Joseph A. Bodnar,
1968-05-19 - age 22 (Delta)
1LT Joseph Anthony Bodnar's parents immigrated to the United States from Hungary after WWII. They ended up in the small college town of Athens Ohio in the early '50s. Mary Bodnar worked as a cook at Ohio University where she was renowned for her cakes and other baked goods. Joe's father, Joseph, did furniture repair and other odd jobs. They were devout catholics and successfully raised a son Nick and daughter Irene in addition to Joe.
Nick was in my class, Joe a year behind, Nick and Irene a year behind Joe. I remember them starting school in the Athens when I was in about the second or third grade. By high school, Joe and I had become good friends. He had become a good looking blond haired kid and, among his buddies, earned the nickname "The Handsome Hunkie" in the "not so politically correct '60s". Joe had developed into a very talented artist by the end of high school. Joe and Nick left Athens to work at Fisher Body in East Lansing, MI after high school. During Joe's rehabilitation from a broken leg due to a skate board accident, we had some good times back in Athens in the summer of '65. Nick had been drafted and went on to serve a year in Vietnam as an enlisted man in a signal MOS.
Joe was drafted during '66 and found that he liked the physical challenges of the Army. He was given permission to paint a mural of a battle scene on the latrine wall during basic training. He was given the opportunity to go to OCS and received a commission as a 2LT. I believe that fellow Manchu Rich Parris was one of Joe's TAC officers in OCS.
I was at Fort Polk in August 1967 when I learned that Joe was with the 25th Division in Vietnam. Shortly after, I learned that he had been wounded. By October, I also was with the 25th in the boonies with the Manchus. He tracked me down, and we first met in the field a day or two before the Manchus marched into Cu Chi at the end of Operation Barking Sands. Joe was a platoon leader with Alpha Company, and we got together sporadically after that. We had at least one chance meeting in the field when his platoon moved past my platoon in Bravo Co. during Operation Yellowstone. After a bout with malaria, Joe went to a job in the rear as his time in the field was concluded. I was sure he would make it home at that point.
The last time I got to talk to Joe was early May '68. I was helping with Bravo resupply in Cu Chi, and he looked me up. He was on his way to the chopper pad to go to the field with the resupply. He explained that garrison life did not agree with him, and he was happier as a platoon leader with Delta Co. I explained that he was nuts, but he assured me that he would be careful. Not long after that, there was heavy contact at a night position and several Manchus from several companies including 2 LTs lost their lives. Joe had given his life in the line of duty.
It was a devastating loss to his family. I always enjoyed visiting Joe's family, but the visits were painful for them and for me. He is still sorely missed by his friends in Athens and will never be forgotten. I visit his grave and read "Co. D. 4th Bn 9th Infantry" - strange military numbers to most, but of great significance and irony to me.
With great respect,