Local Vietnam veteran honored by American Legion

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Ruben Gonzales of Oracle displays the photo memory of his friend and brother-in-law Conrado Francisco Bilducia. (John Hernandez photo)

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Conrado Francisco Bilducia’s medals. (John Hernandez photo)

By John Hernandez

San Manuel Miner

Conrado Francisco Bilducia was born Jan. 18, 1947 in Tempe, Ariz. and grew up in Dudleyville, Ariz., the son of Conrado F. Bilducia and Margaret L. Bilducia. He was raised by his grandparents Felix and Romula Ramirez. He attended school in Hayden from kindergarten through high school. In high school he lettered in track throwing the shot and discus and football where he was the starting offensive and defensive tackle. He graduated with his class in 1965. After school he went to work for Kennecott Copper Corporation. He was drafted in 1966 and chose to go into the Army so he could attend airplane maintenance school. His good friend and brother-in-law Ruben Gonzales still remembers the day “Frankie”, as Conrado was known, told him that he had been drafted.

Ruben had just got off of work when Frankie told him he had just received his draft notice. They joked about it, Ruben feeling lucky that it was Frankie that would be going into the Army and not him, as the war in Vietnam was escalating and more young men were being drafted and sent overseas. Later Frankie asked his friend Ruben to go into the Army with him on the buddy system. Ruben said that Frankie told him, “I want you to come with me, I’m afraid to die alone.” After much contemplation and two days of drinking with Frankie, Ruben enlisted in the Army with his friend.

In June 1967 Conrado married his high school sweetheart Dina Gonzales. In September he left his now pregnant wife and was sent to South Vietnam. On March 3, 1968 at 3:50 a.m. Conrado’s base camp near Ban Me Thuot was attacked. Specialist V Conrado Bilducia was performing his duties as the company Charge of Quarters when the attack started. He was on his way to the command post bunker where he would begin to organize and dispatch troops to defend the compound against an enemy ground attack. He had just left the orderly room when a mortar shell exploded a few feet away from him, killing him instantly. Ruben, who was also in Vietnam at the time, was notified a few days later. He would have the honor and sad duty of escorting his friend’s body from San Francisco back to his home in the Copper Basin. Conrado was laid to rest in the Hayden Mountain View Cemetery with full military honors. Another friend of Rubens from Hayden had died a month earlier in Vietnam, Richard “Dickie” Contreras.

Although it was a time of deep sadness for Ruben, it would also be a time of joy. Ruben got to meet and hold his son for the first time. Ruben was able to spend 10 days at home before returning to Vietnam. Conrado’s son, Conrado Jr. would be born a few month’s later. Ruben believes that Conrado had a premonition about his own death. He had asked Ruben and his wife’s family to have his son raised by his “Nana”, Ruben’s mother, should he die. His request was granted. Ruben would help Conrado Jr. to learn about his father as he grew up. Ruben would choke up when talking about “Frankie”. He said “Frankie was a good man all his life beloved by all.”

Ruben was able to visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. in 1998. He made a rubbing of Conrado’s name and used it in a photo display memorializing Conrado. Ruben said, “He has lived 66 years with me.” In some information that he gave me about Conrado, Ruben wrote, “Conrado was a quiet gentle man whose kindness and caring earned him many friends while on tour.” He said, “Those same comrades in arms offering monetary gifts to his widow back home. The letter of appreciation over shadowed by sadness and sympathy delivered to a fatherless home. Conrado Francisco Bilducia never had a chance to meet his only child, a son Francisco Jr. who was born months after his all too early passing. Francisco Jr. spent many years of his life wondering about this brave man who made the ultimate sacrifice. Father and son were joined in eternal rest in April 2010.”

Specialist V Conrado Francisco Bilducia was honored 45 years after making the ultimate sacrifice for his country. On Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013 American Legion Post #124 in Guadalupe was named Conrado Francisco Bilducia Post #124 in his memory at a ceremony in Phoenix. Conrado’s younger brother Rudolfo “Boy” Bilducia a Marine and member of the American Legion Post was in a position to make something happen to honor his brother. Conrado’s father was raised in Guadalupe and was a World War II veteran who lost a leg in combat.

During his military service Conrado was awarded the Air medal, National Defense Service medal, Vietnam Campaign medal, Aircraft Crewman badge and Expert badge with rifle bar. Posthumously he was awarded the Army Commendation medal for Heroism, Purple Heart and the Good Conduct medal.

His commendation letter dated March 17, 1968 read, “For heroism in connection with military operations against a hostile force: Specialist Five Bilducia distinguished himself during an enemy mortar and ground attack. Even with mortar rounds falling in the immediate area, Specialist Bilducia continued to perform critically important security measures within the company orderly room throughout the attack. As he was moving from the orderly room to insure ready access to the reserve ammunition supply, several mortar rounds exploded nearby, inflicting him mortal wounds. His actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.”

To all veterans: Thank you for your service and sacrifices.

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