Two P-47s named “Bonnie” in one collection? There would be a good reason…

I just got off the phone with Gene Martin, a pilot with the 379th Fighter Squadron, 362nd Fighter Group during the last phases of World War II. Gene served from the very end of the Battle of the Bulge until the war’s end; he flew the wing of Ralph Sallee on many missions. Ralph and I have been carrying on an e-mail correspondence for about a month, showing just how small a world it can be when you start delving into aviation history.

(An aside: I was down at the Estrella Warbird Museum  in Paso Robles a few years ago, and got to talking to a docent, who was wearing a hat from a Navy patrol squadron. He mentioned he had been a pilot, and I asked him if he’d flown Catalinas, which was, numerically speaking, a decent guess. “No, I was in the PB2Y – the Coronado!” said Mr. Smith, with obvious pride. I’d emailed back and forth with another Coronado pilot, so I ventured, “Do you know Frank DeLorenzo?” “Know him?!? I was his co-pilot!” came the response. Small world, indeed!)

Anyway, Gene shared a bunch of great information with me that will go straight into the book – from the mud and cold at Etain to the two victories he scored (he was only credited with one) to the attack on the aerodrome at Muhldorf on April 26, 1945.

Gene flew a P-47 briefly named “Bonnie,” which he later changed to “Bonnie Lynn.” The name, he said, was given to the plane to honor the wife of his crew chief, Bob Shaw; “Lynn” was added in honor of Shaw’s daughter. “Shaw was the best crew chief in the world,” Gene said, owing to his dedication and hard work, even in the miserable weather that the maintenance guys had to put up with in the winter of 1944-45. Gene was assigned the plane after the death of its previous owner, Capt. Tim Ruane, who went down after hitting a tree while strafing the same day as the Muhldorf mission. Ruane had flown it as “Bucephalous II” – meaning it was perhaps the second longest-lived bit of George Rarey nose art, after Joe Laughlin’s “5 By 5.” “Bucephalous II” started out as Clough Gee’s plane; after Gee was killed, it was apparently passed to Kent Geyer, based on some photos of Geyer visiting another base. In them, the nose art is clearly visible, as is a data block with the name of Geyer and his crew. The cowling must have then been transferred to a bubbletop Thunderbolt and Ruane (who had been a cavalry officer earlier in his career), then finally was discarded or painted over in April 1945.

As a scale modeler, it was a really interesting conversation; not only will it help with the book, but I have decals for “Bonnie” (as illustrated in my listing of 362nd FG decals), a bubbletop devoid of invasion stripes. Perhaps I can work in another “pilot and his plane” entry on Internet Modeler on Gene and his machine. The funny thing is that I already have Bill Dunham’s “Bonnie” in my collection – a very different looking P-47, since it’s a natural-metal razorback with huge black stripes on the wings and fuselage. Time to pick up yet another Tamiya Thunderbolt…


1 Comment

  1. You mentioned you spoke with “Gene Martin, a pilot with the 379th Fighter Squadron, 362nd Fighter Group during the last phases of World War II. Gene served from the very end of the Battle of the Bulge”

    Do you have any contact info for him…

    My grandfather passed away on May 18th and I never knew all this but his obituary mentions : “Col. George L. Slentz flew 55 P-47 combat missions in France and Germany, including the Battle of the Bulge, while assigned to the 378th Squadron of the 362nd Fighter Group. After the war, he completed college and received a permanent commission in the Army Air Corp, serving 24 years in various flying, aerospace and administrative positions. In 1955, as a young Captain, he piloted the USAF’s new F-I00 Super-Sabre jet, and was certified into North American Aviation’s Mach Buster’s Club.”

    I know that there may have been hundreds of pilots in that squadron but I thought maybe this Gene Martin may have known him.

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