Being part of a military family can be a high honor for those who carry on a long legacy of service through generations.
For Union County resident Ken Bonnell, he’s the person at the start of that line.
Tomorrow morning, Bonnell will be inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame with Valor at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus as part of the annual recognition of those who served and received medals for valor.
“It’s something to look back over these 50 years and think about my time in the service,” Bonnell said. “ I now have three sons retired from the military and a grandson in ROTC. For me, it’ll be almost 50 years to the day since I received those first medals. ”
What sets the Hall of Fame with Valor apart from other veteran organizations is that it recognizes veterans for what they did while in the military, rather than what they have achieved since retirement.
As a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Bonnell retired from his service as a lieutenant colonel in 1990 after two tours in Vietnam and two tours in Germany. He received a number of medals including two bronze stars with valor, two purple hearts, an air medal with valor and an army commendation medal with valor.
Bonnell started his military career in the ROTC program at Ohio State where he graduated with a bachelor’s of arts in 1966.
“That same day, I received an army commission, was placed on active duty and had three days to get to Fort Benning, Georgia,” Bonnell said.
Two years later, in October 1968, he was in Vietnam.
“I entered as a senior advisor to the 34th Vietnam Ranger Battalion, a ready reaction unit,” Bonnell said. “They were really a good group of fighters.”
He received his first bronze star with valor and first Purple Heart in June 1969 and by the end of the summer, he was sent with his unit to Lộc Ninh, a southern Vietnamese town near the Cambodian border.
“We were sent there to help and our base was under attack for three days,” Bonnell said.
With bayonets fixed to the end of their rifles, he and the Rangers managed to charge the Vietnamese back to Cambodia.
“In the month of August we saw a lot of action,” he said.
Bonnell returned to Vietnam in January 1971 as a company commander for the famed Easy Company of the 101st Airborne—the World War II paratrooper unit depicted in the book and television miniseries, Band of Brothers.
After retiring from the army, Bonnell didn’t take much of a break. Within the same year of moving to the farm in Union County with his wife, Bonnita, whom he married while at OSU, he began a second career in corrections
“I worked as an internal affairs investigator at the Ohio Reformatory for Women,” Bonnell said. “I was there for five years and then worked for the Union County Sheriff’s Office.”
During his time in law enforcement, Bonnell helped to create an alternative jail program with the Sheriff’s Office and drug treatment program in Green County.
He retired from the corrections field in December 2006 but a year later, he was back to work.
“I started as a veterans services commissioner in 2007 and currently serve as president of the Veterans Service Commission of Union County,” Bonnell said. “I jokingly tell people it’s my third career.”
The induction ceremony is May 3 at 11:30 a.m. at the Statehouse in Columbus.
“I was nominated for this by a former ROTC cadet of mine at OSU,” Bonnell said. “It’s a wonderful thing to have happen to someone. It really is an honor.”
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