Lt. Robert Bohna was a member of a family with historical roots in Madera County. He was one of four children born to cattleman Henry Sr., and longtime school teacher Ethel Bohna of Raymond. Robert had two brothers, Henry Jr. and Fred, and one sister, Susie.
It was Henry Sr., who competed at the original Coarsegold rodeo grounds in calf roping and bull dogging, and built the current rodeo grounds on Road 415.
Robert Bohna’s brother Fred lived in Sanger before passing away about 10 years ago. The youngest sibling, Susi Hickman, 84, currently lives in O’Neals. Henry Jr. also served in the Army and upon his Honorable Discharge, was decorated with three Bronze Service Stars, a Good Conduct Medal, and the Purple Heart.
Henry was married to longtime school teacher Elizabeth (Kates) for 43 years.
They had four children - Billy (who died as an infant), oldest sibling Tom, owner of the Bohna Ranch and Bohna Arena (home of the Coarsegold Rodeo), Diane Bohna, who owns the Three Bar Ranch in Raymond, and sister Cindy, who passed away in December 2013.
Henry passed away in 1986 at the age of 64, and Elizabeth, who was born in Grub Gulch (on Road 600) died in 2012 at 94.
It was Raymond Museum curator Lynn Northrup who put Diane Bohna and Chuck Cravan, author of “Combat Vet P-51 - The History of Sierra Sue II, World War II Survivor,” together to bring Bohna’s story to life.
“I knew about my uncle being a WWII pilot and about Sierra Sue II, but at the time I did not know they were restoring the plane,” Diane said. “My uncle kept a diary during the war that I made available to Mr. Cravan, which provided valuable history for his book.”
Diane explained that her uncle Robert was attending Cal Berkeley studying law when he entered the Army at the start of WWII. Once his advanced training was completed at the Army Air Force College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he was assigned to the 402nd squadron, 370th Fighter Wing of the Ninth Air Force. He soon found himself, at the age of 21, flying one of the 20th Century’s most exciting fighter planes.
“After WWII, he went back to Cal, but he had a passion for flying, and he soon left school and got a job as a pilot with Hughes Air West, later flying for Pan Am and Republic Air,” Diane said. “He was crazy for flying, and worked as a commercial pilot until he was 55, the mandatory retirement age back then for airline pilots.”
Lt. Bohna also invested in land, not only throughout California, but in Pennsylvania and Hawaii.
“He was sharp with the dollar,” Diane said.
After his airlines career, he owned and operated Sonoma Truck and Auto for 25 years.
According to Diane, if anyone fit the description of “favorite uncle,” it was Lt. Robert Bohna.
“He loved life and lived it well ... he always had a camera around his neck and loved to take photos ... He was a jokester with a sly smile. He loved to dance and loved the ladies. He had many many friends when he was a commercial pilot ... mostly stewardesses,” a smiling Diane said.
Born on Feb. 12, 1924, Robert Bohna died on Jan. 21, 2010.
NOTE: The 122-page book with 180 photos and illustrations, published last summer, “Combat Vet P-51 - The History of Sierra Sue II, World War II Survivor,” by Chuck Cravens, documents the history of, and the restoration of Sierra Sue II. Beaver’s Pond Press, www.BeaversPondPress.com. To order, go to www.AirCropsAviation.com, or call (218) 444-4478.