LANSING — Today, state Rep. Tom Cochran (D-Mason) honored Mason resident and Vietnam veteran Duane Garver for saving the life of Rev. Michael E. Bongart of Toronto, Ohio, on the 50th anniversary of a battle near Dong Tam, Vietnam. Mr. Garver, who was a medic, rescued First Lieutenant Bongart, commander of a UH-1H helicopter who was shot down while flying a combat assault mission.
“I am humbled to honor a true hero in Mr. Garver, who fifty years ago today risked his life to save Rev. Bongart,” said Rep. Cochran. “We recognize Mr. Garver today for his heroic actions, and thank both gentlemen for their service to our country. It’s also a privilege to honor their lasting friendship, which was born in battle and is still going strong 50 years later. Their actions as young soldiers and their friendship today will forever remind us of what duty, patriotism and friendship truly mean. ”
Following the crash, Rev. Bongart suffered a life-threatening head wound from a mortar and, because the helicopter crashed in a rice paddy, was in danger of drowning. Mr. Garver, who was also hit by fragments and wounded, refused to leave Rev. Bongart and dragged him to safety. Later, Rev. Bongart asked other officers to put Mr. Garver’s name in for a medal, but nothing came of it. Since their time in Vietnam, Mr. Garver and Rev. Bongart have met every year on Oct. 4 to celebrate their friendship with a round of golf. The two men attended one of Rep. Cochran’s coffee hours and told him their story.
“On October 4, 1968, I was unconscious, bleeding profusely from the head and left for dead by my crew. Fortunately, by the grace of God, an Army medic, Duane Garver, came to my rescue,” said Rev. Bongart. “In 1972, I was released from the service and went back home to Steelton, Pennsylvania. During that summer, Duane came to visit me and brought along his golf clubs. We played a couple rounds and agreed that we should do this more often. So, we set up a golf tournament, called it the Dong Tam Invitational and we’ve been playing together every year since then. I cherish my time with Duane, and I can never thank him enough for saving my life that day. He is a true friend and a great person, and I am glad he is finally receiving the recognition he is due.”
“In October of 1968, a combat medic and a helicopter pilot came together in a Vietnam conflict. One life was saved and, 50 years later, that friendship and bond endures,” said Mr. Garver. “The conflict itself was recorded by ABC News and aired on the ABC Evening News with Frank Reynolds on October 8, 1968. The Dong Tam invitational golf event has been played by the two of us as we get together every year, for the past fifty years.”
During House session, Rep. Cochran presented a House Tribute, a United States flag and a Michigan flag to Mr. Garver.