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Why we forward jokes to our friends

Warren Bonner, a retired Orange, California businessman and former webzine editor, has urged thousands of internet surfers around the world to send their friends a sentimental story about a man and his dog wanting to enter Heaven.

The story (author unknown) is probably older than the internet itself. It plucks at the heartstrings. These days, countless web surfers read it with a smile, then send it on to their relatives and friends as suggested.

But Bonner, an internet veteran who celebrated his 80th birthday on August 26, has received virtually no credit for his modest contribution to global harmony.

The illustrated version of the story that dropped into our email box was posted by Hamid Saleh on Iranscope, "an Iranian Site of Iran News and Iranian Culture." Since it failed to show the author's name, we scoured the internet in a vain search for his identity.

We visited scores of websites whose editors have stolen the story and recycled it without a by-line. Jokes and pet lovers' sites display it beneath a medley of headlines, including:

  • Heaven
  • Heaven Knows
  • Heaven's Gate
  • Heaven and Hell
  • A True Friend
  • Man's Best Friend
  • A Man and His Dog
  • The Old Man and His Dog
  • The Water Bowl
  • and (our favorite): Poems and Prayers for Pets Who Have Passed the Rainbow Bridge.

Eventually, we found the original story in a Google cache of a webpage that has disappeared into cyberspace. It was written by Warren Debrell Bonner, who, we found after further research, was born in Sweetwater, Texas, and now lives in Orange, California, where he celebrated his 80th birthday on August 26.

His original story urged his readers to forward the tale about the man and his dog to their friends. It was posted in Fido News on August 26, 2002.

Here's a transcript of the story, with its original headline and Bonner's brief but important footnote shown in red italics:

Why we forward jokes to our friends....

A man and his dog were walking along a road. The man was enjoying the scenery, when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead. He remembered dying, and that the dog walking beside him had been dead for years.

He wondered where the road was leading them. After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall along one side of the road. It looked like fine marble. At the top of a long hill, it was broken by a tall arch that glowed in the sunlight.

When he was standing before it he saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked like Mother of Pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like pure gold.

He and the dog walked toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side. When he was close enough, he called out, "Excuse me, where are we?"

"This is Heaven, sir," the man answered.

"Wow! Would you happen to have some water?" the man asked.

"Of course, sir. Come right in, and I'll have some ice water brought right up."

The man gestured, and the gate began to open.

"Can my friend," gesturing toward his dog, "come in, too?" the traveller asked.

"I'm sorry, sir, but we don't accept pets."

The man thought a moment and then turned back toward the road and continued the way he had been going with his dog. After another long walk, and at the top of another long hill, he came to a dirt road which led through a farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed.

There was no fence. As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book. "Excuse me!" he called to the reader. "Do you have any water?"

"Yeah, sure, there's a pump over there." The man pointed to a place that couldn't be seen from outside the gate. "Come on in."

"How about my friend here?" the traveller gestured to the dog.

"There should be a bowl by the pump." They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it.

The traveller filled the bowl and took a long drink himself, then he gave some to the dog. When they were full, he and the dog walked back toward the man who was standing by the tree waiting for them.

"What do you call this place?" the traveller asked. "This is Heaven," was the answer.

"Well, that's confusing", the traveller said, "The man down the road said that was Heaven, too!"

"Oh, you mean the place with the gold street and pearly gates? Nope. That's Hell."

"Well, doesn't it make you mad for them to use your name like that?", the traveller asked.

"No. I can see how you might think so, but we're just happy that they screen out the folks who'll leave their best friends behind."

`Soooo...

Sometimes, we wonder why friends keep forwarding jokes to us without writing a word, maybe this could explain: When you are very busy, but still want to keep in touch, guess what you do? You forward jokes.

When you have nothing to say, but still want to keep contact, you forward jokes.

When you have something to say, but don't know what, and don't know how, you forward jokes.

And to let you know that you are still remembered, you are still important, you are still loved, you are still cared for, guess what you get?

A forwarded joke!

So my friend, next time if you get a joke, don't think that you've been sent just another forwarded joke, but that you've been thought of today and your friend on the other end of your computer wanted to send you a smile...

Ol'wdb

We found Bonner's email address, and asked him about the now-famous but rarely attributed story. He replied, "I don't know who wrote the first part of the article on heaven. I only attempted to get my readers to understand these parables in real life.

"I resigned the editorship of Fido News because I was going blind and could not see what I was doing." Bonner told us. "I have since had operations on both eyes and now wish I could have my age operated on! I can see well, but the 80 years are pretty heavy."

A check of earlier issues revealed that Bonner often wrote most of Fido News, and at one stage was its editor. "Fidonet in the 80s was the beginning of the Internet," he said. "In the 80s they were twins, but the internet took off in the mid 90s and dwarfed Fidonet, because Fidonet had such restrictive basic guidelines. It is still a viable web around the world for those interested in life and happiness in communication without the spam."

He told us that shortly after posting his last article, he had been rushed to hospital. "Thank God for the veterans' clinics and hospitals," he said. "I've had both knees replaced, and recovered from a heart attack. Now I have new lenses in both eyes. Life is good again at 80."

Does anyone know who wrote the original story about the man and his dog? If so, please let us know!

VARIETY SPICE OF HIS LIFE

Warren Debrell Bonner was born in Fisher County, Texas, on August 16, 1925, on a ranch named The Ole Eighteen, because it was 18 miles square. He grew up on his father's dairy farm near Sweetwater, in the Texas Panhandle, and attended Newman High School. By the time he ended his junior year, World War II was under way.

Enlisting in the US Navy in 1943, Bonner served on the Coast Guard cutter Eastwind. He reached the rank of Acting Chief Petty Officer before returning to civilian life in 1946. He later compiled a book, The Mighty E: Eastwind's Un-Official Life Story.

Eastwind was one of seven Wind-class icebreakers built for the US Coast Guard during WWII. Outlining the cutter's history, Bonner wrote: "She was the first USCG diesel electric icebreaker built for polar service. She captured the Nazis at Little Koldewey, Greenland, and the only Nazi ship, Externstiene, captured in WWII. She was the first ship to travel 600 miles from the North Pole under her own power. Years later she broke that record by plowing through heavy ice to 442 miles from the North Pole."

Bonner also took part in the Korean conflict, as a crew member of the Alshane AKA 55. "The ship made many landings at Wonsan one night and Inchon the next night," he recalls. "We loaded up during daylight hours at Pusan, taking 800 men and their armor to the beach every night.

"After we returned to the States, we had a cruise around the Mediterranean seaports and returned to Norfolk, Virginia. I was transferred to the US Naval Gun Factory in Washington DC, to the Instrumentation Class 'A' School. Later I instructed the class, and was honorably discharged in 1952.

"The Commanding Officer recommended that I contact Chance Vaught Aircraft since I was going to Dallas, Texas, I did so, and was hired to work in the research hangar as a Flight Stabilization ET [Electronics Technician]... I worked there for five years.

"When the third successful experimental flight of the F9u all-weather jet fighter was completed, I resigned and went into business for myself. I retired after selling the business."

Now that Bonner is an octogenarian with his eyesight restored, let's hope he'll write a few more of his enchanting tales. Many Internet editors will doubtless steal them as they have in the past. Here's hoping they don't delete his by-line.

POSTSCRIPT
In an email from his home in Belgium, Ward Dossche, international co-ordinator of Fidonet, writes: "Warren Bonner is the perfect illustration that 'old' is just a word with only a limited connotation in time. He's as young as I am (54), or even younger. He should be President of the US - whether you like the current one or you don't."

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Story first posted September 2005

Copyright 2005

Eric Shackle

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