Meet Fred Bondurant

A for­mer trans­port pi­lot with pleas­ant mem­o­ries of 1970s mil­i­tary ser­vice

Times of the Islands - - Departments - BY CRAIG GAR­RETT Craig Gar­rett is Group Edi­tor-in-Chief for TOTI Me­dia.

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.

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