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Downed World War II pilot honored with headstone

June 03, 2004|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

Twice in her 84 years, Lillian Weagley Bonner of Waynesboro waited for loved ones to come back from wars - six decades apart.

Her grandson, Justin W. Bonner, 29, came home last Thanksgiving from the war in Iraq.

Her husband, Guy L. Bonner, was listed as missing in action on July 28, 1945, when his B-29 bomber was shot down fewer than two weeks before atomic bombs fell on Japan to end World War II. He was presumed dead a year later.

In March, a headstone in Bonner's memory was placed in a special area in Arlington National Cemetery reserved for war casualties whose bodies never were recovered.

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An older brother, Harold W. Bonner of Peoria, Ariz., a chaplain in World War II, worked with the government for nearly two years to get the memorial. Another brother, the late C. Martin Bonner, also served in the war. The Bonner boys grew up in Tomstown, Pa., outside of Waynesboro.

First Lt. Guy Bonner was piloting his B-29, laying mines over Japan's Inland Sea, when the plane was hit by groundfire and crashed. Four crewmen died with Bonner, who was flying his third mission. Six others were rescued.

Lillian Bonner said she didn't receive a telegram from the War Department telling her of her husband's fate until after the war ended in August. The telegram has been tucked away in the attic of her Gehr Road home all these years, she said.

She and Guy were living off base in Alamogordo, N.M., in June 1945 when he boarded a train for Topeka, Kan., to pick up a new bomber and head for the Pacific island of Tinian to fly missions.

It was the last time she saw him. After he left, Lillian, who was four months pregnant, returned to Waynesboro.

Their son, Guy L. Bonner Jr., the father of Justin Bonner, was born Dec. 26, 1945. He lives next door to his mother.

Guy and Lillian knew each other as teenagers and began dating in 1937.

"I was standing in front of Faith United Methodist Church with some girlfriends when he pulled up in his car and said, 'Tell that redhead to come over here,'" she said.

He asked her to go to a dance with him at Caledonia State Park.

"He was seeing a girl and she was seeing another boy. He wanted to go to the dance to see if she was there with him. He was upset when he saw them there. We started dating," she said.

Guy Bonner joined the Army in 1940 and was stationed in a coastal artillery unit at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. He was discharged for one day and then joined the Army Air Corps.

Her husband earned his pilot's license before the war at the Chambersburg Sunset Airport, Lillian Bonner said. A graduate of Quincy High School, Bonner was a machinist and draftsman at Landis Tool Co., she said.

They were married in March 1942. She followed him when he was assigned to the B-29 training base in New Mexico.

Lillian Bonner never remarried. She worked for years at Letterkenny Army Depot and retired from Fairchild Aircraft Co., in Hagerstown in 1982 after 22 years there.

Lillian and Guy Jr. have not yet gone to Arlington to see the headstone.

"We want to go to see the World War II Memorial at the same time, but we want to wait until it's not so crowded," he said.

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