Courage from the Heavens

“Dear Mom and Dad / The war has become very real.”

 – CPT William Bonk ’66, 7/1 Air Cav, USA, in a letter home, April 2, 1968.

As we developed this special issue of the Norwich Record, dedicated to our alumni who served in the Vietnam War, we interviewed many of you. Without fail, every discussion with those who served in ground forces eventually came around to the helicopter pilots, and with that mention, the tone elevated to one of reverence. To see those Hueys coming in, you would tell us in so many words, was akin to watching angels of mercy swoop down, and the pilots, you told us, constantly risked getting shot out of the sky to get you to safety.

Photo courtesy of William Bonk ’66.

Photo courtesy of William Bonk ’66.

“The helicopter pilots in Vietnam were courageous guys,” Fran Brennan ’64 told us. “If they knew you needed help, they would do anything to get in to you.”

Cadet Stephen Carr ’66

Cadet Stephen Carr ’66

More than 50 NU alumni flew helicopters in Vietnam. Sadly, not all returned home. CPT Stephen Carr ’66 was killed on August 26, 1970, after flying into a hostile zone to rescue a platoon, “even though his direct commander advised him not to go,” recalls Samuel G. Hayward ’68, who received notice of Carr’s death by telegram in Korea, where he was stationed at the time. Carr, who served with the 162nd Assault Helicopter Co., USA, had told his commander that “no one should forget they were our soldiers and that he could not live with himself without attempting a recovery.” (See more of Hayward’s recollection about his Norwich mentor in “Your Letters.”)

Fortunately many of our brave Huey pilots did grace American soil again. Carr’s classmate and fellow economics major CPT William Bonk ’66 was wounded on mission while in-country. He served as a helicopter scout pilot, flying a smaller and faster craft than standard attack helicopters; thus they are generally not as heavily armed. He told us that Art Kramer ’66 flew for an assault helicopter company nearby, recalling, “We shared a glass of wine every night.” To the left is an excerpt from a letter Bonk wrote to his parents shortly after an assault from the ground about ten miles east of My Tho.

Cadet William Bonk ’66

Cadet William Bonk ’66

12 April 1968
Dear Mom and Dad,

I guess you know by now that I was wounded. Don’t worry. I’m going to be all right. I caught a bullet in my left arm and some fragments in my left knee. The bullet was an armor-piercing round so it went right through my armor seat. A few more rounds went through my instrument panel and it broke up into the fragments that went into my leg. I got some cuts on my hands and face from the Plexiglas. But there is no real problem as no bones were broken and they are going to sew me up in a day or two and then it will only be a matter of a few weeks before I can fly again.

Bill Bonk did fly again. During his service, he received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, returned home, and went on to command the National Guard helicopter unit at Bradley Field in Connecticut. He became the president of Precision Metals and Plastics in 1987, and lives happily with his wife, Catherine, in Farmington, Conn.

Following his mother’s death, Bill found dozens of letters he’d sent her during his 1968 Vietnam tour. “I did not even know they existed until my mom passed,” he told us. Bill has donated the letters to the Norwich University Archives. -j.e.d.

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