2 locals rose in the ranks, then lost their lives in WWII

2 locals rose in the ranks, then lost their lives in WWII

U.S. Army Col. Donald Bonnett, left, a veteran of World War I and II, died as a prisoner of war following the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Milton Pavlic, right, was a rising star in the U.S. Navy when his battleship, USS South Dakota, came under attack from the Imperial Japanese Navy. The South Dakota survived the attack, but Lt. Cmdr. Pavlic did not and was buried at sea.


Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series in May on Wayne County soldiers who lost their lives in World War II. The names of the men are from the Wayne County War Memorial in Wooster Cemetery.

Donald Bonnett was born in Wayne County’s Clinton Township on Oct. 16, 1895. His parents were Deane and Josephine VanNiman-Bonnett. His father operated the hardware in Shreve for many years.

Young Donald Bonnett became involved with the local National Guard unit and rapidly advanced to the rank of sergeant. He also became involved in the Reserve Officer Training Corp. When the United States became involved in World War I, he accepted a commission as a 2nd lieutenant and was sent to Europe in 1918.

He continued to climb the Army career ladder, making it all the way to captain in his last state-side assignment in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. There, he attained the rank of major.

In 1939 Bonnett was reassigned, this time to the Philippines. He was to lead the 71st Infantry Regiment, 71st Division, comprised mostly of native Philippine soldiers.

The day after Japan bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese invasion of the Philippines began. The Japanese Army quickly captured the capitol, Manila, and the defenders of Luzon were forced to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula. On April 9, with his forces facing starvation and disease, U.S. Gen. Edward King surrendered nearly 75,000 troops at Bataan. This included Col. Bonnett’s 71st Regiment.

The surrendered soon were concentrated by the Japanese and forced to walk roughly 65 miles from Mariveles on the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula to San Fernando. It is believed thousands of troops died because of the brutality of their captors, who starved and beat the marchers and bayoneted those too weak to walk.

Col. Bonnett was able to complete the march but died soon after. One account, in a letter received by his wife, Bonnett simply sat under a tree for shade, slumped forward and died. In another account, Gen. Wainwright, in his memoirs, wrote a Japanese soldier clubbed Bonnett to death. Perhaps both stories are true. Perhaps a Japanese soldier hit Bonnett on his head, and then he walked away and sat under that tree and only then did the injury take its toll.

Bonnett’s remains were returned to the United States in 1950. His final resting place is Arlington National Cemetery.

Milton Pavlic was born to Thomas and Teresa Pavlic on Dec. 27, 1909, in Treste, Italy. Shortly after his birth, the family settled in Rittman, where Milton Pavlic grew up, attended local schools and graduated from Rittman High School in 1927. He graduated from Western Reserve University and then moved on to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, receiving his U.S. Navy commission in 1932.

Pavlic went on to teach at Annapolis before the United States entered World War II. At the outset of the war, he was called to active duty, where he served on several war ships until finally landing at the battleship USS South Dakota (BB-57). It was here he received his final promotion of lieutenant commander.

The South Dakota was commissioned June 7, 1941, so Pavlic was excited to serve on the Navy’s latest technology. And technologically advanced it was — radar-controlled, 16-inch guns could lob a 2,700-pound armor-piercing projectile accurately at a target nearly 20 miles distant and could do this at night and in foul weather.

All of the South Dakota’s technology required massive amounts of complicated electrical wiring, which often proved to be detrimental to the mission. Sometimes even the recoil shock of her own guns would cause brief losses in electrical service. On the night of Nov. 14, 1942, this problem became deadly.

A Japanese convoy of heavy cruisers, destroyers and supply ships were sailing toward Guadalcanal on a mission to bombard Henderson Field and to land fresh troops and supplies for the Japanese garrison there. Admiral Bull Halsey ordered the USS South Dakota, the USS Wisconsin and several destroyers there to intercept and destroy the Japanese warships.

At the outset South Dakota experienced electrical issues, which took out its ability to target enemy ships and communicate with support ships. Its commander later said his ship was “deaf, dumb, blind and impotent” during that time. Before power could be restored, the Japanese warships spotted the South Dakota, back-lit by the burning hulks of other U.S. warships, and trained spotlights on her. They then opened fire.

The South Dakota was struck 26 times by projectiles of various sizes, mostly 8-inch, armor-piercing rounds. Mercifully, many of the rounds failed to detonate, traveling through the South Dakota’s plating, causing minimal structural damage.

One round pierced the plating on the sky watch deck, high above the main deck of the ship. Like many of the others, it did not detonate. But it had a fateful effect. Lt. Cmdr. Pavlic was manning that station. He died that night.

Pavlic was buried at sea along with 39 of his comrades. Besides the Wayne County War Memorial, he is memorialized on his parents’ gravestone in Doylestown, as well as the Tablets of the Missing, Manila National Cemetery & Memorial. He also had a U.S. Navy ship named in his honor, High Speed Transport USS Pavlic, APD-70.

Looking Back is a feature on area history from local historian Mike Franks, who was raised in Apple Creek and has lived in Wooster most of his life. He can be emailed at bh_looking_back@aol.com.

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