- - Monday, May 30, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On February 29, 2012 combat veteran, patriot, husband, father, grandfather and friend, Ron Piatek, was laid to rest, at the age of 66. Except for family, friends and a small band of brothers with whom he served, nobody noticed and the world kept on turning. Ron left the war, and for him, Vietnam behind 43 years ago. Of course, as any warrior will tell you, it’s never really behind you; it’s always a part of you.

For this generation’s National Guardsmen, activation and war are almost guaranteed. Today’s members of our old Company, the 115th MP Company, Rhode Island National Guard, have deployed to combat several times during our present conflicts and have made us old timers proud, but in 1968-69 it was the exception, rather than the rule. Someone once said “Courage is action in the face of fear”. Trust me, there was a lot of both. Nobody in our ranks hesitated to answer the call.

Some die in combat and for them the “gift” I’ll speak of was not to be. They are men and women who stand apart from others and who’s sacrifice is forever to be heralded. And then there are the rest of us, who are blessed to return home to, as we used to call it in ‘Nam: “the world”.

For those of us who wore the uniform in the ‘60s and ‘70s, returning home came with it’s own set of challenges. It is good to note here, that we didn’t morph into lost, drug addicted and dangerous recluses but, in fact, overwhelmingly rejoined the life we left behind and brought the dedication, discipline and love of family, country and community, that are all part of the military tradition, to the business of being a productive member of society.

We all know someone who has served in our armed forces. Some came home and, far too many, did not. On this Memorial Day, remember them with a prayer and a “welcome home”.

Join me now as I invite you to St. Luke’s in Barrington and relive a portion of the day we said good-bye to one of these men among men, former Sgt. Ron Piatek of Scituate and Barrington.  This was my eulogy to one of the many who stood to be counted when others chose to walk away.

“Friends then, friends now, friends forever” I’m Bill Corsair (McGroarty).

“God didn’t give me a brother so I chose one. His name is Ron Piatek, and for almost 50 years we have been brothers.

“I first met Ron when we were both serving in the 115th MP Company, Rhode Island National Guard. When that Company was activated and sent to West Point to train against the 82nd Airborne, in Night Infiltration, Recognizance and Riot Control, Ron was with me. When that training was complete and the Company was designated STRAF, we settled in to augment the existing MP Company at the Academy, pass on our skills to the Cadets and wait for further orders.

“Our CO was, at that time, Capt. Joseph DelSesto, a short muscled man with the swagger of a 6 footer…..you had to love him. He called me into his office and said: “Bill I just saw a General with a customized jeep…. Who’s better then us? I want one”. So I got together with Ron and the rest of the men at the motor pool and we built a custom jeep that would have been comfortable on the cover of any hot rod magazine.

“It had glossy paint, striping, fender skirts, a built in console and a whip antenna. Let me put it this way: when Joe saw that jeep his eyes almost popped out. He jumped in the back seat and ordered his driver to DRIVE!

“They drove around the Academy for a couple of hours. Of course the General saw him and the next thing I knew I was back in the CO’s office. “Bill, they want to take my jeep away and put it back to the way it was.”

“Don’t let them do it”. Is that a direct order Sir? “YES”. If physical force is necessary? “Whatever it takes”.

“So at 6 AM the next morning Ron, Timmy Mulligan and I were at the motor pool in fatigues, with side arms and clubs. Ron sat on the right fender, I sat on the grill and Tim on the left fender.

“Shortly after, a dozen or so Officers and executives showed up and a Major stepped forward and said: “We’re here to take the jeep”. Ron slid down from the right fender, I slid down from the grill and Tim from the left fender. We stood spread legged, with arms folded, clubs in hand. “I’m under direct orders, I can’t let you do that Sir”. There was a long pause, and then a conference. Then they all left.

“It took a couple of hours to convince Joe to release the jeep. But for two hours a Captain and three young members of the 115th MP Company, from the smallest state in the union held West Points Best and Brightest at bay. Our Company motto was “They’ll Know We Were Here”. After that, I’m sure they did.

“Shortly after that I received my orders to Vietnam and I was assigned to the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile), at the forward headquarters in Phouc Vinh, just outside of Cambodia.

“I was there less then a month when one of my men told me I had a phone call in the Major’s office. Major Coleman. A warm, understanding man. When I entered his tin hut he glared at me and pointed to the phone.

“On the other end I heard a familiar voice: “Uncle Bill, it’s Ron, I’m here”. Ron had been assigned to the same Division, at a place called Tay Ninh…nick named Rocket City because, like Phouc Vinh it was hit so often by rocket attacks and ground probes. As a member of an IG team I was able to visit with Ron a couple of times and he was able to hitch a ride on one of the Sky Troopers choppers to visit with me.

“My last 52 days in Country I was assigned to the Network, in Saigon. Ron wanted to visit but couldn’t get a flight out and then he stumbled across an abandoned ambulance and with chewing gum, scotch tape and spit, got in running condition….and he was off down highway one to Saigon. When he got there he didn’t know what to do with the ambulance so he drove it to a hospital…turned off the motor and left the keys. We often wondered what the conversation was like, the next morning when the Commanding Officer of the hospital discovered that he was, mysteriously, one, ambulance richer then he was the day before.

“It wasn’t possible to be with the Cav’ and not see action. But with Ron there, I never worried about a break through on his flank because I knew he wouldn’t back down and if anything happened to me, he’d make sure I wasn’t left behind. He was that kind of soldier, that kind of man.

“Neither one of us was real confident that we’d make it home so when we found ourselves on a plane, in December of ‘69, headed for the states, surprise was just one of the emotions we felt.

“I always felt that every day, after that, was a gift from God. I start off my prayers each morning with the words: “Thank you for another day”.

Ron’s gift was meeting and marring his wonderful, loving and loyal wife Gail, who was with him from beginning to the very end. His daughter Tracy, who he once described to me as “the strongest person I’ve ever known”, as she soldiered through her health problems. His son-in-law, who was more like a friend then a relative and, his pride and joy: “The Boys”…. His two grandsons. I never had a conversation with Ron that didn’t include a story of there latest accomplishments and adventures…….god how he loved them.

“So there it is, a wonderful gift from God….a present of love, joy and family, unwrapped one day at a time, for over forty years. What a blessing.

“In our Division they had something we called a Body Buddy. You could designate your buddy to accompany your body home, if anything happened to you. You’d meet with the family, help with the arrangements and tell them what a hero their Son, Husband or Dad was. And in two weeks it was back to the war.

Ron, I didn’t forget our promise. Welcome home buddy…..Welcome home my Brother.”

That is a small part of my memories of Ron. He’s in my thoughts every day but especially on this Memorial Day. You, no doubt have a hero of your own, if not family, perhaps a friend or an acquaintance. Salute them today, if not at a parade with a prayer. Heroes walk among us, every day, but these heroes marched toward the sound of the guns, to keep us free. It’s a special breed of Americans and they deserve no less.

Bill Corsair was a SSG with the 115th MP Co, RING and a former decorated (Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and Combat Air Medal) member of the First Cavalry Division, Airmobile, RVN.  An actor, he is also the original voice of Hasbro’s “Talking GI Joe”, and a member of the RI Radio Hall of Fame.  


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