Biography of William Bonenberger

Assistant Leader, Enrollee, Company 3567, Camp DG-91, Camp Alkali Lake, Valley Falls/Burns, Oregon

Corporal, Badington Air Depot Number 1, Badington Air Depot Number 2, 8th AF, USAAF

   My name is William Bonenberger and I was in the three c's. As you know this was during the time of the big depression and the government set up the C.C.C. to give young people a job as well as the W.P.A. for older men. I signed up in Akron Ohio. I was inducted into the CCC at Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio on April 16, 1940.

  After I joined the C.C.C. I was shipped out to Oregon on the old steam engine passenger train. I remember working in the chow car which was an open box car and the smoke and cinders would fly in and get into the scrambled eggs which needless to say made them kinda gritty, but when you are hungry who cares.

Taken when I was on a forest fire detail

   I was stationed at a camp called Camp Alkali Lake a few miles out of Burns, Oregon. It was named for a large alkali lake near there (according to the website this lake was 63 miles to the NE). I was in Company 3567, Camp Alkali lake, Camp No. DG-91, Valley Falls, Oregon. Valley Falls was the location of the nearest Post Office and the official location of the camp mailing address.

   I was there for one year and became an assistant leader during that time. While I was there I had taken a course in first aid and a course in Camp Exchange Steward.

  We built roads, fought forest fires, and cut timber for fence posts. I drove a Caterpillar tractor when we were building roads and making water holes for the sheep herds, deer and antelope as well as the cougars. I also worked in the infirmary while I was there and was first aid man on some of the forest fires.

CCC Camp Alkali Lake, Oregon, Photo from Enrollee Arvid K. Shook

   The above photo is the camp where I was stationed. I remember climbing that hill behind the camp and finding arrow heads and skin scrapers. Since the camp was situated pretty much in the desert there wasn't much to do for pastime except hunt rattlesnakes, indian relics and trap coyotes which I skinned and sold the hides to Sears Roebuck who used them to make gloves etc.. Sometimes we would get to take a trip to a small town called Lakeview and a couple times we got to take a field trip to nearby spots of interest like Crater Lake. It really was very desolate.The nearest town was 20 miles away.

Bill Bonenberger, taken when I was on a field trip to crater lake

   I hunted the rattlers with a broom handle with a cord running down the side and a loop on the end. They would sit up and you could just slip the loop over there head and snare them with the loop. They weren't large. Only about 4 ft long. I have seen diamond backs here in Florida much larger. As for the coyotes. I trapped them.


Taken in front of the motor pool where i kept the hides till they were dried out

   We had reveille and retreat every evening. I was an assistant leader with one stripe and I was the barracks leader. I had to make sure every one got up and lead them in exercises. The exercises in the mornings consisted of stretching exercises. Each man would stand at the end of his bunk and follow my instructions. Beyond those duties, I didn't get any obvious privileges as Assistant Leader except for getting to ride in the cab or driving the truck when we went on field trips or when we went to town.

   Smoking was prevalent in those days and we were taught when we finished a smoke we would tear the butt up and scatter the tobacco and roll the little piece of paper that was left into a little ball. We would have to walk through the camp every day and pick up butts that weren't done that way. So we didn't have too many to pick up.

   The food in the 3 c's was OK, not gourmet mind you but filling and nutritious. We also had a small canteen with the usual needs like candy bars, shaving equipment tooth paste etc.

   I visited the old camp about 5 years ago. Some of the barracks have been torn down and the few buildings that remain were being used for some kind of research according to a lady that was managing a small museum in Burns Oregon. I was surprised any of the buildings were still there.

   After my enlistment ran out on March 18,1941, I took my discharge and went home. The reason I came home was because I was getting a little home sick. I came home by train.

   After returning home from Oregon I was able to get a real job working in a factory making boilers and pontoons for the army which were used in Europe during WW2.  The pontoons we built at the boiler factory were like square steel boxes like a 6 ft cube. They were designed to be attached to each other so the could be used to form a bridge quickly for men and vehicles to cross rivers etc.

   I worked there for a short time before getting a job at the Goodyear plant making bullet proof gas tanks for the Air Force. The gas tanks we built at Goodyear were all kinds of crazy shapes so they could be installed on planes anywhere they could find space. The walls of the tanks were about a half inch thick with a rubberized substance inside that would seal any holes by bullets from enemy fire.

   I was drafted into the air force when I was 18 and spent 2 1/2 years in England and France. I couldn't get a deferment. My wife was pregnant at the time and they wouldn't even let me wait till my daughter was born. I wasn't too happy about having to leave her.

   I was a propeller mechanic in the 8th air force. I took my basic training in Miami Beach and went to Stewart technical school of aeronautics which was located in New York City. From there I went to Curtis Electric factory school in New Jersey for 6 weeks, then to Hamilton Hydromatic factory school in Westerly Rhode Island. After that I went to a school at Areo Products located at Vandalia Ohio. After that I was sent to a distribution center in San Antonio Texas for 30 days.

   From there I was shipped off to England aboard a Liberty ship which was part of a large convoy that zig zagged across the Atlantic for safety reasons.  The convoy consisted of several small liberty ships and a couple of destroyers for protection.

   The liberty ships were rather small ships as far as ocean going vessels are concerned. When we weren't working on KP or doing guard duty we were free to roam around the ship. The food on the voyage was satisfactory, but no fresh foods at all.

   When we were going over, the water was choppy and swells, the North Atlantic a dark greenish color. I remember one day it was raining and one of the guys was dancing on top of a hatch cover which of course was wet and slippery. Well he slipped and slid right over to the railing and was only saved from going overboard by fortunately straddling a post. I had heard of people turning white from fear, but that was the only time I had ever actually seen it. He was scared to death. We had been told to be careful because if we went overboard the ship would not stop because we would have been a sitting duck for a German sub.

   The German subs were patrolling that area pretty good. My bunk on board was right next to the side of the ship and I can remember laying there and thinking what it would be like if a torpedo came flying through there. Luckily we had no alarms during the crossing. It was actually uneventful. It took us 10 days to get there.

   I was based at Badington Air Depots Numbers 1 & 2, which were located on the western side of England. I don't recall our unit number, but it was part of the 8th Air Force. We worked on propellers from heavy bombers, B17s, and fighter planes, P51 and P38s. Props have to be overhauled after so many hours of operation. F.H.A. regulations.

   The planes were flown in by transport pilots. The planes would fly in and get overhauled with new props et cetera.

   We would completely overhaul the old props when they came in. We dissembled them, cleaned the insides, sanded the blades and rebalanced them.The thing that impressed me the most was the balancing. when you had them balanced, you could put a cigarette paper on one of the blades and you could watch it very slowly start to turn.

    I worked in a plant like atmosphere. The room we used to balance the blades was a fairly small room with no fans to disturb the air. Of course there wasn't any air conditioning because AC wasn't invited yet.  

   We slept in barracks just like the ones we slept in at Camp Alkali Lake. We had Saturday and Sunday off.

   As for recreation in Badington when I was in the camp, they had movies we could go to and that was about all.  And my wife and I wrote each other regularly. I had a bike that I rode to town which was about a 20 minute ride. I spent a lot of time off in Blackpool which was a beach resort on the coast.  The atmosphere where I was stationed was rather subdued. The people were very nice to us and glad to have us on their side. To the Brits, Blackpool was their Miami Beach. They would come there on their vacations. It was really nice. The beach was sandy and no barbed wire. It was just too cold for me to go swimming.

   We were never bombed because Germany couldn't reach us with their buzz bombs. They weren't very accurate. Nothing like the sophisticated ones we have today. I think the Germans just used them more for moral purposes than anything else. That's why London was hit so bad. There weren't any military targets in London. I was in England last year and you could still see some of the damage that was caused by the buzz bombs around London.

   Not to say that it was totally safe, since it was an airfield. I remember one time when a P51 was taxiing along an apron by zig zagging back and forth because they couldn't look straight ahead because the nose of the plane was too high to see over when a truck with some English guys in the back started to pass just as the P51 was zagging and the prop sliced right through the truck and killing all the passengers. Not a pretty sight.

   At one point they wanted me to volunteer to be a tail gunner on the B17s, because I am only 5 ft 3 and would fit in the tail nicely. I told them Thanks, but no thanks.

     I worked at Badington during the war. After Germany surrendered, I was sent to France and guarded German prisoners. We went to france in rather a small boat across the English Channel. I don't remember the ports we used. The prisoners seemed to be glad it was all over and they had a nice barracks to sleep in with 3 meals a day. They didn't seem to be remorseful at all. They just did as they were told. Some of them were barbers, tailors and that was their duties. They cut our hair and I had one of them make me an Eisenhower jacket. It was pretty neat. We didn't have any problems with them at all. I stayed with this duty till I was sent back home on another Liberty ship.

MSTS USS Ernie Pyle from the MSTS Website

     The ship I came home on was the Ernie Pile. Although the weather we had going over to England had been OK, coming back was a different story. We hit a storm and we had waves that I would judge were 50 ft high. The storm was a doozie. I was not a happy camper. It was the closest I have ever came to sea sickness. You didn't try to walk around. All you wanted to do was lay down. The good news was that the crossing only took a week this time. Thank God. That North Atlantic can get pretty nasty sometimes.

     I was really happy to get back to the good old USA. When we pulled into New York Harbor we passed the statute of liberty and they had the fire boats out in full force shooting red white and blue water with a band playing. I don't mind telling you it brought tears to my eyes.

   After we got to America I was discharged, at the rank of Corporal. I remember when I came home our first meal was all the steak you could eat and man did that go over good.

   After the war I went back to work for Goodyear for about a year building tires. I had taken my basic training in Miami Beach and decided Florida was a nicer place to live where I have lived since I was 25.

----- Bill Bonenberger


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