Veteran shares a story of survival, God’s grace
STEUBENVILLE — At September’s Faith in the Future luncheon, Mike Bongart shared his incredible story.
Bongart was severely injured in the Vietnam War and all but left for dead, but survived against all odds and shared his experience and his faith with a socially distanced crowd at Franciscan Square in September.
“It’s a story of God’s grace that was given to me,” Bongart said. “I didn’t ask for it, but God gave it to me.”
Bongart’s harrowing story begins with his helicopter taking fire from the Viet Cong on Oct. 4, 1968.
“We started taking all kinds of fire,” he said. “Bullets were bouncing off my armor-plated seat. All of a sudden, I lost power. What happened was a machine gun had put several rounds through the compressor.”
He said he was able to land the helicopter “by the grace of God.”
Bongart said that when one of the door gunners came to help him get out of the damaged machine, he said to Bongart, “I can’t believe you’re still alive.”
When Bongart looked up, there were seven bullet holes in the windshield that made an arch around where his head had been.
Bongart and the crew were making their way through a rice paddy when shrapnel from a mortar severely injured him, piercing the back of his head.”
“I got the tremendous feeling I was being separated from existence,” he said, detailing what he described as an out-of-body experience while he was unconscious.
He said during the experience he realized just how much trouble he was in and cried out “Oh, God, oh God, I can’t die, please don’t let me die, I haven’t done anything with my life,” before more out-of-body experiences, which all had ties to his past before the war.
He then recalled coming to and hearing the distinct sound of machine gun fire and a voice he didn’t know, saying “You gotta’ breathe, sir!”
When the mortar exploded, a piece of shrapnel knocked his helmet from his head and went through his skull into his brain. Bongart said blood was shooting out of the back of his head while he lay face down in the rice paddy water.
The medic from his helicopter observed crew members pick Bongart’s body up out of the water, then put it back into the water, stating, “let him go, he’s dead.”
The medic, though, didn’t let him go, bandaging his head and resuscitating the severely wounded Bongart.
The medic eventually got Bongart to an extraction point, from which he was taken to multiple hospitals and underwent neurosurgery.
Bongart, whose ordeal in the rice paddy was caught on camera by an ABC film crew, had a long road to recovery, at one point fearing permanent vision and hearing damage.
The doctors had to remove part of his right perceptual lobe to remove the shrapnel, and removed a large blood clot from his brain.
The surgeon told him the injury “would have killed any number of people — how you lived, I don’t know.”
Bongart eventually returned to Vietnam, retiring from the military in 1972, eventually making his way to Toronto and becoming a minister.
He said, “The Lord has bestowed so much grace upon me, I want to share it with (the world).”
According to Mike Florak, Faith in the Future waited nine months to hear Bongart’s powerful story.
“It was worth the wait,” he said. “We’ve never had a speaker that I looked forward to hearing more.
“It’s just amazing the incredible people God brings to this valley. Rev. Bongart is certainly one of the most amazing people that we’ve met,” Florak added.
“We’re really thankful for him, thankful for his story and thankful that he’s sharing his blessings with everybody else. Everybody was captivated by him, and how could you not be? We’re thankful for his service to our country and thankful that he’s sharing his faith with the valley.”
(Grimm can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)