Steve Bunnell

Young Steve Bunnell

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Steve Bunnell learned to type. And it may have saved his life.

Bunnell was born Oct. 9, 1948, in St. Anthony although he has lived at the same Rexburg address for 72 years minus his four and a half years in the Army.

When he graduated from Madison High School in 1966, the draft was in full swing. He went to Boise for a physical then came home and waited and waited and waited. He didn’t hear anything. Was he going? Was he not going? He went to the courthouse to see the woman in charge of draft headquarters, and before he could ask a question, she said, “You’re the one I want.”

“I just about fainted,” he said. “I needed time to get rid of my car and my girlfriend and get my finances turned around.”

He got the letter to get drafted and again went to Boise. Wanting to avoid the draft, he started shopping for recruiters and would have liked to join the Air Force or Navy but they didn’t have any slots. The Army looked at his aptitude scores and when Bunnell saw he had the option to be a helicopter repairman, he signed up for three years instead of two to have that opportunity.

“I never got to go home,” he said. “I got on a plane in Boise and flew to Seattle for basic training at Fort Lewis.”

He had been promised two weeks of leave after basic to go home. His parents, sisters and niece drove over for graduation and to pick him up, but while en route, his leave was scratched and he left immediately after graduation for Fort Rucker, Alabama, to start helicopter training school.

“They came, saw me graduate, I got to hug and kiss them, then I was gone,” he said. “I felt really, bad I didn’t get to spend any time with my parents. I was off in a rattle-trap commercial prop-plane.”

“In Alabama, I graduated fourth in my class of 75 and got the rank of private twp instead of private one,” he said.

Everyone was told they were going to Vietnam. He was told he was going to be a door gunner and that he was going to die.

Instead of going straight to Vietnam they first went to Fort Meade, Maryland. They were learning to drive tanks. Bunnell thought it was fun, but he didn’t like it. He made a deal with a recruiter who said if he signed up for an additional two years, he could pick where he wanted to go.

“So, I signed up for an additional two years, and I wanted to go to Germany,” he said.

On day 20 of a 30-day leave, he was told to get his things in order. He was flying to Germany in three days. He rode in a stretch DC-8 full of Army guys headed to Frankfurt. They arrived on New Year’s Eve and had to watch the festivities from a fourth-floor rock building. Then he had to take a couple of trains to his permanent station. The temperatures were frigid.

The next day he was marched to the hanger. The guy in the maintenance office asked, “Do you know how to type?”

“I said no. I’m going to work on the helicopters,” Bunnell told him. “There was no heat in the hangar. It was 5-10 degrees below zero. I asked, ‘Is that job still available?’ So they sent me to typing school,” he said.

In the four and a half years, Bunnell was in the Army, that was the only three and a half hours he worked on helicopters. He was promoted to SPEC-4. He had a wonderful time in Germany, seeing the country at every opportunity.

But then after 11 months, he got orders for Vietnam.

“I was not a happy camper,” he said. “I am the last of my bloodline for Bunnells in my family. My parents tried to get me out of fighting.”

But off to Vietnam he went. He was in the 58th transportation Battalion at Red Beach in Da Nang. The first night they went to bed in their open barracks at 11, and almost immediately the Navy started shooting across their heads into Laos.

“It was horrible. I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’”

He went to check-in at the office. They asked, “Do you know how to type?”

“You bet.”

He enjoyed typing in his air-conditioned office.

“Every chance I got I went on flights with helicopter crews. It was beautiful country,” he said.

Bunnell also became best friends with an E-5 supply sergeant who was able to get them some luxurious upgrades to their barracks including indoor plumbing.

For a while, Bunnell was put in charge of training the new guys coming in on what drugs were available, what they would do to them and to stay away from them.

“They wouldn’t listen to me, and those healthy young men two weeks later would like the walking dead,” he said.

He was able to get out of that and back to a typing job as a company clerk. When his sergeant got drunk, fired his gun and hit another guy, Bunnell became first sergeant for the company and promoted to E-5.

One of his most traumatic experiences happened soon afterward. They were on alert about sappers on the compound. Sappers were trying to blow up their ammunition bunkers. He and his men had to go out on patrol.

“A Vietnamese guy took off running. I chased him, and he ran under the guard tower. There was concertina wire and then railroad tracks and a Vietnamese graveyard. I shot. I was an avid hunter before, and I knew that I hit him. I didn’t like it, but my duty was to do what I did. They didn’t find him, but they did find blood. That has haunted me for years. It’s hard for me to talk about,” Bunnell said.

His one year in Vietnam was up, but Bunnell realized he had it pretty good in his situation and decided to extend for an additional six months.

“I lived through Vietnam,” he said. “I got infection mononucleosis, but I got better. I got shipped home, and then I got orders for the 101st airborne in North Carolina. I can’t jump out of airplanes. I didn’t want them, and they didn’t want me.”

He got a hold of his Congressman, and his orders were changed to transportation, helicopter repair for his permanent duty station.

“The first question was, ‘Know how to type?’ You bet. I was maintenance clerk. I loved North Carolina,” he said.

When it came time to get out of the military, the recruiter came and asked him to extend. He said only on the condition he would become an E-6 and an E-7 two years after that. The recruiter could not guarantee that, so Bunnell declined.

He started at Ricks College, now Brigham Young University-Idaho, but when they told him his mustache was too long, he quit. He’d had enough of people telling him what to do.

When he was almost finished at Eastern Idaho Technical College, they offered him a job as a maintenance craftsman. He took the job, although it meant a pay cut at the time. The college grew from one building to six in the 31 years he was there.

“Now, I’m retired, enjoying life with my wife,” he said. “But who knows what would have happened if I had been able to choose my own destiny.”