Lester W. "Smokey" Halonen, 779th
15 February 2003
Maryan and Smokey Halonen|
Lester W. "Smoky" Halonen was born 16 August 1913 in Wing, North Dakota
to parents William and Ina Halonen. Smoky had 17 siblings. He died 15 February 2003 at the age of 89 in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin after a long battle with Alzheimer's.
Smoky learned to fly in an old WWI Jenny airplane at the age of 16. With only a
grammar school education, he enlisted in the Air Corps after being told that his employer, Nordberg Manufacturing
Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (manufacturers of railroad equipment, mining equipment and diesel engines),
would guarantee the job of any returning serviceman. He was given a farewell party on 6 December 1941 –
the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor!
After attending basic training in St. Louis, Missouri Smoky went to Chanute, Illinois
for training in general aircraft mechanics.
His next assignment was at a Seattle, Washington Boeing plant for more mechanic
training. He was then flown to Panama City, Florida to learn applied tactics. In Florida, Smoky flew the small
O52 observation plane on submarine patrol and towed targets for fighters over the Gulf of Mexico. It wasn't
uncommon for an O52 to be hit instead of a target - on one occasion, there was a crash and Smoky was
thrown into a stump. He was soaked with gasoline from the ruptured fuel tank, but neither he nor the plane
caught fire. Smoky was offered the position of pilot on a B-26 – a small bomber with shortened wings – but
he declined the offer. Thirty B-26s had crashed in 31 days.
His next assignment was as flight engineer in Boise, Idaho where he helped to train
crews for the B-17s. In 1943, Smoky was sent overseas to Tunis, Africa, then on to Italy where he worked in
the Corps of Engineers to build the air field for American bombers. He was a member of the 464th Bombardment
Group, 779th Squadron. It was in Italy he created and implemented a B-24 engine modification plan that
resulted in his award of the Bronze Star. Most B-24s required an engine change after 250 hours, and Smoky
developed the plan to use de-icer hoses on these engines to extend their service.
Smoky was also an accomplished banjo player. He played in bands and orchestras
throughout his training days and later on, in Italy. He survived four crashes and having his throat cut on a fence
in Italy before being discharged from the service in September 1945, after the end of the war with Japan.
Smoky's wife Maryan passed away in November 2001. He is survived by his two sons,
Keith Halonen of Hidden Valley Lake, California and Phil Halonen of Cudahy, Wisconsin; and his grandson,
Phil's son, Jason Halonen.
Lester W. "Smoky" Halonen was interred next to his wife Maryan on 18
February 2003 at Princeton City Cemetary in Princeton, Wisconsin.