I first met Bonnie Williams in 2008, not long after I first moved to Blue Earth.
My then next door neighbor, A.B. Russ invited me over to his home to meet her. She had been telling A.B. the story of her father and how he was killed in World War II.
A.B. thought I might be interested. Boy, was I ever.
Bonnie had all this information about her father, Robert Christopherson, spread out over the Russ’s dining room table. She had had it stored in a couple of boxes that her mother had given her.
Later, I met with Bonnie twice and interviewed her for a story that would appear in the November 2008 Our Heroes magazine. She also lent me the stacks of material she had about her father. Most of it she had never seen until she was an older adult. It took a while to go through it all.
There were stories, articles, pictures, medals – even one of his uniforms.
I was fascinated.
The story of her father’s plane, the ‘Naughty But Nice,’ is the stuff of legends.
The B-17 was shot down over Papua, New Guinea, after a bombing raid. The navigator, Jose ‘Joe’ Holguin, literally falls out of the plane just before it crashes into the jungle.
He crawls through the jungle with broken bones and finds some natives he thinks will help him. Instead, they turn him over to the Japanese and he spends the rest of World War II in a prisoner of war camp.
Meanwhile, Bonnie’s mother, Hazel, and her in-laws, Leonard and Clara Christopherson of Blue Earth, wait for news. When it finally comes, it isn’t good news. All on board are presumed dead. Three-month-old Bonnie loses a father she has never met.
In 1949, some Army personnel are led to the site of the crash by natives and some human remains are brought out and partially identified. They are buried in Hawaii.
Then the saga continues with Joe Holguin going back into the jungle twice in the early 1980s and finding his plane buried in foliage. Remarkably the fuselage and instrument panel are salvaged. Even the piece with the painting of the scantily clad ‘Naughty But Nice’ girl is found and salvaged.
The searches were not over. In 2001 a special organization of the Armed Forces searches the crash site again. It is a group that is dedicated to bringing home every U.S. service person killed overseas in all the wars.
They map out the area in small squares and search every square inch of ground. They find some small human bone fragments and items such as a class ring.
They run DNA tests, trying to match the small fragments with the living descendents of the crew of the ‘Naughty But Nice,’ but have little luck.
Just a year ago an excited Bonnie Williams came into my office and told me how an Army officer left a message on her answering machine saying he had information about her father.
He came to her house in person and told her about the thorough search and how some remains had been found.
I wrote another story about the discovery. But, sadly, none of the items could be positively identified as exactly belonging to her father.
The officer informed Bonnie that sometime in the future a special burial service would be held and she would be able to attend it.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that Bonnie informed me that the service was finally going to be held at Arlington National Cemetery on Sept. 21.
What was buried there last Wednesday were the remains found in 1949 which had been exhumed from the cemetery in Hawaii, plus whatever remains or personal items had been located in 1983. And all of the items found in the thorough search of 2001.
The crew of the B-17 bomber known as the ‘Naughty But Nice’ were all together in one casket and given the honor they so richly deserved – even if it was 68 years later.
The story of Blue Earth’s Robert Christopherson and his crewmates on the ‘Naughty But Nice’ remains one of my favorites that I have written since becoming the editor at the Register.
If you missed it in November of 2008, we are putting it on our website this week.
It is a fascinating story of a local hero, just 21 years old when he was killed far from home.
Now, Bonnie Williams says she feels he is back home and she feels a real sense of closure.