Last Known Activity
Jonita Ruth Bonham was born on April 2, 1922, in Bennington, Bryan County, OK, the daughter of Joseph Lemuel and Katie Louticia Smith. After high school, she attended the Nursing School at the University of Oklahoma. She then enlisted in the USAAF and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. She attended officer and nurse training and then was assigned to Air Medical Evacuation units in the Pacific Theater.
After the war, she remained on active duty in the Philippines and later Japan. She soon left the military, but when the Korean War began, she volunteered and was returned to active duty. She was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and assigned duty as a Flight Nurse with the 801st Air Medical Evacuation Squadron located at Tachikawa, Japan.
The need for medical evacuation flights was of such magnitude that Lt. Bonham and her medical crew, consisting of Captain Vera Brown and a medical corpsman, had flown some 245 hours, evacuated 600 wounded, and had been re duced to three-hour catnaps.
It was from one of these naps that she was awakened on September 26, 1950 and alerted to an immediate take-off. The weather was stormy. With 50 troops aboard heading to Kimpo, the flight was scheduled to bring wounded out on its return trip. Shortly after take-off, the aircraft crashed into the sea, killing Captain Vera Brown and several of the troops.
Lt. Bonham was severely injured, with a broken left forearm, a fractured shoulder blade, and severe head injuries. Nevertheless, she remained alert and directed the evacuation of the remaining personnel. Although unable to help, she directed the launching of the life rafts and supervised the loading. Only after all the personnel were aboard the rafts, did she allow herself to be taken out of the sea. She calmly directed efforts of the men as to obtaining rescue and exerted a calming effect upon the crowd.
When found by a Japanese fishing vessel, she directed the lashing together of the rafts and arranged for a tow line to be used. Shortly afterward, she lost consciousness until revived in a hospital.
She underwent several surgeries for her head wounds. Three days after her last surgery, General Stratameyer presented her with the Distinguished Flying Cross. She recovered and remained on active duty, later being promoted to Captain and marrying Major Clifford Bovee, a medical specialist in 1951. She suffered effects from her wounds, and the AF medically retired her in 1952.
On April 9, 1952, the radio show Calvacade of America aired her story, and it is said that the 1853 movie Flight Nurse was based on her life. See discussion of this in second column.
She went on to raise a family, having three children until on December 24, 1994, Captain Jonita R. Bonham-Bovee passed away from cancer at her daughter Renee's home in Colorado Springs, CO.
There are several discrepancies in the records concerning Jonita Bonham.
First, the AF Nursing Service Chronology at www.airforcehistory.hq.af.mil states that Lt Bonham and Captain Vera Brown were both awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The book Extrordinary People in Extrordinary Times: heroes, sheroes, and villians says Bonham was the only woman awarded this AF Medal. Perhaps this is because Captain Brown died in the crash and was awarded the medal postunously.
Another point is that the same book details how a movie, Flight Nurse, was based on her exploits. Captain Lillian Kiel, a flight nurse who acted as technical director for the movie, is usually given credit as the person on whom the movie is based.
Regardless of the truth in these situations, it can be seen that both women were exemplary examples of the courage and dedication that it took to be a Flight Nurse.