Mr. Joseph L. Belman
Born February 20, 1924, Joseph L. Belman is a World War II United States Army veteran.
Mr. Belman was drafted into the US Army Air Corps in 1943 at age 19. Only having lived in Lockport, Illinois his whole life, he quickly learned that life in the military would exposed him to travel, make him grow-up quickly, help him learn to work effectively with teams, and prepare him with a set of technical skills that would transition him to a successful civilian leadership career in the energy and trade union management fields--having served as a strategic community organizer for key Illinois elected officials, president of a large labor union, and working for leading energy companies like Argonne Labs, People Gas, and Texaco Oil.
Mr. Belman’s WWII experience includes 30 bombing missions with the 305th Bombardment Group (The Can Do Group) as a Ball Turret Gunner in Stuttgart Germany via a Bugs Bunny nose art designed B17 with the phrase painted across stating: “What’s Crackin’ Doc?”.
His very first mission in 1944 was most memorable while he and his team were flying 3,500 feet in air when he noticed amongst the clear blue sky and pure white clouds, puffs of black smoke on both sides of their plane. Not sure what to make of the strange colored smoke, he thought to inform his pilot, but before he could inform his pilot, he heard his pilot say, “we’re getting some flack”. Not sure what “flack” meant, he soon learned it meant they were flanked by the Germans and being shot at. Thankfully, Mr. Belman and his team destroyed the enemy for that mission. Through many harrowing experiences, their B17 was destroyed on their 6th mission where their engine was shot out while bombing Cologne, Germany; a nail-biting situation where he and his fellow servicemen safely landed in Liege, Belgium, where they had to run by foot to a safe location. Of all the missions, Mr. Belman recalls sadly losing one fellow ball turret gunner.
Mr. Belman was honorably discharged in 1945 in Amarillo, TX, after serving 2 ½ years. He received an Air Medal with a Five Oak Leaf Cluster, three European Service Medal Battle Stars, a European Victory Medal, and a good conduct medal.
His advice to the next generation of men and women who selflessly serve their country: “Stay committed to your country, it is the best country to live in and it’s important to protect it.”
Mr. Belman survived his first wife of 59 years, Irene. They have three children: Ann Marie; James; and Cindy. He is now married to the lovely, Merced.
MORE INTERESTING/FUN FACTS ABOUT HIS WWII EXPERIENCE
While making his way back to Lockport, IL after being discharged, he hitchhiked from Oklahoma to Illinois. Along the way he was surprised by social conditions of race relations where he experienced, during his hitchhiking excursion: Being told that he didn’t have to ride in the back of the bus because he was not black. Being told that he could not be served a beer at a tavern because the bartender thought he was Indian (Native American), although he is Mexican. Being picked up by a white woman and being treated with respect and kindness. Mr. Belman’s experience showed him that it’s important to treat everyone as an individual and that no one group is either good or bad.
While in Europe, during their daily 3:00 a.m. breakfast before going on mission, Mr. Belman often packed in his flight jacket pocket with a host of chocolate candy bars. However, one day after breakfast, he decided to grab an orange instead. On this especially cold day, where the weather was 50 below zero, he and his team went on their mission and quickly realized they were under attack. After completing the mission, he noticed a wet feeling inside his jacket pocket. Praying that he had not been shot, he discovered the orange had frozen and had taken the penetration of a bullet, which he found in the frozen orange.
Mr. Edward J. Bonk
Edward J. Bonk Sr., born in 1923, is a World War II United States Army Veteran.
Mr. Bonk was a Private First Class in the Guard Patrolman 522. He was 18 when he enlisted against his parents' wishes. His older brother was already gone to war giving him an exemption because of the family's farm responsibilities, but duty and honor was very important to him so he enlisted. He was deaf in one ear but was able to listen keenly enough to pass the required physical. He often teases that he enlisted in the war because he really wanted off the farm.
On February 2, 1943, He started out at Percy Joan’s Military hospital in Battle Creek Michigan until he refused to let a General bring in a non authorized girl. Not aligning with his general’s plan got him a trip on the Queen Mary to Europe. He remembers being afraid on the ship because they didn’t have escorts and he couldn’t swim. Once periscopes surfaced when they were near Scotland and they all thought they were sunk but it turned out to be a fleet of US subs. He also remembers the ship’s living quarters being cramped with close to 15,000 fellow servicemen.
Mr. Bonk’s assignment was in a field hospital in Kington (Herefordshire, England), where he remembers witnessing the passing of and caring for an unbelievable amount of servicemen that suffered major injuries. His experience intensified as after the Battle of the Bulge, they had to vacate the field hospital in Kington to escape the immense threat of the enemy.
His returned back to the US was not without its excitement. While traveling from Europe to Presidio in San Francisco, California, he and his fellow servicemen believed they were going to the Pacific Ocean Theater to fight. One day while traveling to their destination, their transport stopped, they heard commotion and thought that all hell had broken, only to discover, the commotion was a celebration: The 2nd atom bomb was dropped in Nagasaki, Japan forcing the enemy to surrendered.
Mr. Bonk’s career after his service includes owning a bar establishment with his brother and wife, Cecilia, called, “The Church”, and a successful career as a skilled pipefitter where his talents earned him union membership. He worked until he was 75 years of age.
Mr. Bonk and wife have four children; two boys and two girls. His wife, Cecilia, the love of his life passed away in 2001.
MORE INTERESTING/FUN FACTS ABOUT HIS WWII EXPERIENCE
He was paid $300 for his service and $0.55 travel pay!
His buddy had three girlfriends in Chicago that he would write to, but to save time, he would just write the same letter to all of them. One day he got caught, as the three young women worked at the same factory and one day compared letters!
In efforts to secure a school loan, he discovered the Army had him listed as deceased. Being a fighter for what he’s due, he told the associate, “if I’m dead, then give me my life insurance” (he later found out that two soldiers were issued the same service number which the Army said did not happen often).
At age 95, Mr. Bonk is in great health and does not have to take one doctor prescribed medication!
He was recently awarded a Honor Flight Trip.