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A kid tries to find his uncle he has never met.

September 7, 2015
Carl Bonde's high school graduation picture, 1941.

Carl Bonde’s high school graduation picture, 1941.

Chapter two

I felt like I had gone backward in time as I searched for Carl R. Bonde Jr.’s name on the Internet. I had done this every month or so with no success once the Internet became available. I had hope and, finally, a plan for systematically searching for Bud.
My scheme was to find the name of any US ship that sank on Christmas 1944 and then follow any leads. I found a website that listed ships lost in WW II along with date lost and disposition. I got perhaps 30 pages with 40 ships per page. I looked and looked for several hours. Most of the ships were small, more like boats.
Then on a hunch I typed Uncle Bud’s name in the search engine box and lo! A History Channel website came up that featured the SS Leopoldville. My first reaction was disappointment! Then I felt skepticism. This was simply too easy. I was convinced when I found Bud’s name among those lost.
I ordered the History Channel videotape that featured the Leopoldville for $49.95 and then returned to the HC website and followed a link to a sort of blog that had been dormant for many months in which callous strangers questioned why anyone would care about a ship that was sunk 60 years ago. They wrote really ugly words and cynical, but at least they agreed that a ship sunk in 1944 had no relevance to them.

Of course I felt hurt. For a while I thought my search had come to an end. Unkind people wrote that the SS Leopoldville no longer mattered. I felt discouraged. Obviously, what I searched for had no relevance or value.
I was too late. The research had been done, the ceremonies to remember the soldiers had already been held. I saw photographs of soldiers attending reunions.
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? Does anyone know?
I found other various websites where I searched for Bud, his Army outfit, or his ship and I printed reams. 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 anywhere near the ship when it sank. I ordered a set for each of my cousins too, and my sister. Also History Channel tapes to go around.
My hopes were up. I wanted to read the stories of survivors. I was hoping to read some from guys who knew Buddy, or perhaps had been close by. I made charts. I kept lists of who was where. 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 conflicted or seemed incredible. The ship had been sunk about 60 years previously. None of the books I bought contained Carl R. Bonde, Jr.’s name, although the trilogy book had an image of a monument with his name. Now that I knew where to look I can almost make it out.
I don’t remember which website, or when I saw it, but I recall that someone posted Carl’s name with a note that nobody in his family had been located and would someone try?

Right then I felt the burden of duty to step up. I felt like a surrogate for my grandma. I could envision my grandma stepping forward to claim her son, to represent his interests before strangers. Or was I was remembering a sight I had seen in a courtroom in Kalispell when I was in the 5th grade? My grandpa had died and my grandma went to court, stood before a bailiff, swore on a Bible, then testified. I can’t remember what. What I do remember is that a man who appeared before the judge just before her had been asked if he had ever been arrested. He said “Yes, for vagrancy.” I didn’t know what that meant, but it made my hair stand up.

My sister once told me she met a man who had been in jail. (“Wasn’t that scary?” she asked.)
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.
In 2005 most of the active work on the story of the SS Leopoldville seemed to have already been done years before. The books had been written, the films made, the blogs had gone up, comments posted, years had gone by. Seems the most recent blog entries were always 2-3 years old.
I emailed author Allan Andrade who had a web page devoted to the SS Leopoldville. Mr. Andrade had also written one of the most definitive books about the disaster. I had about lost hope of finding anyone who still cared, or who could answer my questions. Andrade’s website had an invitation to write to him, so I told him about my Uncle and me. 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.

Bill Moomey, who died last year, was a close friend of Carl's. He credited Carl with saving his life because the 66th Division had been devastated by the torpedo that struck the SS Leopoldville Christmas Eve, 1944. The 66th was assigned to the cost of France to contain German submariners in their bunkers.

Bill Moomey, who died last year, was a close friend of Carl’s. He credited Carl with saving his life because the 66th Division had been devastated by the torpedo that struck the SS Leopoldville Christmas Eve, 1944. The 66th was assigned to the cost of France to contain German submariners in their bunkers.

Andrade wrote, “Call Bill Moomey in Kearney, Nebraska. He remembers your uncle.” I remember feeling glad I was alone in the house, because I yelled! I would like to say I screamed, but I only hollered. I half dreaded calling for some reason, but I was unable to wait.
I phoned Bill as quick as that. His wife Doris answered and she called him to the phone. His voice sounded like that of an old farmer, mild and kindly. He told me he had hoped most of his life for the chance to speak with someone from Carl Bonde’s family.
Yes, he remembered Carl quite well because they trained together in a machine gun section for the better part of a year in Alabama before being shipped to England, then to France aboard the Leopoldville. We talked on and on. Bill Chuckled. He particularly remembered that Carl would answer the question, “Where are you from?” with a long flowery recitation that sounded like it had been written by the chamber of commerce.
Since then I have looked up the Kalispell, Montana, chamber of commerce to find one of their descriptions of the Flathead Valley where Carl was born and raised. It is actually very beautiful, verdant, fertile, and like the Garden of Eden. Carl spent his summers in a lookout tower watching for fires over Glacier Park on Huckleberry Mountain, situated near the North Fork of the Flathead River. This interest may have influenced him to choose forestry for his major subject when he attended the University of Montana in Missoula in 1942.
We know that Carl did not stay long in Missoula. In less than two years he was back in Kalispell, volunteering for the draft. Importantly, during WW II one could not enlist in the Navy if one wanted to avoid becoming a soldier. Instead, one would volunteer for the draft. Then a kid would get a letter that started, “Greetings….” and would finish with directions to report to Butte to the Armed Forces Entrance Examination Stations (AFEES). I learned this from a WWII veteran in Billings when I attended an event at my nephew Jon’s daughter’s (Kathleen Elizabeth Angel) school a couple of years ago for Veteran’s Day.

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