Oklahoma family remembers passing of decorated WWII pilot and Pearl Harbor survivor

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – On this Flag Day, friends, family and fellow military are remembering a very special veteran in Northwest Oklahoma City.

Airforce personnel performing a full military funeral for the passing of a 100-year-old World War II veteran that embodied the essence of America’s greatest generation, a man that fought for that flag across two oceans in the air and on the ground.

William Bonelli was a true American hero.

“He was a decent and honorable man who served his country,” said Bonelli’s daughter, Geralee Wood.

KFOR was lucky enough to spend some time with Retired Lt. Colonel Bonelli back in 2017. He told us how he enlisted in the Army Air Corps back in 1941 and was sent to Hickam Field in Hawaii to service planes.

Bonelli was there on duty that infamous morning in December.

“I could see the red ball on the side of the fuselage and I said to my buddy, ‘I wonder who those aircraft belong to,” said Bonelli in 2017.

Three years after Pearl Harbor, Bonelli found himself in the skies above Italy, piloting a B-17 as it made bombing runs over German targets. Bonelli dodging flack as it got too close for comfort a time or two.

“I would say within an inch of the family jewels,” said Bonelli in 2017.

“He was amazing – how he was able to hold an audience in his hand as he would recount those stories,” said Wood.

Geralee said it took her father until his last years to be comfortable telling those tales. Memories of fellow fliers lost haunted his dreams.

“There is hardly a night that I don’t wake up in the middle of the night,” said Bonelli.

But Geralee says Bonelli saved countless lives while in the skies by making his bombing runs slightly different from the earlier waves, so his squadron would avoid taking direct hits.

“Still delivering, still on target, but just a few hundred feet off. He did what he had to do, that’s why he was a lead pilot, a command pilot,” said Wood.

In all, Bonelli served his country for 53 years in the Air Force and with the FAA.

In his 100th year, he finally lost a battle with cancer.

William is buried next to his wife who passed in 2003.

Air Force personnel and family spent Monday remembering the man that gave so much.

“He was an amazing man and I was lucky to be his daughter. And as my dad would have often say, thank you for your interest in all of our veterans,” said Wood.

Bonelli’s family tells News 4 that they are working with a production company on a documentary about his life so more Americans can know his incredible story.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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