Stephen Jacob Bonner, Jr., 103, of Carlinville, IL, formerly Guymon, OK died Wednesday, September 15, 2021 at Heritage Health in Carlinville. He was born January 16, 1918 in Guymon, OK to Stephen Jacob, Sr. and Nellie Belle (Embree) Bonner. Stephen married Joy Wilson on August 14, 1945 in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.
He is preceded in death by his wife, Joy, two brothers, two sisters, and grandson, Zachary Howard Scott.
He was a graduate of Panhandle College in Goodwell, OK, and attended the University of Illinois. Mr. Bonner retired as President of Flex-N-Gate Manufacturing Company, a division of The Scott Fetzer Company in Urbana, IL. He was a lifelong Baptist and held various positions in many Baptist Churches; Sunday School Superintendent, teacher, deacon, etc.
Mr. Bonner was an avid gardener, wonderful cook, and canned a mean pickle (a recipe from his mother). He learned to play the violin at an early age, but was too embarrassed to be seen carrying his instrument to school, so made his sister carry it. Mr. Bonner lived much of his life in Guymon, Oklahoma on the land his father and grandfather Homesteaded on before Oklahoma became a state.
At an early age Mr. Bonner discovered his love for flying. A friendly pilot at the local prairie airport would often take him up for a ride, and it was because of this, he joined the US Army Reserve and was commissioned as a second lieutenant at Eagle Pass Army Air Force on February 16, 1943. He joined the 76th Squadron of the 23rd Fighter Group in June 1943 and was deployed to China in short order. Commanding them all was Brigadier General Claire Lee Chennault.
As one of the famous "Flying Tigers", Mr. Bonner flew dozens of missions in the Western Theatre, earning the level of Ace for five confirmed air-to-air kills of Japanese fighter planes. Mr. Bonner was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as a P-40 Fighter Pilot of the 76th Fighter Squadron, 23rd Fighter Group, FOURTEENTH Air Force.
On July 4, 1942, the U.S. Army Air Forces officially took charge in China and the AVG ceased to exist, to be reincarnated as the 23rd Fighter Group. Retaining the AVG's distinctive shark mouth on its Curtiss P-40s, the 23rd entered combat. Commanding them all was Claire Lee Chennault, whose rank and responsibilities had risen from Colonel leading the AVG to brigadier general in charge of the China Air Task Force.
In September 2005 Bonner, accompanied by his daughter, was among numerous Flying Tigers and American veterans invited to Beijing to commemorate what his Chinese hosts referred to as the "60th Anniversary of the Victory of China's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World's Anti-Fascist War." Bonner was made an Honorary Citizen of Kunming, China, and had dinner and other encounters with the President of China.
One more honor was to come. On May 20, 2015, Steve Bonner joined 33 other Aces in Washington D.C. to receive the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the total of 1,447 American airmen who attained the vaunted status of Ace.
Bonner transitioned to jets after the war, and was stationed at Rantoul Air Force Base in Illinois. He retired in the early 50's as a Major.
At the age of 103 years, Bonner was the oldest surviving American Fighter Ace. He was also the last living Ace to have fought in China/CBI.
Mr. Bonner has donated his China memorabilia to the No Man's Land Museum, in Goodwell, Oklahoma.
Funeral Service date, time, place: A private Military funeral will be held in Guymon, Oklahoma in the Bonner family plot on Wednesday, October 6, 2021.
Fly High, Dad!
He is survived by his children, Stephen Jacob (Lorraine) Bonner III of Albuquerque, NM; Jane Bonner (Randy) Scott of Carlinville, IL; Chris Arthur (Deborah) Bonner of Westfield, IN; 6 grandchildren, 11 great grandchildren; one sister, Helen Riffe (105 yrs old) of Claremore, OK, and several nieces and nephews
Graveside funeral services with military rights will be held 10:00 A.M. Wednesday, October 6, 2021 at Elmhurst Cemetery in Guymon, Oklahoma.
Friends and family may sign the online guest book or leave an online condolence.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Stephen Bonner, please visit our floral store.