Vietnam veteran Bill Bond was a frogman

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Veteran Bill Bond began his military career as a Navy Frogman — part of the underwater demolition team, which was later renamed the Navy Seal Team.

OKEECHOBEE — Veteran William “Bill” Bond remembered when he and his dad watched a movie on television called “The Frogmen,” with Dana Andrews and Richard Widmark. It was a black-and-white movie about Navy frogmen, and after the movie, he turned to his dad and said, “Boy, that’s what I want to do.” His dad, who was ex-military, told him if he joined the Navy he would always have a warm bed and a hot meal, but he found that was not true at all in underwater demolition.

Mr. Bond was born in Connecticut but then lived in Florida for a short time during his childhood before the family moved to Michigan. He went to basic training in San Diego and then UDT (underwater demolition team) training in Coronado. This was the precursor to the Navy Seals. He did go on to become a frogman as he had told his father he wanted to do.

The term “frogman” came about originally because of the special suits the UDT members wore, which were green, smooth and, when combined with their fins, made them look somewhat like man-sized frogs. Frogmen are trained in scuba diving or swimming underwater in a tactical capacity including police or military work. These personnel are also known by more formal names such as combat diver, combatant diver or combat swimmer.

Mr. Bond was part of class #30. He said the training was very difficult, and most people dropped out. They started out with 146 enlisted men and six officers in the class, but by the time they ended, there were only 26 enlisted men and four officers.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Bill Bond is pictured inside a submarine in the early ’80s.

One of the training exercises they did was to go under water and hold their breath for four minutes. He said it really wasn’t that difficult, especially because you weren’t exerting yourself in any way. You just had to convince your brain you did not need to take that breath. “You don’t need to breathe in four minutes,” he said. “You just think you do.”

Mr. Bond was in the service for four years and served in Vietnam in 1964 and ’65.

After he got out of the service, he came to Florida in 1972 and went to work for the Harbor Branch Foundation. They do undersea research, and their primary customer is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He worked with them for about five years — a couple of those years piloting a submarine. They had two that would go to 3,000 feet and carry four people. During his tenure there, he had the opportunity to go down on the USS Monitor. He was in the back, operating the dive chamber. They had trained a couple of archaeologists from North Carolina how to lock out of the submarine so they could go do their excavating, and they spent about 30 days over the sub. News people came out with their cameras, and one rough day everyone was seasick, lying around with their cameras on the fantail of the ship, saltwater spraying all over them. “It was a riot to us!” he said. They interviewed him and it was supposed to be on “Good Morning America,” but, they had told the news people about a fish they had become friends with. Whenever they would take the sub down and sit on the bottom for a minute and turn on their sonar, the big fish would come. It was a huge grouper, the size of a couch. It became our friend. “We took food to it like apples and hotdogs. We named it Sam.” Sam would go up inside the manway which is what you go out of, and stick his head up and open his mouth. Mr. Bond would throw the food down his mouth. Well, he told the reporter all about Sam, and then when they all watched the show the following day — everyone on the ship and his mom and dad back at home — they were surprised to see a video of Sam swimming toward the Monitor and there were words at the bottom of the screen reading, “The voice of Bill Bond.” Mr. Bond was never shown on screen at all, just the fish. For years, he was known as, “The voice of Bill Bond.”

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution
Harbor Branch’s Johnson-Sea-Link manned submersible carries four people to depths as great as 3,000 feet to search for bioactive deep water organisms. Bill Bond worked as a diver aboard this vessel after he left the Navy.

He loved that job. “It was very exciting,” he said. They went to the Galapagos Islands and did a lot of work in the Bahamas. “I saw things under that submarine that I would have loved to have shared with people, but there is no way to explain it,” he said.

The main reason he moved to Florida in 1972 was to build a mobile home park in Hudson. It was a 510-space park. He had a partner and investors, but unfortunately, they opened their doors in ’74 right when the gas shortages struck, and it did not do well. “You come down with money in your pocket, and you lose it in Florida,” he laughed. “I had my ups and downs, but life has been good.”

He spent some time in Fort Pierce doing a diving job for Jean Durand. She had a lease to look for treasure off the coast of Florida. You have to purchase a lease, and Mel Fisher had most of those, but Ms. Durand had a lease off of Fort Pierce and Vero Beach. They did find some things, he said. They were out diving every morning. He lived over on the beach and would just get up in the morning and walk out to the boat. “It was a lot of fun,” he said.

After he left Harbor Branch, he went into commercial diving in the oil fields and did that for about 10 years. Back then, they used divers to inspect pipe and lay pipe, hook up things underwater. Now, they use remote operated vehicles and operate them from the ship. They can do just about anything a man can do, he explained.

Now he is retired and spends time with his friends just taking it easy.

If you or someone you know is a veteran who lives in Okeechobee, Belle Glade, Pahokee, South Bay or Moore Haven and would like to share their story, please contact cwomble@newzap.com.

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