Mark Luttrull is a friend of mine. I have known him about 11 years but never met until about 3 months ago at a JSA reunion in Orlando, Fl.
I first “met” Mark on-line while trying to find information about the JSA, the Axe Murders, and Operation Paul Bunyan. His simply introduced himself as the CO’s driver. Little did I know at that time he meant he was driver, RTO and body guard for then CPT Art Bonifas.
Bonifas was due to return to the states within days. His last official act was to be present at the tree trimming. INstead of Mark driving him into Panmunjom, Bonifas asked him to turn in his his equipment for him. Mark stayed behind to do this, and Bonifas was killed by the north Koreans.
In the letter below, Mark tells of his first meeting with Bonifas. Is isn’t what you might expect.
We arrived in country in September, 1975, and sat at the Reception Center for about 3 days while our records were being processed. Then we were met by low ranking members of a unit called the Joint Security Area. As I remember it was Bill Ferguson, Chip Mounck, and myself destined for the JSA. We went thru the normal procedure of being interviewed by the entire chain of command, up to the JSA Commander. Somewhere near the end of those interviews, I met CPT Bonifas for the first time.
The meeting was rather short, because basically, in hindsight, we had already been selected. These were the final interviews. I remember very little about this meeting.
Over the next two months, I was assigned to Second Platoon. We had not taken the name Mad Dogs as of yet. This would not happen for a couple more months. I worked hard at my job and enjoyed the thrill or danger of my work, and the camaraderie of the JSA unit. In the meantime, I was selected to represent my platoon in the first ever JSA Soldier of the Quarter competition. Turned out, I won it. I became the first JSA Soldier of the Quarter. So for a new guy, my star was kind of shining at JSA.
One day in November, 1975, while I was working a guard station at the JSA, I received a call from my platoon sergeant to return to (well, it has been so many years, I can‘t even remember what we called it) our operations office inside the JSA where we all slept. There our Platoon Leader, 1LT Zilka grabbed me and told me the JSF Commander, CPT Bonifas, was sending his jeep for me. I asked what it was all about, but no one knew. My mind went into gear. Why would CPT Bonifas send HIS jeep for me. The only answer I could come up with was someone in my family had died and I was about to be informed. It was a long trip for me that day thru the DMZ.
So, I get to the Orderly Room, and I am ushered into the JSF Commander’s Office. I reported to CPT Bonifas and stood at attention. But he did not have the demeanor I was expecting. He was sitting behind his desk, sort of leaning back in his chair. Did I really see a smirk or a smothered grin on his face? He began to speak in slow calculated words.
“At Ease, Private Luttrull”, said the Captain. “Private Luttrull, we have a special assignment and are looking for a volunteer.”
“Yes, sir (?)”, said I.
“Yes, we have a very special mission and we are seeking the right person”.
What does he want me to do? It must be some kind of secret mission into the DMZ or something like that.
“Yes, sir”, I said.
Did I again see that smirk or smothered grin on his face? He would not come to the point.
“We have a Top Secret mission that we are asking you to volunteer for. This information cannot leave this room”.
“Yes, sir (?)”, I said again. Then he began.
“Early next month there is to be a Miss America USO Show here at Advance Camp. There will be six women here that will need to be escorted into the JSA.”
“We have chosen the best men in the unit to escort 5 of the women. They are all from these women’s home state (Miss California, Miss New York, etc.). However, we have no one in the JSA from Rhode Island. We want you to escort Miss Rhode Island into the JSA”, said CPT Bonifas.
I stood there for a second rather bewildered. Then I saw he was awaiting my answer. I answered quickly and sharply, “Sir, I volunteer for this mission”.
What would happen next is a long, wonderful story in its own and would end with me eventually going to Rhode Island to see the beautiful, the talented, 1972 Miss Rhode Island, Miss Michele Passarelli. But this was only my beginning with CPT Bonifas.
I did well on the Miss Rhode Island assignment. I continued working hard for Second Platoon. CPT Bonifas did not forget me. In January, 1976, I was called into his office again. This time he asked if I would volunteer to be his driver/guard. That is when it began. I spent countless hours with CPT Bonifas and grew to admire his high intelligence, his wit, and his courage.
His was a very special position. For he was the JSF Commander and had direct conversation with his North Korean counterpart. I was his guard during these meetings. I write this small story today in honor of the memory of CPT Arthur G. Bonifas. I have lived these past 35 years grateful for having known him as well as I did. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to write about this fine man. He will never be forgotten.