Commander Andrew Bodnar, WW2, Korea, Vietnam – By Joanne Bodnar
As a young child, I remember asking my father, “Dad, why did you join the Navy?” His response was simply, “I always wanted to fly.”Well, Commander (CDR) Andrew Joseph Bodnar did that, and a whole lot more.
In addition to flying countless missions from 1947 to 1968, CDR Bodnar was one of three officers who invented and developed The Pilot Landing Aid Television (PLAT) System, a state-of-the art takeoff and landing system that’s still being used today on virtually all aircraft carriers.
The PLAT System was first installed in 1961 on the carrier Coral Sea. Within the next two years, it became standard equipment on all naval attack carriers, providing enhanced safety and efficiency for pilots and navigators. The system, which involved videotaping each landing, proved highly useful for instructional purposes and in the analysis of landing problems and accidents.
Born of immigrant Hungarian parents in Racine, Wisconsin, on November 30, 1923, Bodnar enlisted in the Navy at age 17, during the Summer of 1941, just a few months shy of the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack on December 7th.
Originally trained by the Navy as an aviation mechanic, Bodnar later attended Cornell College in Iowa for two years, followed by flight school, and eventually earning his wings in 1947.
He soon started flying PBM’s and seaplanes in Coronado, California. It was during this time, in 1949, that he met his beloved wife-to-be, Mary Lou. Her aunt and uncle owned the “Little Club” in Coronado, a long established nightclub, where Ensigns loved coming to relax, have a beer, and eat pizza.
Andrew and Mary Lou were married the following year in May 1950, and the first of their four children was born in Coronado in 1951.
Bodnar was then assigned to a helicopter squadron aboard USS Princeton. In the 1950’s, he took part in a major food relief project that involved flying over Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He was also assigned the dangerous task of flying over thick jungles, where he participated in numerous rescue missions. This was followed by two Western Pacific and Asian tours, as catapult and arresting gear officer, aboard USS Kitty Hawk and USS Bonnie Dick.
Over the next decade, Bodnar rose through the ranks while continuing several tours of duty (including the Korean War). He was eventually promoted to Commander in 1962.
During the Vietnam War, CDR Bodnar served as the Air Boss Officer aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli, stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin. Vietnam was definitely his most difficult tour, leaving behind a wife and four children ranging in age from 9 to 15.
At this point, all the kids were very aware that – Dad was going to war. But such is the life of a naval family whose patriarch serves his country selflessly.
“Dad didn’t like to speak about that war. There were so many atrocities he witnessed. He once mentioned to me that they had mistakenly picked up a Vietnamese woman who was strapped with a bomb. I never did hear from him how that particular story ended.”
After finishing active duty in San Diego that spanned more than 30 years as a naval aviator, Bodnar retired from the Navy in 1973. But “retirement” wasn’t a realistic word in Andrew J. Bodnar’s vocabulary.
He soon got his real estate license and embarked on an extremely successful 30-year second career, specializing in Coronado residential and commercial properties. He was awarded the highly prestigious Community Service Lifetime Achievement Award by the Coronado Association of Realtors. He also served as a Director of the Sandicor Rules & Regulations Committee, as well as serving as Chairman of Coronado’s Professional Real Estate Standards Committee.
The Bodnars purchased their first home in Coronado in 1960. It remains as the residence of his precious wife, Mary Lou, to this day.
“Andy” Bodnar passed away on September 3, 2002. He will forever be remembered for his compassion, warm heart, and kindness to all. His generosity and commitment to family, friends, and associates is clearly evidenced by the vast wealth of close relationships he built over the years.
Andy and Mary Lou were married for 52 happy years, most of which were spent in Coronado. He is also survived by daughters Jackie, Joanne, and Judy; son John; and grandchildren Brooke, Pili, Andrew, Jackson, and Hannah.