHAEL BROWN: And so this is- you said you were there ‘till about ’58, right?

WILLIAM BONELLI: If I’m- 6 months roughly. I- I went over in the latter part of, uh, [WB snaps while thinking.] what the hell was it?  ’56! Somewhere there, 6, 7- that’s right! Yes.

MICHAEL BROWN: So, you got two years left until you retire, so what do you do spending your last two years in the Air Force? What’s that like?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Well, where was I? Let me think here a minute. Uh… oh! I was now on my way back from England. I spent, uh, the rest of my time- I came back to England and I was 2-and-a-half years at Bentwaters,[65] England, a facility about 30, 40 miles roughly east of London. Okay. And now, uh, I’m on my way back to the states and, uh, I was, uh, assigned to a carrier organization as aircraft maintenance officer. I had the periodic maintenance squadron, uh, squadron of all the C-47s. I was the- I had oversight for the periodic maintenance of all these cargo aircraft, and, uh, 2 years and, uh, now it was approaching 1940, or did approach 1940. That’s right. Uh… ‘56! Speak!

Female Voice:[66] 1960. It’s approaching 1960.

WILLIAM BONELLI: I didn’t hear you, Geraldine.[67]


WILLIAM BONELLI: Oh! That’s when I retired.


WILLIAM BONELLI: Yes indeed! Of c- What did I say? [Chuckles.]

MICHAEL BROWN: That’s alright! You said 1940, when you enlisted.

WILLIAM BONELLI: Yes, 1956- well, it was ‘58 when I arrived in…

MICHAEL BROWN: And you’re in charge of all this- the maintenance…?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Periodic maintenance for the air- C-124s. Cargo.

MICHAEL BROWN: And how many are- And how many…?


MICHAEL BROWN: Sure. Does that mean two, two hundred? How many are we talking here? How many airplanes?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Oh! I had about, uh, roughly 20-something almost 30, in that area.


WILLIAM BONELLI: Yes. Worldwide! Matter of fact, we were supporting even projects in South Pole, and I was almost on that particular flight. Whew! Got lucky. It hit the only mountain and splattered all over the place.[68] Yeah, it did. That was sad. Yeah.

MICHAEL BROWN: Well, you did your 20 years, what made you get out? Was it just, 20 years you’re done or did you have to think about re-enlisting for more?

WILLIAM BONELLI: No! Oh no! No, no! What happened, to my surprise, in the latter part of 1960, got wind of the Civil Aeronautics Authority looking for C-47 drivers. I had already picked up about 3 or 4 thousand hours flying for a weather group when I came back from the States, out of Hempstead, Long Island, New York – which is closed now, it’s an airport- military airport between JFK and LaGuardia. [WB pounds the table for emphasis.] It’s closed.

MICHAEL BROWN: So, you had a good job waiting for you.

WILLIAM BONELLI: Oh yeah!! When I learned that they were looking for C-47, I immediately got my application in and then I was told I was at Scott- where was I? – Greenville, Southern Carolina and, uh, to take my form 5[69] down to Atlanta to one of the district offices and, uh, for the, uh, FAA, or Civil Aeronautics at the time, and showed him my form 5 and he glanced at it and he said, “Yeah, you’re qualified.” So, I had the job. And matter of fact, I had to beg for 2 or 3 days because I couldn’t make it in time when they had me picked up at the Wold-Chamberlain- my first assignment with the Civil Service, or the CAA, was at Wold-Chamberlain, Minneapolis, Minnesota.[70] And I was there 2 years, yeah, and then my wife got paralysis on the left cheek it was and it was cold weather- she couldn’t take the cold weather. And, uh, they needed some instructors [WB taps the table for emphasis] to teach instrument procedures and I was pretty good at that stuff. And, uh, so I applied, and I got it! I even got a promotion, which I wouldn’t have gotten if I stayed back up in, uh, in Minneapolis. And, uh, so I was an instructor there in the development of instrument procedures for 6 years. And I got pretty good at it. 4 years to LA and then came back. And now I was into Headquarters having control of- oversight of all instrument procedures worldwide.


WILLIAM BONELLI: And back in Oklahoma City, in 1933[71], they paid me to retire. [Laughter.] I was happy to!

MICHAEL BROWN: Sounds like you had an illustrious career. You’ve done a lot. When looking back, just from my refection, the travelling that you’ve done. Just, if nothing else…

WILLIAM BONELLI: Ooh a lot in between!

MICHAEL BROWN: From Indiana, Pennsylvania, which isn’t a large metropolis, to all over Europe, all over the United States, that’s impressive. What was your- If you could look back, what was your favorite destination?


MICHAEL BROWN: Indiana, Pennsylvania?

WILLIAM BONELLI: I guess so! Where else? [Laughter.] Well, and Oklahoma City because I spent so much time there. I spent most of my life really. I was there for 6 years, 4 years LA, then came back. Then another 33 years or something like that…

MICHAEL BROWN: And what brought you back…?

WILLIAM BONELLI: …Up until a couple of years ago I was in Oklahoma!

MICHAEL BROWN: And what brought you back to this area?

Audio Producer’s Note: Here, Bonelli pointed to his children who are in the room.

MICHAEL BROWN: So, it sounds like good reasons to come back, right?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Yeah. She said it was time to come home. I was all by myself out there in, uh…



MICHAEL BROWN: And do you, do you miss it?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Uh, in a way. In a way. I had a lot of friends. Yeah. Very nice friends. Very good. Yeah, I had very nice friends. Lived on a lake too. Had a boat and that kind of stuff. [Laughter.]

MICHAEL BROWN: Sounds like you’re living the dream, as they say.

WILLIAM BONELLI: Well, I have no complaints.

MICHAEL BROWN: And where are you living these days?

Audio Producer’s Note: Here, Bonelli again pointed to his children.

MICHAEL BROWN: You’re right here locally?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Yes. [WB pounds the table for emphasis]

MICHAEL BROWN: Uh-huh. Well, good. Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure to be able to talk to you today…


MICHAEL BROWN: …um, and, to hear your story is- it’s living, breathing history and something that we don’t hear everyday and so it was just- it was my honor to be able to just talk to you and sit down with you for an hour and hear your story. And, I think, like you said, something that sticks to me is you created your own luck. You know?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Yes. In a way, I did. I, uh, if I hadn’t done what I did- matter of fact, I happen to say that, uh, at Pearl Harbor really woke me up and begin to think holy hell! I made bad luck for myself and got away with it at, uh, at Pearl Harbor there. There’s a lot more I could have told you about being at Pearl Harbor, and, uh, from there on out I was, like I said, 3 things I had on my mind: survival, survival, survival. Indeed, I did!

MICHAEL BROWN: And here you are today at 98 years young.

WILLIAM BONELLI: [Chuckles.] Yes. Only!

MICHAEL BROWN: And, hopefully you’ll be around for much longer.


MICHAEL BROWN: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we, before we wrap up?

WILLIAM BONELLI: Not that I know of. Thank you for- I hope I gave you some satisfaction.

MICHAEL BROWN: This- This is the treat of the day for sure.


MICHAEL BROWN: I really appreciate it. Well, thank you very much. That wraps up our conversation and I really appreciate you coming in today.

WILLIAM BONELLI: Thank you. My pleasure. [Chuckles.]

Outro (MB): [Music playing in background.] That concludes this installment of The Voices of Villanova’s Veterans, a joint project of the Villanova University Office of Veterans and Military Service Members and Falvey Memorial Library’s Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement Departments. Thank you for listening! For more information and for more interviews, please visit us online at veteransvoices.library.villanova.edu. [Music fades out.]


[1] Some of Bonelli’s family members accompanied him to the interview. In the audio file, they can occasionally be heard in the background, laughing or offering help remembering details. Where their words are audible, we have included them in the transcript.

[2] “Indiana is a borough in and the county seat of Indiana County in the U.S. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The population was 13,975 at the 2010 census, and since 2013 has been part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indiana%2C_Pennsylvania Accessed 12 May 2021.

[3] The “ides” (noun) refers to “the 15th day of March, May, July, or October or the 13th day of any other month in the ancient Roman calendar.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ides Accessed 12 May 2021.

[4] Hawaii was annexed as a territory of the United States in 1898 and was granted statehood in 1959. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Hawaii#United_States_territory Accessed 3 Mar. 2021.

[5] “Harrisburg […] is the capital city of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the United States, and the county seat of Dauphin County.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrisburg,_Pennsylvania Accessed 12 May 2021.

[6] “Fort Dix, the common name for the Army Support Activity located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, is a United States Army post. It is located about 16.1 miles (25.9 km) south-southeast of Trenton, New Jersey. […] Established in 1917, Fort Dix was in 2009 combined with adjoining U.S. Air Force and Navy facilities to become Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL) in 2009. However, it remains commonly known as “Fort Dix”, “ASA Dix”, or “Dix”.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Dix Accessed 12 May 2021.

[7] San Francisco, California.

[8] “The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engined heavy bomber developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC).” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_B-17_Flying_Fortress Accessed 12 May 2021.

[9] 1941.

[10] “Honolulu has been the capital of the Hawaiian Islands since 1845, first of the independent Hawaiian Kingdom, and after 1898 of the U.S. territory and state of Hawaii. The city gained worldwide recognition following Japan’s attack on nearby Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which prompted decisive entry of the U.S. into World War II; the harbor remains a major naval base, hosting the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the world’s largest naval command.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honolulu Accessed 12 May 2021.

[11] Mess (verb) means “to provide with meals at a mess [hall].” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/messing Accessed 12 May 2021.

[12] “Hickam Field, adjacent to Pearl Harbor U.S. Naval Base, was established in 1935 as Hawaii’s principal army airfield and bomber base.” https://www.nps.gov/articles/hickam-field.htm Accessed 12 May 2021.

[13] “Wheeler Army Airfield was a primary target and site of the first attack on 7 December 1941, leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attacked the airfield to prevent the numerous planes there from getting airborne and engaging them.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheeler_Army_Airfield Accessed 18 May 2021.

[14] Military marking based on the flag of Japan – a red circle (representing the sun) on a white background. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Japan Accessed 18 May 2021.

[15] “Schofield Barracks is a United States Army installation and census-designated place (CDP) located in the City and County of Honolulu and in the Wahiawa District of the American island of Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schofield_Barracks Accessed 18 May 2021.

[16] “Ford Island (Hawaiian: Poka ʻAilana) is an islet in the center of Pearl Harbor, Oahu […] In 1916, part of Ford Island was sold to the U.S. Army for use by an aviation division in Hawaii, and by 1939 it was taken over by the U.S. Navy as a station for battleship and submarine maintenance.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Island Accessed 18 May 2021.

[17] “George Catlett Marshall Jr. (December 31, 1880 – October 16, 1959) was an American soldier and statesman. […] When [Army] Chief of Staff Malin Craig retired in 1939, Marshall became acting Chief of Staff, and then Chief of Staff, a position he held until the war’s end in 1945. As Chief of Staff, Marshall organized the largest military expansion in U.S. history, and received promotion to five-star rank as General of the Army. Marshall coordinated Allied operations in Europe and the Pacific until the end of the war.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_C._Marshall Accessed 18 May 2021.

[18] “Husband Edward Kimmel (February 26, 1882 – May 14, 1968) was a United States Navy four-star admiral who was the commander in chief of the United States Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Husband_E._Kimmel 18 May 2021.

[19] “Walter Campbell Short (March 30, 1880 – September 3, 1949) was a former Lieutenant General (temporary rank) and Major General of the United States Army and the U.S. military commander responsible for the defense of U.S. military installations in Hawaii at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Short Accessed 18 May 2021.

[20] “Diamond Head is a volcanic tuff cone on the Hawaiian island of Oʻahu and known to Hawaiians as Lēʻahi.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamond_Head,_Hawaii Accessed 18 May 2021.

[21] “The term RADAR was coined in 1940 by the United States Navy as an acronym for “RAdio Detection And Ranging”.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radar Accessed 18 May 2021.

[22] Another reference to the Japanese flag, which “embodies the country’s sobriquet: Land of the Rising Sun.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Japan Accessed 18 May 2021.

[23] “Isoroku Yamamoto (山本 五十六, Yamamoto Isoroku, April 4, 1884 – April 18, 1943) was a Japanese Marshal Admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II until his death.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isoroku_Yamamoto Accessed 27 Apr. 2021.

[24] “Kamikaze (神風, Japanese pronunciation: [kamiꜜkaze]; “divine wind” or “spirit wind”), officially Kamikaze/Shinpū Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (神風特別攻撃隊, “Divine Wind Special Attack Unit”), were a part of the Japanese Special Attack Units of military aviators who flew suicide attacks for the Empire of Japan against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War II, intending to destroy warships more effectively than with conventional air attacks. About 3,800 kamikaze pilots died during the war, and more than 7,000 naval personnel were killed by kamikaze attacks.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamikaze Accessed 18 May 2021.

[25] “The attack commenced at 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian Time (18:18 GMT)” and lasted about 90 minutes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor Accessed 18 May 2021.

[26] “Francisco “Pancho” Villa […] was a Mexican revolutionary general and one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pancho_Villa Accessed 3 Mar. 2021.

[27] Private First Class

[28] “The Consolidated B-24 Liberator is an American heavy bomber, designed by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego, California. […] The B-24 was used extensively in World War II. It served in every branch of the American armed forces as well as several Allied air forces and navies. It saw use in every theater of operations. Along with the B-17, the B-24 was the mainstay of the US strategic bombing campaign in the Western European theater.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consolidated_B-24_Liberator Accessed 18 May 2021.

[29] General Douglas MacArthur. “On April 18, 1942, MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_MacArthur_in_World_War_II Accessed 27 Apr. 2021.

[30] Best guess, likely the owner or operator of the boat.

[31] Thunderbird Field No. 1, located in Glendale, Arizona (a few miles northwest of Phoenix). “Thunderbird Field was a military airfield in Glendale, Arizona, used for contract primary flight training of Allied pilots during World War II. Created in part by actor James Stewart,[1] the field became part of the United States Army Air Forces training establishment just prior to American entry into the war and was re-designated Thunderbird Field #1 after establishment of Thunderbird Field #2 at nearby Scottsdale, on 22 June 1942.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunderbird_Field_No._1 Accessed 27 Apr. 2021.

[32] Best guess. Possibly referring to the Boeing-Stearman Model 75 airplane, used for training during the war. “Widely known as the Stearman, Boeing Stearman or Kaydet, it served as a primary trainer for the United States Army Air Forces, the United States Navy (as the NS and N2S), and with the Royal Canadian Air Force as the Kaydet throughout World War II.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing-Stearman_Model_75 Accessed 27 Apr. 2021.

[33] “The Vultee BT-13 Valiant was an American World War II-era basic (a category between primary and advanced) trainer aircraft built by Vultee Aircraft for the United States Army Air Corps, and later US Army Air Forces.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vultee_BT-13_Valiant Accessed 18 May 2021.

[34] Best guess. Probably meant Marfa, Texas.

[35] Probably referring to Hobbs Army Airfield near Hobbs, New Mexico, and “one of three B-17 training bases in the U.S.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobbs_Army_Airfield Accessed 27 Apr. 2021.

[36] Marrakesh, Morocco.

[37] Tunis, Tunisia.

[38] Best guess, short for altitude.

[39] Modern jet engine aircraft with pressurized cabins have a typical cruising altitude of between 31,000 and 38,000 feet. Prior to the introduction of jets in 1958, commercial aircraft were propeller-driven planes with unpressurized cabins and would cruise between 10,000 to 12,000 feet. https://theconversation.com/longing-for-the-golden-age-of-air-travel-be-careful-what-you-wish-for-34177 Accessed 18 May 2021.

[40] Some of Bonelli’s family members were in the room during the interview.

[41] Ruhland, Germany.

[42] Vienna, Austria.

[43] Regensburg, Germany.

[44] Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany.

[45] Rome, Italy.

[46] Verona, Italy.

[47] Parona, Italy.

[48] These are the first four code words in the military phonetic spelling alphabet in use during WWII. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allied_military_phonetic_spelling_alphabets#WWII_CCB_(ICAO)_and_NATO_alphabets Accessed 19 May 2021.

[49] “The 8.8 cm Flak 18/36/37/41 is a German 88 mm anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun, developed in the 1930s. It was widely used by Germany throughout World War II and is one of the most recognized German weapons of that conflict.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/8.8_cm_Flak_18/36/37/41 Accessed 19 May 2021.

[50] “A short descending flight path at right angles to the approach end extended centerline of the landing runway.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airfield_traffic_pattern#Layout Accessed 19 May 2021.

[51] “For nearly 50 years, [Air Training Command] was the primary training organization of the United States Air Force from its inception as an independent service in September 1947. It provided pilot and aircrew training; technical training, and enlisted and officer basic training.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Training_Command Accessed 7 June 2021.

[52] “Scott Air Force Base is a United States Air Force base in St. Clair County, Illinois, near Belleville and O’Fallon, 17 miles east-southeast of downtown St. Louis. Scott Field was one of thirty-two Air Service training camps established after the United States entered World War I in April 1917.” Scott AFB served as headquarters for Air Training Command from 1949 to 1957. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Air_Force_Base Accessed 7 June 2021.

[53] “Chanute Air Force Base is a decommissioned United States Air Force facility, located in Champaign County, Illinois.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chanute_Air_Force_Base Accessed 3 May 2021.

[54] Likely referring to General Curtis LeMay. “Curtis Emerson LeMay (November 15, 1906 – October 1, 1990) was an American Air Force general who implemented an effective but controversial strategic bombing campaign in the Pacific theater of World War II. He later served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force from 1961 to 1965.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curtis_LeMay Accessed 3 May 2021.

[55]Dick Tracy is an American comic strip featuring Dick Tracy (originally Plainclothes Tracy), a tough and intelligent police detective created by Chester Gould. It made its debut on Sunday, October 4, 1931 in the Detroit Mirror.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Tracy Accessed 3 May 2021.

[56] Amarillo, Texas.

[57] “The Republic F-84F Thunderstreak was an American swept-wing turbojet fighter-bomber.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_F-84F_Thunderstreak Accessed 7 June 2021.

[58] i.e., atomic bomb.

[59] “Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (15 April [O.S. 3 April] 1894 – 11 September 1971) led the Soviet Union as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964 and as chairman of the country’s Council of Ministers from 1958 to 1964.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikita_Khrushchev Accessed 7 June 2021.

[60] Best guess.

[61] “Holland is a geographical region and former province on the western coast of the Netherlands. The name Holland is also frequently used informally to refer to the whole of the country of the Netherlands.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holland Accessed 7 June 2021.

[62] Best guess for instrument make.

[63] “The attitude indicator (AI), formerly known as the gyro horizon or artificial horizon, is a flight instrument that informs the pilot of the aircraft orientation relative to Earth’s horizon, and gives an immediate indication of the smallest orientation change.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attitude_indicator Accessed 10 May 2021.

[64] “Châteauroux is the capital city of the French department of Indre,[3] central France and the second-largest town in the province of Berry, after Bourges.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A2teauroux Accessed 10 May 2021.

[65] “Royal Air Force Bentwaters or more simply RAF Bentwaters, now known as Bentwaters Parks, is a former Royal Air Force station about 80 miles (130 km) northeast of London and 10 miles (16 km) east-northeast of Ipswich, near Woodbridge, Suffolk in England. Its name was taken from two cottages (‘Bentwaters Cottages’) that had stood on the site of the main runway during its construction in 1943. The station was used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War, and by the United States Air Force (USAF) during the Cold War, being the primary home for the 81st Fighter Wing under various designations from 1951 to 1993.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Bentwaters Accessed 10 May 2021.

[66] One of Bonelli’s family members in the room during the interview.

[67] Best guess.

[68] Likely referring to a C-124 crash near Cape Hallett Bay, Antarctica, on 16 October 1958. https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19581016-1 Accessed 7 June 2021.

[69] “Form 5” is a pilot’s annual flight evaluation. This is current usage and refers to the FAA (successor to the CAA), but seems to match what Bonelli is referring to: “All pilots must complete a CAP Form 5 check ride annually to demonstrate ability and proficiency in accordance with specific criteria developed to emulate the requirements of an FAA biennial flight review.” https://dewg.cap.gov/about/directorates/flight-operations/standards-and-eval Accessed 10 May 2021.

[70] “In 1923, the airport was renamed “Wold–Chamberlain Field” for the World War I pilots Ernest Groves Wold and Cyrus Foss Chamberlain. In 1944 the site was renamed to “Minneapolis–St. Paul Metropolitan Airport/Wold-Chamberlain Field”, with “International” replacing “Metropolitan” four years later. Today it is rare to see the Wold–Chamberlain portion of the name used anywhere.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minneapolis%E2%80%93Saint_Paul_International_Airport#History Accessed 7 June 2021.

[71] WB misspeaks again here. It is likely he means 1973 or 1983 based on his timeline of events thus far.

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