WORLD WAR II VET BACK IN B-29 – 70 YEARS LATER
Raul C. Mendoza, a World War II Army Air Corp Veteran, was recognized by the Commemorative Air Force as an honored participant at the AirPower History Tour show at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport this past Saturday.
Mendoza, a Hayden, Arizona native, was inducted into the service in 1943. He was trained as a machine gunner and bombardier in San Angelo, Texas.
Flight Officer Mendoza addressed the gathering at the air show and shared his memories as a bombardier.
He recalled an incident during a target training mission when one of the plane’s engines caught fire and flames were shooting past his bombardier canopy to the plane’s tail section. The pilot and also captain of the crew attempted to extinguish the flames by putting the aircraft into a nose dive for several hundred feet to no avail. The captain then ordered the crew to prepare to abandon aircraft.
Flight Officer Mendoza was ordered to the plane’s bomb bay to lead the crew’s evacuation. This was one of their first training missions and no one in the crew had been instructed or had any experience in parachute jumping. Knowing this, the captain decided to instead an attempt to return to their base landing strip where they were met by fire trucks and emergency-aid crews. Even with the plane’s engine in full blaze they landed safely.
Mendoza, dressed in his original 1943 military uniform, quickly became the celebrity of the Air Show as people lined up to greet him and have photos snapped with him. Raul described the event as amazing and said “to ride in the bombardier seat again brought back many memories of my years spent in the military.”
Special tribute was paid by Mr. Mendoza to his many military comrades from the Hayden and the San Pedro neighborhood that were either killed or missing in action. He estimated that about nine of his former acquaintances and soldiers from the San Pedro Barrio never returned from the battlelines.
Raul C. Mendoza was honorably discharged from the service in 1946 and returned home to Hayden-San Pedro. In 1948 he opened Gila Furniture in Hayden, a business store that he still operates today, 65 years later.