BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – One can be forgiven for not noticing the name etched in granite. There are no floodlights, no fanfare – just letters carved in stone, three feet off the grass.
Ray Permenter Field is named for a favorite son of East Bakersfield High School – a boy, really, who achieved more, and gave more, in 19 years than most entire lifetimes lived out in full.
Ray Permenter was a bonafide hero, first in sports. His exploits at East High, the city’s second public high school, opened in 1938, would be legendary if anyone remembered them 80 years later. Few do. But what a resume.
In 1940, Ray Permenter scored the school’s first touchdown against the bully of the valley, the mighty Bakersfield Drillers. His 68-yard interception return against Bakersfield stands out in East football history. On the baseball diamond, his grand slam home run beat those same Drillers, 7-4. Football, baseball, basketball – he was the first student at East to earn 12 letters.
“Ray Permenter was an amazing individual,” said retired Foothill High School football coach Ned Permenter, who was Ray Permenter’s much younger cousin.
“I’ve had a chance to talk to some people who played with him and knew him,” Ned Permenter said. “(They) said he was a remarkable individual.”
In June 1943 Ray Permenter graduated from East High School into a world on fire. He and his fellow football co-captain, student body president Herb Bayless, along with 19 other classmates, received their diplomas in absentia, having enlisted that spring. War raged in the Pacific, in Europe, even in Alaska, where it had already touched the Permenter family. A cousin, Navy Lt. Junior Grade Owen Permenter, a squad captain, was lost over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands in May 1943 during one of his bomber squadron’s reconnaissance patrols. Neither his plane nor his remains were ever recovered.
Permenter and Bayless joined the Army Air Forces, forerunner of the U.S. Air Force. Permenter was sent to gunnery school in Laredo, Texas, then assigned to the 485th Bomb Group (of the 15th Air Force) as a waist gunner on a B-24 “Liberator” bomber.
In January 1944, as Permenter was getting ready to set out for Europe, tragedy visited again.
Permenter’s 20 year-old brother Walter was killed in a plane crash during a military training flight in New Mexico. The Army offered Permenter, as the family’s sole surviving son, the opportunity to transfer to a non-combat position, but he refused. He wanted to stay with his bomb crew.
“(It’s) a testament to Ray,” Ned Permenter said. “He was in a B-24 ‘Liberator’ bomber, (which) had the highest casualty rate in WorldWar II (and he stayed on) … He chose to do so, at age 19, to go back. He was a waist gunner … and (he stayed) knowing the odds.”
Starting in March 1944, the 72 crews of the 485th flew missions, via Brazil, over Africa – Dakar, Morocco and Tunisia. Then, in May, missions over Yugoslavia and Austria. By July 7, 1944, Permenter had flown at least 20 of the 485th’s 38 missions. Then, on July 8, Permenter’s squadron targeted the Nazis’ vital Florisdorf oil refinery in Vienna – ironally, the city where Permenter’s mother lived before emigrating to the United States.
The 485th’s two attacking formations were exposed to intense anti-aircraft fire as well as waves of bf 109 Messerschmidts and FW 190 Focke-Wolf fighters. Three of the 485th’s bombers were shot down over the target area – including Ray Permenter’s plane. No parachutes were visible as the bomber went down.
His mother was left to grieve the loss of both of her sons, six months apart.
His friend, Herb Bayless, was also killed on a separate bombing run.
After being interred and disinterred twice, first in Austria, then in France, Ray Permenter’s body came home eight years after his death. He is buried at Bakersfield’s Union Cemetery next to his brother Walt.
The 485th, stationed in Italy, flew its final mission on April 25, 1945, having flown 187 combat missions and dropped 10,550 tons of bombs. The bomb group’s webpage has a c0mplete list of crew members killed in combat. It runs 11 pages, with the names listed single spaced.
East High’s football field was dedicated as Ray Permenter Field in a public ceremony in April 1948. That granite marker still greets people entering the stadium at the north gate.