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Chapter 3: Witness told how Bud was Killed In Action in World War II

November 1, 2012

I can still hear Bill Moomey’s wife’s voice when she called her husband to the phone.  I thought she sounded like someone on a farm.  Friendly, relaxed.  Bill’s voice was soft and gentle.

“Hello, this is Bill,” he said.

“I’m Carl Bonde’s nephew, Dan Struckman.  Allan Andrade said that you would remember Carl.”

He confirmed that he did.  He was a good friend with him, and I felt really happy to speak with Bill.  I wanted to make the most of the precious time.  Bill never referred to Carl as “Bud.”

“Bill, I have to ask you:  How did you escape alive from the SS Leopoldville after it was torpedoed?”

I had read so many tales of the men from Company E, 262nd Regiment that said they escaped because they somehow began walking about the ship singing Christmas carols.  I asked Bill if that were true.

“Wait a minute,” Bill said.  “It was different.  Before I tell you that I want to say that I have wanted to get ahold of someone from Carl’s family for years.”  Bill said he even wrote to the postmaster in Kalispell to locate anyone named Bonde, but he had no success.

“That’s because Carl was the only boy in his family.  His sisters all married.  His dad died in 1957 or 1958 and his mother moved to Missoula to live with us,” I said.  “No other Bondes lived in Kalispell.”

“Carl was special to me,” Bill said.  “We trained together for a long time, and he had a great sense of humor.  He and I were in the same machine gun section.  In fact, Carl was my ammo bearer.  When someone asked Carl where he was from he would launch into a lengthy description of Kalispell like you’d hear from the Chamber of Commerce.  Also Carl was one of the guys who always had a bridge hand in his back pocket.  Whenever we were on maneuvers and took a break, Carl would pull out his bridge hand and he and three friends would resume their game.”

I could hear my Uncle’s voice in my head.  “How in the world did you get off the Leopoldville alive, Bill?”  I would have used the word “hell” but I didn’t want to offend this old gentleman.

“I’ll tell you.  I was down in our compartment with everyone else in our group when a couple of guys near me started to vomit.  The meal we had just finished was – well – slop.  The Channel was rough and the ship was rocking.  Well, my friends know that I never did get seasick and I didn’t want that to be the first time, so I went up to the open deck for fresh air.  I met up with others from our weapons platoon. We found a place that was protected from the wind and that’s when the torpedo hit.  We made our way to the rail and eventually most of us jumped to a destroyer that pulled alongside.  It was about a 20-foot jump.  I made it and I thank God.  My faith in God has been strong ever since.”

Bill said that he and his buddies from Company E sometimes held reunions.  He also invited me to visit him in Kearney Nebraska sometime.  I told him I wanted to visit him soon.

I told my sister Carol about Bill and she wanted to go.  I drove to pick her up about a week later.

Bill and his wife Doris greeted us like we were family.  Bill took a look at me and said, “Nope!”  Then he looked at my sister Carol and he said, “Yep.  Carl was more your height.”  Doris fed us like we were farm hands with pot roast, mashed potatoes, vegetables, fresh bread, iced tea, lemon squares for dessert, and coffee.  I had a couple helpings of everything because this was back in 2005 when I could still pack it away.  I did not take a second helping of lemon squares and Doris acted very disappointed, perhaps even hurt.  She tossed the pan onto the counter and said, “all right, then.”

Doris quickly took Carol shopping in Kearney.  Bill took me down to his basement to show me his WW II shrine.  He had his ribbons and badges and a bookcase full of information about all of that.  He had binders full of information.  I had brought along some photographs of Bud, some in formation with a unit.  Bill did not recognize anyone other than Sergeant “Junior” Weaver who posed with Bud.  They looked kind of drunk, I thought, but I didn’t say so.

Bill had me watch the History Channel Video about the SS Leopoldville.  He said he disagreed with a statement by one of the soldiers who said he pushed some crewmembers over the side of the ship.  Otherwise, he said it was pretty accurate.  That’s when he and I started to cry.  Not just a little, either.  We both broke down and wept.  Then we composed ourselves.

Bill gave me lots of materials and told me information that I also have transcribed and will include in this book.  I remember that he told me about a gay sailor he encountered on the USS George Washington when the 66th Division was en route to England in November of 1944.

I asked Bill what he thought about Ray Roberts and his books about the SS Leopoldville.  I asked Bill twice and he did not reply either time.

At last Carol and Doris had returned.  They brought back a gift for Penny, my wife: a bowl made from the horn of some sort of African beast.

We posed for pictures and Carol and I returned to Mitchell, a town near Scotts Bluff.

Bill and I kept in touch by email and the following October the Company E buddies scheduled a reunion in Sarasota Florida.  I flew down to stay at the same motel as the others and we were to stay four days.

I had just registered at the motel and I hopped into the rental car to park it when I saw Bill and Doris walking.  I jammed the car into park and jumped out and ran over to them to greet them.  They were really glad to see me.  I parked the car.  I walked into this small, noisy room.  It echoed, the iron patio furniture scraped noisily on the concrete floor.  The talking stopped.  I knew I had to talk fast.  There were about a dozen older men and women present.  I had not even thought much about what I would say, but I did the best I could, letting them know that Carl Bonde was my Uncle and I had been looking for him my whole life.

Bill Moomey came to my aid:  “Don’t you remember Carl?  He was the one who used to give a fancy description of where he was from that sounded like the chamber of commerce.

Then a tall, gangly, man stood up.  I found out later that he was Hank Anderson, a mortar man from the weapons platoon.

“Oh, I remember Carl,” he said.

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