I could not be prouder

Published 1:12 pm Thursday, May 16, 2024

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By Bonnie Bartel Latino


After my column, which published on May 1, something amazing happened. My article recounted a brutal one-vehicle accident, which we saw occur on May 10, 1969, on a road between Post and Snyder, Texas. My husband Tom and I were traveling “home” from Reese AFB, for Mother’s Day early that Saturday morning on a West Texas highway between Post and Snyder. Ours was the only other car on that section of the road, so we were the only witnesses. Tom took the lead, helping a father and his young son, who appeared badly injured. Married for less than a year, I jumped into the expected role of Air Force wives, supporting my husband. To understand the rest of the story, if you missed that column, please read it now at: https://atmoreadvance.com/2024/05/03/right-place-at-right-time/

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All the rest of our journey “home” for Mother’s Day, Tom and I asked ourselves why we hadn’t gotten a phone number for the people we, by then, knew as the Dave Plank family from Houston, Texas. Badly injured, Dave had told Tom at the wreck-site that he had been driving the new white pickup to Canyon, Texas. It was a gift to his father, but why not go on Father’s Day weekend, we wondered.

Our first contact with the extended Plank family came from a call from Dave’s father after we returned to Lubbock, Texas, from our trip. He had gotten our phone number from the police witness report Tom submitted at the Snyder hospital. He asked if he and his wife could come meet us. We were thrilled! We found them to be gracious and charming. They gave us much anticipated updates on Dave and the oldest son.  We learned that Dave had 180 stitches in his head and other injuries. I believe he was still hospitalized after having been moved to a larger hospital. Russ had several broken bones. Both badly injured, they would eventually recover. As I had feared, the younger children, Sharon and Mike, had been traumatized. We learned that the sheriff in Snyder and his wife had taken them in until someone could come get them. Fortunately, the sheriff had two young children. That probably created the cornerstone to Sharon and Mike’s recoveries. 

The senior Planks also invited us to visit them. We said yes and were soon at their home in Canyon. They treated us like VIPs, a rare occasion for a mere second lieutenant and his wife. We were their guests at Palo Duro Canyon State Park outdoor amphitheater to witness the locally-produced historical musical “TEXAS”.  With great charm, the professional production dramatically and professionally recreated the story of the indigenous people, the Comanche Indians, and early frontier settlers in the Texas Panhandle. This year celebrates the 58th season of “TEXAS”!

That December Dave and Betty invited us to visit them overnight in Houston on our official military move from Reese to Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Miss. The Planks were hilariously fun and as gracious as Dave’s parents. They took us all out for seafood. The next morning as we left, we found a Christmas card on our dashboard. It contained a crisp 100-dollar bill. We didn’t feel like the “heroes” they said we were. They made us feel like we were their long-lost good friends. We would see Dave again in England, where we lived in the early 1980s. He took us to dinner in his London hotel.  After he died in 1987, his wife Betty and I continued to be in contact several times a year – until 2017 when Sharon had called to tell us she died.

I was heart-broken, but somehow we drifted apart. Since I wrote my previously mentioned column, I have carried the adult Plank sons and daughter heavily on my heart. My exciting news is that last Thursday, coincidentally one day short of 55 years since their accident, Sharon and I were reunited through Facebook messages and flying texts, and a phone call. We’ve also heard from brother Mike via John Junkins, a Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A & M, and a dear friend of my sister Aimee’s (and ours) in College Station. I learned exactly what I expected to find.

Dave and Betty Plank’s children grew into smart, kind, and caring adults. Russell, not Rusty, as Tom misunderstood at the crash site, and wife Pattie live in the Houston area, as do his son, Brett, wife Meghan, and their two young children. The couple spends a lot of time with their precious grandchildren and several nieces and nephews. Russ is a Civil Engineer and a Developer. 

Michael J. Plank of Houston is a successful businessman and is on the Board of Regents at Texas A & M University. He and Susan have two children. Daughter Kendall graduated from her dad’s alma mater and works in the family business. Jared just graduated from Rice University. Susan and Mike are philanthropists, donating and working to raise funds for various worthy causes, plus TAMU’s needs. 

Sharon Plank English is a retired speech pathologist, who taught 36 years at two private schools for children with special needs in Houston and Austin, Texas. In retirement she has energetically taken over her (late) mother’s research in family’s genealogy. She recently participated in the completion restoration of a small, beautiful family cemetery in Richardson, Texas, near Dallas. Sharon and husband Adam have two daughters. Addie, a medical assistant in Denver, Colo. and Tatum, a behavioral therapist for children with autism in Georgetown, Texas.

I couldn’t be prouder of these three if I had birthed them myself!

The brutal way Tom and I met Dave Plank and his children remains among the most profound, yet bitter-sweet, events in his 30-year military career.