Bonnie Bonnell sat among a crowd of about 400 and blinked back tears as she watched Ohio’s governor place a medal around her husband’s neck.

In 54 years of marriage, she has lived through war with Ken Bonnell out there on the front lines and she knows well the stories of the courage and bravery he summoned so many times to save others.

Still, she struggled to keep her emotions in check as she listened to one such story recounted again — from the hours on June 4, 1969, when then-Army Capt. Bonnell engaged in a perilous helicopter recovery mission on the Rach Ong Keo River during one of his two tours in Vietnam. Even after he was wounded, he refused to be evacuated and instead directed fire from a river patrol boat that he boarded.

“It never gets any easier,” she said. “It just doesn’t, to hear what they all went through.”

Bonnell, who retired in 1990 as a lieutenant colonel after spending a career as an Army airborne ranger, infantry officer and company and battalion commander, was one of 22 war veterans inducted May 3 into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor. Now in its 20th year, the hall of fame honors veterans and active duty personnel who were awarded medals of valor for specific acts of bravery and heroism in combat.

The class of 2019 includes four Medal of Honor recipients, three Silver Star recipients, three Distinguished Flying Cross recipients, 10 Bronze Star with valor designation awardees (including Bonnell), and two men who received a Commendation Medal with valor. They came from all over Ohio, and represent the Army, Marines and Air Force. Nine were inducted posthumously.

In addition to Bonnell, other central Ohio inductees were the late John Barber of northwest Columbus, who as an Air Force first lieutenant earned a Distinguished Flying Cross with valor while in southeast Asia in 1972; Howard Deel of Delaware, who as an Army staff sergeant was awarded the Silver Star while serving in 1967 in Vietnam; and Christopher Orr of Pataskala, who as a Marine first lieutenant serving in 2007 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom earned a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with valor.

Read Holly Zachariah's full story in The Columbus Dispatch.


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