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Who was this hero?

March 9, 2013
I don't know who took this picture of Bud in front of his house in Kalispell, probably in the winter of 1943 or early 1944.

I don’t know who took this picture of Bud in front of his house in Kalispell, probably in the winter of 1943 or early 1944.

Carl Ralph Bonde Jr., born September 15, 1923, was named after his father, Carl Tosten Bonde, and his maternal uncle, Ralph Wickstrom.  A surprisingly small amount of information was available about his life.  I learned most indirectly, by the void left by his absence.  He lived to be 21 years old.

He was born in Kalispell, Montana, the youngest of five children.  His siblings were all girls.  His parents were Norwegian; in fact his father spoke it fluently.  Many people in Kalispell spoke Norwegian, and his father was a wholesale grocery salesman.  They moved several times within the city before moving to five acres just outside Kalispell

His family called him “Buddy,” and his parents probably knew him better than his sisters, who were all much older than he was.  In fact, they were 3, 11, and 13 years older, respectively, so his youngest sister moved away when he was entering puberty.  His fourth sister died of pneumonia during the flu epidemic before he was born.

We know he was very intelligent and excelled in mathematics.  He had excellent scores in the Army intelligence and the college aptitude tests.  He owned a chess game and his high school friends who wrote in his annual mentioned his ability in math (Appendix A). He passed his courses the first term he attended college.  He was selected for the ASTP Army Specialized Training Program that reportedly required an IQ of at least 150 (Appendix D).

Carl’s sisters said that he enjoyed outdoor pursuits like hunting, fishing, and camping.  We have photographs of him with a hunting rifle and with some ducks someone had shot.  I inherited a collection of shotgun shells.  Notes in his high school annual mentioned camping plans.  His sister Corinne said that as a teen Carl worked three summers as a fire lookout in Glacier Park.

Just a little man, Carl grew to 60 inches tall when he entered the Army, and slim.  We have photographs and Army records.  Unfortunately, a fire at St. Louis destroyed his Army records in 1973 (Appendix H).

His college transcript from the University of Montana said that he had graduated in the lowest third of his high school class.  He also received D’s and F’s after his first college term.  He was anything but good at school.  He was graduated from high school in 1941.  He entered the university in Missoula in January 1942 and attended just three terms.  He joined the Sigma Nu fraternity.

I think he had lots of friends.  The copy of the 1940 annual for Flathead County High School in Kalispell had 69 autographs for Carl, but his photograph or name appears in print nowhere.  Although one of his older sisters said Carl joined Boy Scouts he apparently didn’t join anything else, except the fraternity in Missoula.

Carl was drafted into the Army March 4, 1943.  After basic training he gained admission to the ASTP program in Grand Forks, North Dakota, at the University of North Dakota.  He attended just two or three semesters before the ASTP program was abolished and Carl was made a private and assigned to the infantry in the 66th Army Panther Division at Fort Robinson, Arkansas.  The 66th moved after a few months to Fort Rucker, Alabama.  Carl was further assigned to the machine gun section, weapons platoon, Company E, 262nd Infantry Regiment (Appendix C).

In October 1944, after months and months of grueling training in Southern Alabama, near the Gulf Coast, the 66th Division deployed to New York.

Carl’s sister, never one to be overly modest, said that he visited Oswald Veblen in New Jersey.  Oswald Veblen, noted mathematician, was a distant relative by marriage of his father’s Bonde family back in Minnesota.

The 66th Division with company E and the weapons platoon with Carl crossed the Atlantic by ship during the latter part of November.  They celebrated Thanksgiving on board the George Washington troopship.  They landed at Southampton in England.  At first the war seemed to be over and the troops anticipated Christmas (Appendix B).

A letter home from Carl’s friend Bill Loughborough told how they went from their camp Piddlehinton near Dorchester into London during liberty.  When they returned to camp they had to pack to move out—immediately!

The troops, including Carl and those with whom he had been training the past year, had to carry, or drag on the ground, all of their gear miles to a train station the night of December 23.  Early the next morning they waited on the docks at Southampton to board a troopship, the SS Leopoldville.

The ship sailed with the tide Christmas Eve day, part of a convoy of destroyers and another troopship, the HMS Cheshire.  A submarine had been seen recently, so the convoy zigzagged.

Just five miles from their destination, Cherbourg, France, a German U-Boat was sitting on the bottom of the English Channel, just 150 feet below the surface.  The captain of U-486, Lieutenant Gerhard Meyer, fired two torpedoes.  The first missed but the second struck the SS Leopoldville on the starboard side aft below the water line.

PFC Carl Ralph Bonde, Jr. apparently was killed in the explosion.  Bill Loughborough said the weapons platoon was quartered on F deck in 4 hold, exactly where the torpedo hit.

Although the hold where Carl was one of perhaps 60 men trying to rest after a night of travel was dark and a jumble of bodies and equipment, his friends who survived said they believed he was in there.  Bill Moomey knew Carl well because they were in the same machine gun section.  Bill said he was starting to feel nauseated because some of the others were vomiting from seasickness and from poor quality rations.  Bill went topside and met up with a handful of other men from their Company E who just wanted fresh air.  That’s when the torpedo hit.

Carl’s buddies escaped death by climbing down or leaping from the tall troopship to a low destroyer that pulled alongside.  Carl’s body was never found and his friends supposed that he went to the bottom of the Channel with the ship.

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