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World War II veteran celebrates 100 years with memories of war, peace

By KEVIN BOYER | Crestview News Bulletin | Published: March 11, 2019

PACE Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Lt. Col. Ray Bonomo has seen many things during his 100 years on this earth. As he approached his March 12 centennial birthday, he sat down to share memories of his time in World War II and give some tips on how he stays active.

Bonomo joined the Army Air Force in 1942 because he said he wanted to be a pilot. Unfortunately, Bonomo didn't meet the requirements and became a navigator instead. In October 1944, at the age of 25, he was assigned to navigate a B-29 Superfortress, a four-engine heavy bomber, from Saipan. In November 1944, he made his first mission to Japan.

"We were the first of the B-29s to be in Saipan," Bonomo said.

According to Bonomo, the military built the B-29s to make long-distance missions. A round-trip flight from Saipan to Japan, he said, was 3,000 miles.

July 3, 1945 was Bonomo's last mission over Japan. By then, he said there were 1,000 B-29s flying over Japan.

"I remember my last trip over (a city in Japan) was about the size of Pace and Milton," he said. "We dropped 35 of these 500-pound (bombs) on a target like us. Didn't have any opposition at all then."

But Bonomo can recall when he did encounter opposition that nearly ended his life. During one of his missions, Bonomo said his plane was hit during an air raid.

"They hit us. We were bright red," he said. "We were 2-or-3,000 feet up and I was hunched down and then all the sudden I was hitting the ceiling cause we were going back down 300 feet. We thought we were going to break up. But we didn't. We survived that one."

One thing Bonomo said he is proud of is the fact that he is one of the first people to fly into the jet stream.

"It's phenomenal. I've never experienced it," he said.

Bonomo said making that discovery led military intelligence to make flight changes.

"They discussed it and the only way you could do it was to go downwind to hit the target." he said.

Bonomo said he completed 40 missions during WWII. After the war, Bonomo flew transports and air-sea rescue missions. It was during his time flying these missions that Bonomo said one of his most memorable moments out of military service took place.

"I flew in hurricanes," he said. "They didn't have satellites back then. I used my radar and aimed for the eye of the hurricane."

While he was navigating in the hurricanes, Bonomo said he would have to take pictures of the hurricane's path. He said the hurricane looked liked a white line across the radar with a little black dot for the eye back in those days.

Bonomo accumulated more than 6,000 hours of flight time. He moved to Pace with his family in 2006 and still enjoys working on his home and playing golf.

"I feel good," he said. "I work in my shop. I'm working on my house a little. I wash my driveway, my neighbor's driveway and our sidewalks. My secret is I eat healthy and keep active."

Bonomo said something else he thinks helps keep him going is his love for fish. His family came from Italy right before the economic crash of the 1920s. Bronomo and his brother would take bushel baskets of fish that his uncles caught and sell them.

All in all, Bonomo said, he is grateful to be alive and for his children and his family.

"I guess the good Lord said I should stay this long."

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