Meet Fred Bondurant
A former transport pilot with pleasant memories of 1970s military service
Like most former military pilots, Fred Bondurant remembers himself as a daring young man in a flying machine. And that’s true, only that a few of his transport missions involved delivering humanitarian supplies to South America, returning with a planeload of coffee, and other deeds not necessarily combat related yet requiring precision, an analytical mind and in some instances sheer guts, such as landing a huge green airplane on a short gravel runway.
Bondurant, a retired airline pilot living on Sanibel and a former chapter president of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), believes most veterans have favorable memories of time served and a better appreciation for America, especially pausing to assess on Veterans Day. “We all thought we were doing the right thing,” Bondurant says of Vietnam-era vets like him. “You’re like a little sports team, the guys [you] work with.”
A product of St. Louis, Bondurant and his classmates in the late 1960s were receiving draft notices. It was the zenith of the Vietnam War. Like many others, Bondurant applied for deferment to complete college studies in mechanical engineering. Friends had already been drafted into the Army. The Selective Service System at the time conducted lotteries to determine who would be conscripted. Bondurant recalls a lottery hearing in which numbers were called. “People were cheering, girls were on the floor crying,” he says. “You remember those kinds of things.”
Bondurant was later selected for pilot training with the U.S. Air Force. He graduated as a second lieutenant and was assigned to fly transport planes, a duty that took him around the world through 1978. He spent nine years with the Air Force, leaving to fly with commercial airlines and with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, where he met his future wife, Mary. The couple today partner in real estate on Sanibel. Mary Bondurant is also a twoterm president of the Sanibel-Captiva chapter of the American Business Women’s Association. Both are active in charitable work. In August, Fred was involved in the Spirit of ’45 ceremony, a nationwide event recognizing World War II veterans.
His thoughts often drift back to his tenure as a military transport pilot, funny stories and mostly pleasant things from the 1970s. Flight terminology, a powerful transport plane’s temperament and capabilities, the romance of flying and other details about his shipmates prompt talk and laughter, the far-off look of someone recalling old friendships or the view in a cockpit seat and cresting the clouds. It is always best for a visitor to remain silent at such times. “It was a great experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he says, finally. “But it’s, obviously, not for everyone.”
Bondurant says a military unit is much like a sports team. Today, he and his wife are Sanibel-based real estate agents.