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The Internet helped me find a lost hero.

April 19, 2012
Scan 3

Someone snapped this photograph when Carl was on leave, before entering infantry training in Arkansas.

Chapter two

Bud’s person was, for me, as I grew up, simply not there.  An important part of reality was missing.  One time I heard on the radio somebody saying,  “Suppose the Nazis had won the war, had annihilated all the Jews, and had prevailed.  Would anyone say that she felt like something was missing?  Or, that something was not quite right?

Something was missing. I might not have been able to say what it was, except that I hoped I would figure it out. That’s kind of how my relationship was to Bud during my growing up and into my adulthood. He was this person who wasn’t there who had meant so much to my mom.  Nobody knew for sure what had happened.  Did he die in a boiler room of a ship, scalded by water?  I don’t know.  I always feared that a horrendously painful death had taken him.  I wanted to know what had happened.  Periodically, I’d check.  If in a library, I’d see a WW II book, pull it off the shelf, looking for ships that had sunk.  My own knowledge of WW II was awful; I thought the battle of the bulge happened in Africa.

Something about the WW II generation of adults was a turnoff.  They presented as heavy-handed coaches, gym teachers, principals, policemen, history teachers—scowling, representing the kind of people who would promote the war in Vietnam.  This was the world that WW II veterans made, some of it very cool:  they built good cars, schools and towns and suburbs, and then they were bad in other ways: overbearing, controlling, straight and rigid, warlike (especially the ones who were not combat veterans).

My experience searching for Bud has been like walking a long hallway with doors, but lined up out of sequence:  2005, 1998, 1945, 1967, another in 2011. My sensation of time has gotten messed up, especially when I’m talking with this one really old guy, and we’re discussing the 1920s, and then my cell phone rings.  Bingo, I’m in 2012 again.

Then distortion.  Memory of time is a physical thing in the brain that goes soft over the years.  Fortunately I have found all kinds of stuff, available on the Internet, that allowed me to find all kinds of details: what a thing looked like or even smelled like.

The lack of Uncle Bud has been with me my whole life, this void. My father was another. He died when I was four years old.   I didn’t think it was fair.  I cried a lot.  I don’t know how often I cried at night, especially in kindergarten.

I didn’t have a father figure, no male mentor.  My older brother and sister couldn’t or wouldn’t do the job.  My mom was my mentor and she doted on me and loved me.  My sister made a bean bag for me for kindergarten.

My best friend’s dad, Bev Kohler, was nice to me but he’d greet me, “Hi Strook-a-mahn,” teasing, not sincere, not straight.  Johnny Gall’s dad was prone to outbursts of temper. He’d say a bunch of stuff that ended with, “including Dan,” and I didn’t know what that meant but I was scared. My grandpa was beautiful and silvery, but he was old and sick.  Uncle Norm was great, but he lived 500 miles away so I didn’t get to see him much. My best hope for a male adult in my life was my sister’s husband Chuck, who seemed authentic.  He was a guy who would answer my questions, like one about the Army.  World war II was fresh in people’s minds and I was interested in it.  What was the food like?  Old.  Chuck was on an honor guard detail that dedicated cemeteries across Europe.  When Chuck died an honor guard attended his funeral.

I felt like I had gone backward in time as I searched for PFC Carl R. Bonde Jr.’s name on the Internet.  I had done this every month or so in 1998 with no success.  I had hopes and, finally, a plan for systematically searching for Bud.

My plan was to find the names of all of the US ships that sank on Christmas 1944 and then follow any leads.  I found a website and I printed the list.  I got 30 pages with about 25-30 vessels each.  I looked through them for several hours.  Most of the craft were small boats, barges, LSTs, cutters; but I was astonished at the number.

Then on a hunch I typed Uncle Bud’s name in the search engine box and lo!  A History Channel website appeared at the top of the list that featured the SS Leopoldville Cover up!  First I felt a strange sense of disappointment and skepticism.  This was simply too easy.  However, I found Carl Ralph Bonde Jr.’s name among those lost.

I ordered the History Channel videotape that featured the Leopoldville for $49.95 and followed a link to a sort of blog that had been dormant for many months in which cynical strangers asked why anyone would care about a ship that was sunk 60 years ago.  They wrote really ugly words, but at least they agreed that a ship that sank in 1944 had no relevance to them.  Of course I felt discouraged and hurt.  For a while I thought my search had come to an end.  I entertained the thought that perhaps the SS Leopoldville no longer mattered.

I was too late wasn’t I?  The research had been done, the ceremonies to remember the soldiers had already been held.  I saw photographs of elderly veteran soldiers attending reunions in Normandy and Fort Benning, Georgia, placing wreaths.

I couldn’t leave it alone, though.  I didn’t know Bud’s fate.  Had he drowned?  Were any of his Army buddies still living?

I found a couple other websites where I searched for Bud, his Army outfit, or his ship.  I ordered a book called The Leopoldville Trilogy, a collection of first hand accounts compiled by Ray Roberts, a WW II veteran who had not been near the ship when it sank.  I ordered a set for each of my cousins too, and my sister.  Also I bought History Channel tapes to go around.

My hope returned.  I read the stories of survivors, hoping to identify some men close to Buddy, or perhaps some reasonably close by.  I sketched charts.  I kept lists of who was where when the ship was torpedoed.  Parts of two regiments of the 66th Army Panther Division had been on the ship:  the 262nd and 264th.  Each had numerous companies.  These had squads and sections.  The sections had soldiers.

The books and video, I soon found, were collections of survivor stories, in no particular sequence.  Often the stories were of memories that conflicted or seemed incredible.  Moreover, none of the books I could find contained any personal accounts of PFC Carl R. Bonde, Jr., although the trilogy book had an image on the cover of a monument with his name.  Now that I know where to look I can almost make it out.

I don’t remember where I saw it, but someone posted a list that included Carl’s name with a note that nobody in his family had been located and would someone try?

I could envision Grandma stepping forward to claim her son, to represent his interests before an audience.

A few times when I found promising email addresses, I wrote.  I got replies from other relatives of the lost who inquired about their soldier and then wished me well in my search.  I carefully searched the faces of soldiers on two group photographs I inherited; one showed an ASTP class from December 1944, the other the unmarked basic training photograph.

By 2005 I believed that other people had done most if not all of the work on the story of the SS Leopoldville.  The books had been written, the films made, the blogs had gone up, comments posted, years passed.  Seems the most recent blog entries were always 2-3 years old.

I timidly emailed Allan Andrade who maintained a web page devoted to the soldiers and families of the tragedy of the SS Leopoldville.  Mr. Andrade is a retired New York City police detective.  I had about lost hope of finding anyone who still cared or who could answer my questions.  However, Andrade’s website had an invitation to email him.  I told him about Uncle Bud and my relationship to him.  He answered quite soon.  He said he would make some calls to see if he could get permission to help me reach some survivors.  A day or so later I got another email with a telephone number.

Andrade wrote, “Call Bill Moomey in Kearney, Nebraska.  He remembers your uncle!

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One Comment
  1. robertstruckman permalink

    Good one, pops. The story has begun to unfold.

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