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Obituary

‘He wanted to do his part': Family remembers decorated WWII veteran, dive bomber

By MINA CORPUZ | The Enterprise | Published: March 28, 2021

BROCKTON, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — During World War II, Brockton native Henry LaBonte was a dive bomber at the Battle of Midway who was awarded two medals for heroism and achievement during flight.

To his family, he was a golfer at the D.W. Field course and a traveler who had a good personality and liked to have a good time.

"Henry could get along with everyone," said his daughter, Irene Patak, of Walpole. "He could find a way to relate to everyone."

LaBonte died March 17 at the age of 97 and was buried at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.

LaBonte fought in the Battle of Midway as a dive bomber on the naval plane Douglas SBD Dauntless. Between 1942 to 1946, he was part of 33 missions.

The plane helped earn a victory in the battle by sinking four Japanese carriers.

Last year, as part of a multimedia project for school, LaBonte's grandson Conor Patak interviewed him about his military service and was able to review mission plans, flight records, pictures and other documents LaBonte saved.

LaBonte told his grandson that he lied about his age and entered the service at the age of 17 after attending Brockton High. At the time, 18 was the minimum age to enlist or be drafted into the armed forces.

"He didn't have much thought," Conor Patak said. "He wanted to do his part."

Before the project, LaBonte didn't talk with grandson much about his military service. It was something that was pretty personal and private to him, Conor Patak said.

Lillian LaBonte said her husband spoke with her about his military service, but didn't talk about details.

In 1994, LaBonte was awarded the physical medals for his service during World War II: the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. A photo of him when he received the honors hangs in LaBonte's living room and it was displayed at his funeral service.

Military service has carried on in the family. LaBonte's great-granddaughter, Samantha McDonough, graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and is stationed in Iraq. The LaBontes have a framed picture of her at their Brockton home.

Born and raised in Brockton on Court Street, LaBonte attended the former French elementary school and graduated from Brockton High in 1942.

LaBonte was in the car business for 25 years and worked as a manager and salesperson. His family said his connections in Brockton and the way he liked to be around others made him a good salesman.

In the 1960s, LaBonte met his wife Lillian. Both of them were divorced and each had a child from their previous marriages. They married about a decade later and were together for a total of 60 years.

"He was wonderful and that's why I married him," said Lillian LaBonte.

They stayed in Brockton and built a life together.

She said they went dancing and listened to live music weekly. Sometimes they would drive to Cape Cod after he got out of work to go dancing and they would return home in the early morning.

They liked to go on cruises and trips, including to Hawaii where LaBonte was stationed and where they married. He enjoyed returning there and visiting the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, Lillian LaBonte said.

Irene Patak, Lillian's daughter from her first marriage, was 10 years old when her mother first met LaBonte and 21 when they got married.

When they married, she and LaBonte's daughter, Cheryl Davis, of Hanson, were grown up, so the couple didn't really need to blend their families, but Patak got to know LaBonte's family.

Lillian and Henry LaBonte didn't have children together. Through their children, their family grew to five grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

LaBonte was the youngest of eight siblings who have all died.

Gail Kubek, auxiliary president of VFW Post 1046 in Brockton, took LaBonte to see "Midway" in November 2019. The movie was based on the Battle of Midway and experiences of soldiers like LaBonte.

During the ride to the theater, Kubek and LaBonte talked and she learned that her mother and he were classmates at Brockton High. LaBonte remembered her by name, and later Kubek's mother said she remembered him.

"It was such a small world," Kubek said.

Watching the movie with LaBonte felt like she was reliving the battle with him, Kubek said.

When the Dauntless came on the screen, he said that was his plane and put his hands up in the air, she said. As it got more into the war scenes, she saw some tears roll down his face. Later, he cried.

When the film ended, Kubek told people in the movie theater that the Dauntless was the one LaBonte flew on and that he served in WWII. People said thank you to him for his service, including a younger veteran, she said.

LaBonte also showed pride in other ways, like wearing his veterans cap and having plates that showed he was a veteran on his car, his wife said.

LaBonte was sick for the past several years and was treated off and on at the Brockton VA, his family said.

They fought to get him a room at the campus' palliative care and hospice program unit in March 2020.

"The only place he wanted to go was the VA," Irene Patak said.

Lillian LaBonte said the day he went there, LaBonte said that he felt like he was in Las Vegas because of how nice the unit was.

One time when the Pataks went to visit LaBonte at the VA, there was a volunteer who sat with him and played Dean Martin songs. William Patak, LaBonte's son-in-law, said it was nice to see that care and attention.

The day LaBonte went to the unit, the policy stated that one designated visitor could come to visit for a maximum of two hours.

Toward the end of his life, family were able to visit more often. The Pataks visited him the day before he died on March 17St. Patrick's Day.

LaBonte's funeral service was held March 21 at Club National of Brockton, the civic association for Franco Americans where he was a lifetime member.

He was buried at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.

Cape Cod was one of his favorite places to be and where the family vacationed, Irene Patak said.

He liked to go in the water and play with the children at the beach, she said, and the family tradition was to meet up at Giardino's Restaurant in Yarmouth.

"He knew how to make people feel welcomed and loved," Irene Patak said.

mcorpuz@enterprisenews.com

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