My friend Ramon R. never refers to himself as a hero.
After working closely with this Vietnam-era combat veteran for years, I have come to realize how under-appreciated such people are. As we go about our daily lives, agonizing over being late to work or paying taxes to Uncle Sam every April, we often forget that these combat veterans – men and women whose jobs required them to defeat death on a daily basis – move among us as we enjoy the benefits of freedom that they fought so unselfishly to preserve.
Thanks in part to films such as “Saving Private Ryan,” the accomplishments of World War Two veterans are no longer as hidden as they once were. The Vietnam conflict, which took place a generation after thousands of brave souls helped to save the world from the tyranny of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, produced veterans whose image is still unclear in the American consciousness. Films such as “Platoon” and “Born On The Fourth of July” have brought attention to the heroics of Vietnam veterans while simultaneously portraying their flaws. Our image of Vietnam vets as neurotic, drug-taking killers often causes us to overlook their achievements.
In 1968, while acting as a platoon sergeant for an Army infantry battalion, 101st Airborne Division, Ramon’s platoon was ambushed near Phu Bai. The platoon leader was wounded in the neck by North Vietnamese fire, and the unit was pinned down. “We were on a search-and-destroy mission, and were hit in the front,” Ramon says. “When you get fired upon, and you know someone is trying to kill you, it gets your adrenaline pumping.”
Ramon assumed command of the unit, maneuvering the platoon to a relatively secure position where it could return effective fire. After having been wounded himself, Ramon dragged the platoon leader to safety. He repeated this several times, until all the wounded were safely recovered and flown to a field hospital: “I went back and forth until I got them all.”
For his bravery that day at Phu Bai, in which Ramon rescued fellow soldiers from lethal enemy fire, he was awarded a Silver Star. In January of 1968, while acting as a Platoon Sergeant, Ramon distinguished himself near Hue, Republic of Vietnam. At approximately 2:30 A.M., the South Vietnamese outpost Ramon’s unit was defending came under a barrage of heavy mortars, followed by a Viet Cong ground assault.
During the initial assault, Ramon’s platoon leader was mortally wounded. Ramon assumed command of the platoon, and directed artillery and air strikes to within fifty meters of his perimeter. The Viet Cong penetrated through the perimeter, and began throwing hand grenades and satchel charges throughout the compound. Many of the men in Ramon’s platoon were wounded in this first assault. Ramon began moving through the trench line, administering aid to his wounded comrades while firing on the Viet Cong “sapper” suicide bombers. “All I saw were explosions right and left,” Ramon says.
After moving the wounded G.I.s to a safe area, Ramon rallied the rest of the platoon, which consisted of only four men. Although wounded in the arm and leg, Ramon continued to hold off the enemy until his unit was relieved at dawn. “The reinforcements couldn’t come in,” Ramon says, “because they were being attacked too. We held them off for what seemed like days.”
Ramon retired from the Army after twenty-three years of service. A list of his awards and medals demonstrates the gratitude his country has expressed towards him: three Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars with “V” device, three Army Commendation Medals with “V” device, Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Meritorious Service Medal, five Purple Hearts, Master Parachutes Badge, Pathfinder Badge, Scuba Badge, Ranger Tab, and Air Assault Badge. Ramon is currently being considered for the land’s highest award: the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Ramon continues to fight for the rights of veterans as Commissioner of Veteran Affairs for the city of Carson, California. “One of my missions is to go out and make sure people don’t forget about the veterans,” Ramon says. He points out that veterans come home with mental as well as physical scars: “We need to make it easier for veterans and their families to get help.”
Submitted by Anonymous
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