2 Sides Project Profile: Bonnie Dean
Bonnie is the middle child and youngest daughter of Air Force Captain Robert N. Brumet, who was killed on April 9, 1964 when the wings on his overloaded plane fell off and his plane crashed into a home, killing a Vietnamese woman and her children. Bonnie was five years old when the accident happened. Her memories of her father are few, but reflect a resourceful and fun loving man, one who took great pride in his family.
Today Bonnie is a self-professed geek who analyzes data for Partners Healthcare in the Boston area. She’s also a sports fanatic. Bonnie followed her three sons’ high school and college hockey games and mountain bike races, and has even done some pretty competitive sports herself (that’s Bonnie pictured below competing in a canoe race.)
Bonnie is one of “seven sisters” going on the 2 Sides Project 2018 trip, which takes off on Saturday, November 24. One of the seven is her sister Barbara, who went to Vietnam in 2009 and jumped at a chance to return with Bonnie. Now Bonnie hopes to get to know the country and its people, and to go to that place she’s thought about for most of her life – the site where her father’s plane went down.
Do you have any memories of your dad?
I’m not sure how old I was, but Mom was making a cake and I wanted some of the batter, so I stuck my finger in the bowl with the egg beater on. My hand got all tangled up, and I remember my dad tried to get it out, but ended up having to cut the egg beater off. We went to the hospital and, thankfully, there weren’t any broken bones. That was a traumatic memory, but I have fun ones, too. We kids used to play a game where we’d stick our heads into the back of the sofa and flip our legs over the back and stand up on the other side. Dad thought that looked like fun so he tried it, but he was too big, and the couch went over with him and fell on top of him. We all laughed, and so did he.
He sounds like a fun guy.
There were always parties at our house, family picnics with lots of games and laughs. My mother often said that when you got with the squadron, it was expected that everyone would have fun, and have a little too much to drink. When my parents had people over we would come down in our pajamas and salute everyone. My dad was fun loving but he was also known for helping others out. His nephew was having some trouble at home and came to live with us for a while. He was really proud of his family.
What do you remember about the day your father died?
Only that we were sitting in the basement crying. I guess that’s when Mom told us. And I remember the funeral and the fly by. That was all pretty dramatic for a five year old.
Did things change for you from that moment on?
My sister and brother were closer to my parents than me, so it didn’t change my life as much as theirs. I always felt really independent. I don’t like to depend on others. Part of that comes from losing my father. I don’t know what will happen to people; they could just be gone like that, so I never got too attached to people or places. That was probably the most influential outcome. My father’s death changed my personality.
You had a chance to go to Vietnam when your sister Barbara did. Why didn’t you?
I had some lame excuse I can’t remember. I think if she would have pushed me I would have gone.
I was never brave enough to read a lot of books about the war, or watch movies about the battles. It’s all too gory for me. I can’t take it. But I want to see the country, I want to see what the battle was about. I know it was a power play and my Dad was a pawn in the whole thing. But I want to see the people. They suffered way more than we did. They are a very resilient people. They just don’t just let anyone roll over them, they fight for what they want. So I’m curious about the country and the people and how they rebounded. I think I’ll find that it’s a place worth fighting for.
Do you feel any trepidation about going?
I think a few things will be difficult. I mean how do you show or express how sorry you are to someone who lost their whole family, not just their father? How do you get them to understand? I don’t know how that will be, but I still want to meet them. On the positive side I’m expecting the geography to be spectacular. I’ve always heard it’s a beautiful country, that the beaches are beautiful, and I’m interested to see the jungles. I’ve heard about the jungles, about our use of Agent Orange, about how we didn’t know how to fight a battle in that kind of environment. It’s going to be very different.
What do you hope most happens?
I hope to close the loop. I hope I get closer to my father. I’m going back to my roots in a way. My dad is gone. It’s not his fault. He would be here if he could be. I’m expecting to be moved, I’m not sure how, good or bad, it will be such a different experience than anything I’ve done before. So I’m leaving myself wide open. I’m trying not to create expectations.