Jonita Ruth Bonham-Bovée

Jonita Ruth Bonham-Bovée, a hero of the Korean War, became the first woman to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Bonham was born on April 2, 1922, in Bennington, Oklahoma, and joined the Army Air Corps, where she was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Medical Corps. She served in the Philippines and Japan after World War II, and then returned to the United States, resigning from active military duty. When the Korean War broke out she rejoined the military, this time as a 1st Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. Bonham logged 245 flight hours and helped in the evacuation of over 600 wounded men.

On September 26, 1950, she was serving as a flight nurse with another nurse, Vera Brown, in a C54 cargo plane that had been converted into an emergency hospital. Bonham and Brown were two of three medical team members on the flight that day she learned that she was needed for an immediate evacuation flight. The weather was severe, but the medical crew, along with about 40 soldiers, boarded the Douglas C-54 Skymaster that was bound for Kimpo Air Base near Seoul, South Korea. The plan was to drop the soldiers off at the base and evacuate more wounded men. About a half-mile from shore the plane stalled, descended, and slammed into the Sea of Japan, breaking into three pieces and sinking.

Bonham, who was completely submerged in the aircraft, managed to fight her way to the surface, where she found herself swimming for her life in a sea churned up by high winds. She hung onto a floating barracks bag until she was able to grab a life raft rope. She stayed in the water, grabbing other survivors and guiding them to the rope. It was not until 17 of them were safe that she allowed herself to be pulled into one of two available rafts.

Once rescued, Bonham spent nine months in the hospital recovering from a broken cheekbone, skull fracture, broken shoulder and broken left wrist. She later became the first female recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and was promoted to Captain.

Date of Death / December 24, 1994 (1922-1994)