BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Barry Bongberg, a Vietnam veteran and author, grew up in Shafter and following high school he volunteered for the army.
An experience he documented for nearly two years.
But if it wasn't for his daughter, Erica, those memories might have stayed locked away forever.
"A story told is a life lived, once told we can let it go."
Bongberg loves that quote from the show "Outlander"..
It sums up an emotional chapter of his life.
Bongberg graduated from Shafter High in 1966, and following a brief stint working the potato sheds he enrolled at Bakersfield College before enlisting in the army in early 1967.
He was trained in radio and communication repair and was deployed to Chu Lai along the Vietnamese coast, just 40-50 miles south of Da Nang in the fall of '67..
He had the skills, but that was it. A lot of testing equipment and replacement parts Bongberg didn't have.
Which left him a lot of spare time, so he volunteered to be a door gunner in a Huey helicopter. After several months he stopped flying because it was too dangerous.
Then there was guard duty where he met some real characters..
Bongberg jotted down many of these stories that were sent home to mom and dad.
They were put in a box that sat in his parents basement for years until his daughter, Erica, urged him to do something with them.
She said dad need to type them for her and his grandkids.
No one could read the handwriting so he began to type out each letter. Maybe two or three a day.
Sometimes it brought back things Bongberg didn't want to think about.
And some things he didn't write about like the Tet Offensive in 1968.
Writing these letters at the time allowed him to escape the "reality" of war.
"When I would sit down to write that was only time to get out of war. Focusing on Shafter, Mom and dad, and home." said Bongberg.
But part of home was also in Vietnam.
His brother, Bob, was in the Marines and the two managed a brief get together.
And that was just the beginning.
"I bumped into five other Shafter guys from high school over there," he said.
Transcribing the letters also gave Bongberg the chance to deal with repressed emotions.
Ironically, it came at a time when his daughter was in the battle for her life with breast cancer.
While the book was coming together the two were able to take part in honor flight in June 2019.
Erica passed away in September 2020.
Although she never got to see the finished version, or her dad taking part in two book signings, her courage and insistence provided the motivation he needed to complete his mission.
All proceeds of the book are going to Metavivor, a non-profit breast cancer research, support, and awareness organization.
And he gets a little redemption.
His final letter was sent home in September 1969. Even if it took 50 years to get there.