Richard Buchignani was 17 years old when he graduated from Healdsburg High School in June of 1942. His first order of business was to begin his attempts to join the military so that he could participate directly in the war effort. He was able to get his mother, Eva Giorgi Buchignani, to sign his under-age application to join the Coast Guard on July 7, 1942. While he waited for that to be processed, he took a job at the shipbuilding facility on Mare Island in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Coast Guard did not avail themselves of the opportunity to induct Richard, so in January 1943 he applied to the local draft board in Healdsburg for voluntary induction into the Navy. But apparently, he did not fit the bill for them either.
Richard Buchignani’s military career finally began in April 1943 when he was inducted into the Army Air Force. He first reported to Laredo, Texas and was then sent to the Army Air Force Technical School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for basic training.
After completion of basic training, Richard was sent to the Army Air field in Tonopah, Nevada in December 1943 to receive training in aerial bombardment aboard a B24 Liberator Bomber. There he met the crew he would serve with in combat. After three months of training, the crew was sent to Hamilton Field near Novato, California. Richard was able to take a short leave to visit with his family in San Francisco and Healdsburg before deploying overseas.
Richard and the rest of the crew joined the 31st Bombardment Group in the South Pacific in early June 1944. After quickly completing their combat training missions in the area, they began flying extended missions against Yap Island in the Caroline Islands on June 27th. It would not be long before their focus shifted to the Palau Island, relocating to a crude tent city on Wakde Island. Each time they relocated their accommodations became increasingly primitive.
In September 1944, the Americans were determined to destroy the oil refineries on Balikpapan that the Japanese Army needed in order to repel an American invasion of the Philippine Islands. So the squadron moved to Noemfoor Island to shorten the distance to their target. The accommodations there were even worse than on Wakde.
Despite the move, the 2,600 mile round trip that the team would have to travel to reach their target was still well beyond what their planes were rated for. All extraneous weight was eliminated from the planes in an effort to maximize their chances of making it back to the temporary field which had been hastily built on the Island of Morotai located about half-way between their target and their home base.
Twenty-four B24s participated in the September 30th raid on Balikpapan. Three did not make it back, including Richard’s. The final transmission received from their plane put them over islands that were controlled by the Japanese. Search parties conducted over the following three days did not reveal any trace of the crew or plane.
The 31st Bombardment Group conducted four more missions against the Balikpapan oil refineries over the following weeks. These raids destroyed the factories and enabled the eventual success of General Douglas McArthur’s return to the Philippines.
For a more detailed account of Richard’s life please read my 2014 book, Richard Buchignani Country Boy to Fly Boy