11 Nov 2000
In July of 1999 I received a response to a letter I had written over thirty years ago asking if there were anyone in my brother's naval unit who could tell me what the final days of his life in Vietnam were like. On this Veteran's Day 2000, I want to share the following letter from William O'Brien of Dorchester, MA with everyone who knew and loved Ron, as well as with those who have become a part of the family he left behind in 1968.
Take a minute to think of him again. Remember the kind of person Ron was and read about the kind of person he was becoming. A compassionate and courageous young man capable of affecting others, not just for a moment, but for an entire lifetime.
Mr. O'Brien wrote:
My name is Bud O'Brien and I served with your brother Ron in Vietnam. I am writing to you after 30 years because of a series of events that won't let me go any longer without telling you and your family what a great person Ron was and that he was a true hero in all aspects of his life.
Ron was a fun loving guy, but he also had a maturity beyond his years. Ronnie was liked by all the men and officers in the river section and all the senior Petty Officers wanted him as a crewmember because he was so dependable.
On May 5, 1968, we got into a terrible situation in Chau Doc and your brother was, in the highest sense of the word, a hero. Ron died trying to save his shipmates and he never hesitated putting himself in harm's way because he knew he was their only hope. Ron's death was a great loss to you, your family and the Navy. Ron was too young, bright, funny and talented to die, but in war the good also suffer.
Your brother deserves to be remembered and I assure you that he will always be a part of the memories of my family. Knowing Ron has made me blessed among men.
My family and I thank Bud and all those who bear the burden of the memories that have the capability to both haunt and heal us. God bless you all.
07 May 2007
On this 39th Anniversary in 2007, I am continually grateful to the men and women who visit these pages and remember our heroes. Although their names will still be visible on the Wall in Washington DC to sightseers for generations after we are gone, the reality of their lives continues to exist for each of us because we knew them. May they continue to rest in peace. God Bless America.
From his brother,
28 May 2007
On Memorial Day 2003, I received a letter from a childhood buddy of Ron's that I would like to share. In addition to this thoughtful personal remembrance, Steven Keely had also written a beautiful poem titled "The Namekeeper", which I have included following Steve's letter:
It's been 35 years since Ronnie was killed; and the revelation of all that time passing this Memorial Day numbs me, and compels me to write you.
The years have grown their moss around our lives, but the pain is never washed away no matter how much time passes. I've touched his name on The Wall in Washington on no less than 15 visits, and been to his grave four times now. Each time my heart aches more and tears come just like it was yesterday. Of all the personal losses I experienced during my own tour of duty in Vietnam, none hits me harder than Ronnie's. We were friends since we were four years old; and although we may have lost track of each other a bit during our junior high school years, the fact that we were friends forever was needless to say.
Funny how we both wound up in Vietnam at the same time. (I served there with U.S. Army STRATCOM, 1st Signal Brigade, DaNang and I-Corps, mid June '67 to mid June '68.). My parents thought at the time, Ronnie would be safe in the Navy, while I was up close to the DMZ and would be first to be in harm's way.
Fate, however, has written that story differently. I remember my parents tried to stop the Daily Argus from being delivered to me over there (albeit always two weeks behind) so I wouldn't see the article. Fate also wrote a different version of that story as well. I remember being stunned when I saw his obituary, and writing a very long, helpless letter to your mother and father. The words I wrote have long been forgotten; but I recall the sense of utter despair I felt when writing it ... 35 years ago.
I had only six weeks to go on my tour of duty. It was such an empty feeling of loss and hopelessness. I still wasn't sure I would be coming back myself. When I came back from the Republic of South Vietnam, I'd left 38 pounds over there. I went over at 160 lbs. and came home at 122 lbs. But I got to come back and live the rest of my life. Ronnie, of course, did not.
That difference has left a darkness in my heart and mind that will never go away, as I'm sure it does for you and your family. Rarely a day goes by it doesn't cross my mind. By all accounts, your brother, Ronnie risked his life and lost it trying to save a friend. He is a genuine hero, by any definition of the word. It was always his way to think of others first, and no different when he paid the ultimate sacifice in an act of highest bravery and courage; and in doing so, he set the bar for the rest of us with a lesson in moral responsibility and selflessness we can one day only hope to aspire to. May the inspiration of his life and death be the light that guides us through our dark and difficult times. He is remembered not only on Memorial Day, but every day of this life God has allowed me to live. God bless him always. - Steve Keely
He wears their names around his wrist each day,
the brass and silver histories of their loss,
in places scattered to the winds
and deep away in dream.
Each day he wears their names
is one day longer he was let to live,
while they are long away and lost in lairs
whose names are pale against the years.
We will come for you some day he says,
when tears of Heaven rain to monsoon floods
and wash away the sins we left behind,
when all will be forgiven and forgot.
Until that day, when kindgom comes
to take them home to freedom,
he keeps their names on the hand
he holds over his heart with a promise to be kept.
Though yet you wait in far off fates unknown,
where remembrance still fights for its life,
the promise more than just a reference on his wrist:
You Are Not Forgotten.
From his brother,