Monday, April 9, 2012
Ronnie can’t catch a break. He is a 59 year old Vietnam war veteran who, at seventeen, had to have his grandmother sign papers so that he could enlist in the military. He wanted to go fight a war against the so-called Communist menace who would, according to the Army recruiters who came to Jackson High School in 1969, “be sitting right there in your chairs, ” very shortly unless brave young men signed up to fight them. So Ronnie, who says he is very disappointed in a government who did, and still does, rush this country into wars that, as he says, “ We got no business bein’ in,” enlisted. He joined the 101st Airborne, and served a tour of duty, from 1970 to 1972, in a godforsaken country that was never a threat to us or our way of life. He saw his friends die in terrible ways, and worse. He saw things that he would not describe to me, saying, “Ain’t nobody should ever see what I saw.” It was that disenchantment with the war that led to Ronnie going AWOL (Absent Without Leave) from the military upon his return from southeast Asia, where, it should be noted, he was shot in the legs and arms, and for which he was awarded the Purple Heart. He was picked up, court-martialed and served four months in Leavenworth, Kansas, all after being shot for his trouble. He was nineteen years old. Now, as he hobbled with his cane, a constant companion, around the Butts County Memorial Park one night recently, he paused at many of the engraved names, a look of recognition on his face. He knew many of the names there, both the living and the dead. He asked me, a stranger, where he could get a ride to Atlanta. He doesn’t have a car, and Butts County does not have bus service, sadly. It was too late to take him that night but I told him that I could the following day. When I picked him up at his mother’s house in Jackson, he was chomping at the bit to leave. I asked him why, and during the long ride to the Smyrna area, he told me a little about his life. After he got out of Leavenworth, he drifted back to Atlanta and opened up an auto repair shop, specializing in foreign cars. He was fairly successful there for over twenty-five years. Then, about twelve years ago, a cylinder broke in a new hydraulic jack while he was working on a car. It fell on his back, breaking it in two places, and leaving him in a permanent state of pain. A lawsuit against the manufacturer netted him over half a million dollars but like many people who have never had a windfall, he did not invest wisely and it has mostly disappeared. He had come from Atlanta to visit his 82 year old mom. His sister and her boyfriend were also staying in the big house that she lives in here in town. Then Ronnie caught them taking the hinges off of his door to get to his pain medication, and in the aftermath, the boyfriend destroyed all of Ronnie’s clothing, he decided that he had had enough. He needed a ride back to the motel he lives in up north. It was the least I could do for a guy who got shot for his country. He deserves better.