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Plank Owner, NAVetsUSA 

Paul T. Bonilla
AOM1/c USNR,  Ret
 601 Via Bogota
Vista CA 92083
AOM1/c USNR Ret.
(760) 945-7948

Served aboard CV-16 USS Lexington with VB-16 as a radioman-gunner.1943-1944 in the So. Pac. I flew with 2 pilots,  William E McCarthy and Harold "McFoo" McPherson. While Flying with McCarthy we were shot down during a raid on Wake Island. Spent 3 days on a raft and were picked up by the submarine Skate. Spent 21 days on the Sub. After the squadron was releived we returned to the states and I was attending flight school when the war ended and I resigned and  was discharged in February of 46. I belong to the C G-16 reunion association and I would like to find as many of the old shipmates that were attached to the air group so they would attend our next reunion October 2000. I was honorably  discharged in 1946.

I have been searching for over 50 years for some lost shipmates. I was a plank owner on CV-16 USS Lexington. I served on her while attached to AG-16 in the Bomber Squadron VB-16 as a radioman-gunner on an SBD dive bomber. I flew with two pilots, W.E. McCarthy and Harold "McFoo" McPherson. I flew with McCarthy starting in April of 1943 until November of 1943. I then started flying with McPherson starting in December of 1943 til July of 1944 when AG-16 was replaced with AG-19 I don't know where "McFoo" went after we were relieved nor do I know where he lived. Hopefully he made it through the war and is a retired millionaire living the life of Reiley somewhere. McCarthy was transferred to shore duty in the South Pacific after we returned to the Lex after hitting the drink during a raid on Wake Island. We were in the raft for 3 nights and days before being picked up by
the USS Skate and stayed aboard for 21 great days. I think that McCarthy was originally a Bostonian and I understand that after the war he attended Boston College around 1947. He attended law school and at the time lived in Medford of Wakefield, MA.  I would very much like to find either or both of them or know about their well being. I would be very interested in find other shipmates from AG-16 that remembers me.

Paul T. Bonilla AOM1/c Ret.

An Open Letter
to my navy brothers and sisters

 I have been a member for about three months now and I really don't know what being a member entitles me to do. I have been searching for shipmates but have been unsuccessful which is no big surprise to me. I'm not complaining. I do want to know
how I can vent my outrage at my congressman who is a Navy vet and also a tail hooker. I thought that he would want to help an old Navy vet but evidently that is not so. During WWII I was a gunner on an SBD flying from the CV16 USS Lexington. The plane after bombing Wake Island hit the drink. When the plane hit the water I noticed that my pilots hood slammed closed. My first thought was that my first priority would be to jump out on the wing and jettison the hood. I discovered that I was pinned to my seat because my guns came out of the housing and pinned me in. A few seconds latter I was able to push the guns back and get out. By the time I got out I saw that my pilot had pushed his hood back jumped out on the wing. My next priority was to get the liferaft out of the fuselage where it was stored. I got the raft out immediately pulled the lever on the co2 bottle and the liferaft slowly inflated. By the time I jumped into the raft I was about 50 feet from my pilot who was now in the water thrashing in the water trying to stay afloat. I had no time to look for the oars so laid on my stomach and used my hands as you would on a surfboard I noticed that he had not removed his parachute, with a single raft and provisions and had not inflated
his lifejacket. I yelled to him to inflate his jacket but he didn't. His head was under water when I got to him. I was exhausted and so was he so I grabbed his chute harness and pulled him into the raft just high enough to get his arms in. After resting awhile I pulled him fully in to the raft. He was dazed from a blow to his nose from hitting the instrument panel when the plane hit the water. His getting out of the plane was pure survival instinct. He was bleeding profusely because his nose was punctured clear through. We spent three days on the raft and were picked up by a friendly sub. I will not elaborate anymore. At the time I was happy that we both survived and had no thought of any type of award for what happened. About 6 years ago at our airgroup reunion one of the members, Alex Vraciu a leading ace at the time of the crash, asked me if I had received my medal yet. I asked for what? And he said for saving my pilots life. I told him no and forgot about it til other members asked me at the next reunion.
So at that time I thought that I should pursue it. I gathered all of the stories written in Navy magazines, newspaper articles and books, the story of my navy life which the historian from the Lexington Museum in Corpus Christi and sent it all to my senator
Dianne Feinstein. I received a  quick reply and said that she would be happy to look into it. She acted as a go-between the navy and me. They told her that if I could get a senior officer that witnessed the event they would pursue it further. What are
the odds that after 50 years anyone would be alive to corroborate my story. I contacted the one surviving witness who was our group leader on that mission and he wrote in the form they gave me to fill out that my story was true. The navy then sent a letter to Senator Feinstein that there was no award that would cover saving someone's life. The senator wrote to me telling me that that's all she could do.
On June 21, 1999 I gathered together the same package that I had sent to Senator Feinstein and sent it to my congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham. I received no answer, so on August 4th I sent a second letter asking if they had received the
previous mailings. No answer. About August 18th I decided to call his office in Escondido, Calif. An aide answered the phone and I asked him if they had received the letters that I had sent. He said that he hadn't. I advised him that they had been sent first class and if the address was wrong the post office would have returned them to me. I asked him to check the records to see if they had been received and was advised that they didn't keep records. He said that they were probably sent to the
Washington office and he would check and call me back. No call. On August 27th I call the local office again and he told me to e-mail the question to DC. Later I received a call from the office asking me why I e-mailed the DC office I again related my story and he said that he would look into it and call me back. No call. On September 29 I called the local office again and threatened to go on the network and letter's to the editor and tell people that the elected congressman that represented me in Washington would not even acknowledge a letter written by a WWII veteran. The person on the phone told me that he didn't handle this sort of thing but he would have the person that I sent the e-mail to in DC, call me. I asked him to give me a date that the call would be made. He said that he was working today and that he would call today. Later on the day I received that call. He asked me what my question was and I responded that it was the same one that I talked to him about before and he said at that time he would look into it and called me back. I repeated the story to which he answered that things that happened that long ago
would have to be corroborated by a senior officer that witnessed the event. I told him that I have a written statement from that gentleman. He said that he would look into it and call me back. I asked him when I could expect this call and he said within a
week. He called as promised this time and said that he had found my correspondence. I asked him where they were and he said "In the files". He then said that he would look into it. I asked him if he could get me a list of awards and how you earned them. He said that he would. Almost a month later I have no answer. My question to you is how can I get this where my navy brothers and sisters can learn that if you want this particular congressman to answer your question you have to be a big contributor. This is what we fought wars for.
I thank you for your patience.
Paul T. Bonilla AOM1/c USNR Ret

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