Remembering Ron

 

My brother, Ron Palmer, passed away on October 21st of last year. I have so many sweet memories of him and our time growing up together on the Palmer farm.

Ron seemed to always look at the good in people. He was loyal & respectful. He never spoke a bad word about anyone and always said something positive when others were criticizing someone.

Ron was always ready for an adventure. When we were kids, he and Bob built a mighty fine tree house out in the north pasture out of old wood scavenged from around the farm. They also took an old soapbox car that originally belonged to our Uncle Ralph, and got it running again. It was fun pushing each other up and down hill in it. He also helped us make clodhoppers out of coffee cans and baling twine.

Ron was the one who got us into acorn wars. He and Bob made slingshots out of oak tree branches, stripped off the bark, and then cut strips of rubber from old inner tubes to make the slingshots. The acorns were in abundance from the white oak trees, so we had acorn wars. Ron was a tough opponent –very accurate with that slingshot. We played for quite some time until he got me with an acorn right on the cheekbone. It raised a heck of a bump and gave me a black eye. Dad yelled. “Someone’s gonna lose an eye!” and he took the slingshots away. That was the end of acorn wars.

Ron didn’t get into a lot of trouble when he was young, but he did have some challenges. He was allergic to strawberries, and got hives several times. He also burned his right arm pretty severely once. Mom was canning and he bumped the boiling pickles which spilled all over him. We wrapped his arm in wet towels and packed it with ice and it recovered well.

We did get in big trouble once when Mom and Dad were at work. We were all in the house after supper and the boys were done with barn chores. We experimented with food coloring and paraffin wax, melting it on the stove, but it caught fire. Ron grabbed the pan and tried to throw it in the sink, but it was hot and burned his hand. He dropped the pan and wax sprayed onto the kitchen curtains on the right side of the sink catching them on fire. Then he turned the water on and it splashed more wax and flame onto the curtains on the left side of the sink.  We were all screaming and panicking at that point. By the time we got the fire out, there was water everywhere, ceiling tiles were stained black from the smoke, and just a foot of fabric remained hanging at the top by the curtain rods. So, we were punished with no dessert for two weeks, and Mom got new curtains.

I found out years later that Bob, Ron, and Chuck used to steal the cigarette butts from Dad’s ashtray. They’d got out behind the barn and smoke. They never told me about it because they said I would have told on them. They’re right, I would have.

Ron was curious about how things worked. If there was a tractor or some piece of equipment that broke down, he was right there to check it out and always came back greasy. For his 16th birthday, he got a watch from Mom and Dad. They warned him about over-winding it and breaking it. He never did that – instead he took it apart to see how it worked. There were little parts everywhere. But he couldn’t remember how to put it back together. (I guess that’s why none of the rest of us got a watch after that).

Ron was a bit quirky when he was young. He ate bugs—crickets, angle worms, beetles— He said they were good, but it was gross to me, but he said that he heard people in other countries ate bugs, so he thought he’d try it.

Ron was really strong. Both he and Bob were broad-shouldered and worked on the Palmer farm. Tossing hay bales onto the hay wagon helped build those muscles. During high school, both the boys played football, and Bob worked on a sod farm while Ron took a job at Tally Ho as a bus boy. He washed a lot of dishes and did a very good job. One eventful situation was the day Ron dropped a two-gallon jar of mustard and it shattered everywhere. Mom, who was his boss at the restaurant, was quite mad because it ruined his white pants and was a heck of a mess to clean up.

When we were in high school, Grandpa sold his new house on the west end of the farm and he, Grandma, and Uncle Bill moved back into our old farmhouse. Our family had to move out because Grandma said it was just too much for all of us to be in one house again. We moved to Albertville and rented a farmhouse from Vetch’s. Later we moved a mile down the road and rented from Martin’s.

Ron and a couple of his friends tried to form a band. He bought a guitar and an amplifier and learned to play. The band practiced in the old barn on the Vetch farm. It’s a good thing there weren’t any animals around because the rock music at full volume would have had cows giving sour milk. The band did learn a few songs, but never were good enough to play anywhere.

Ron was honest, and I don’t think he’d ever told a lie just to get out of trouble. Of course, there was one time that I thought he was a bit too honest. I went with my girlfriend, Marilyn, to decorate for her parents wedding anniversary party at St. Michael’s Ballroom. A friend of hers gave us whiskey to drink and we got drunk. At home, I was throwing up when Mom and Dad came home. I said I had the flu, but Ron ratted me out. “She’s not sick, she’s drunk.” Oh boy, did I get in trouble then.

Ron and Bob saved money to buy a car together – a beautiful red and white ‘56 Chevy. It was their dream car. They were so cool driving it to school, but wouldn’t let us other kids ride along in it. We still had to take the bus.

I still remember the day Ron drove off to work one day. The Chevy was making a strange noise when he pulled out of the driveway. Not long after that, he phoned to say that it had blown a rod and was towed away. We never did see that car again.

Ron was responsible though. He bought another car to drive to work, but he didn’t have much money to spend. It was a Plymouth, a big car with wings in the back and push-button shifting. He gave us rides in it from time to time, but I learned after the first rainstorm to not ride shotgun. The car had rusted through floorboards. You could lift up the floor mats on the passenger side and there was hardly any floor there—just a frame across it and every time he hit a mud puddle, we got soaked—not just your feet either, but most of you! Sometimes, I think he sped up just a little when coming up on a puddle, maybe not, but he sure did laugh when we got wet. So it wasn’t a good choice for a car, but Ron would tell you he “got a good deal on it.”

After high school, Ron took a job with the Rail Road laying track and pounding spikes—the old-fashioned way, with a sledgehammer. I remember that summer, he was mowing the lawn with no shirt on, and wearing an old pair of cutoffs, he was tan and muscle bound. My dad said the Marines wouldn’t have to do much to make a man out of him.

Both Bob and Ron were fiercely patriotic – Right after high school, Bob joined the Army and reported first. Ron took a job in St. Cloud at Franklin Manufacturing, which made commercial refrigerators. In November 1966, he enlisted in the Marine Corp Reserves, later he changed from the reserves to four years active duty. He had to undergo surgery before going in, but he was determined to serve his country.

Ron was proud to be following in Dad and Grandpa’s footsteps as a Marine in the infantry. He left for basic training at Camp Pendleton, where he quickly qualified on the range for handgun and M14, received Rifleman Qualification, and was promoted to Private First Class.

In July 1967, his Marine unit shipped out to the Pacific where he received special training before going to Vietnam. He arrived at DaNang and participated in Operation Liberty in defense of the northern border at Phu Bai RVN (just south of the central city of Hue)

In September 1967, he was wounded the first time by shrapnel wound to his left hand.

By this time, he had qualified on the M16 and M60 and then participated in Operation Cove near Thura Thien, close to the DMZ at the Vietnamese border.

In December 1967, near Quang Tri, while riding in truck, he received sustained a fragmentation wound to the lower back from a ricochet round while riding in a truck. (It was a friendly fire ricochet).

He was patched up again and returned to service in Operation Scotland in defense of Khe Sanh. The 26th marines were assigned to defend hill 558. Khe Sahn was nothing more than a desert mountain. The enemy was in caves and hiding within the jungle bushes. The Marines were ordered to take the mountain, but they were pinned down half way up. So our government bombed the mountain with a defoliant to burn off the leaves and foliage. Unfortunately, this “agent orange” severely affected both the Vietnamese and our troops for years to come.

In late January, 1968 Ron’s Company F, 3rd Marine Division continued to patrol near Quang Tri. The base was hit by Vietcong mortar and rocket fire as part of the Tet Offensive. Ron was wounded again by enemy explosive device, receiving a fragment wound to his right leg.

Ron usually didn’t talk about the war, but he told one story that I will never forget. He said he and a few other GIs were on patrol and were caught by some Viet Kong. They took them to a camp area and took their clothes and boots, leaving them wearing nothing but their under shorts. They managed to sneak off and escape when the guards fell asleep, but had to run through the jungle in their bare feet. He said they were all glad when they got back to the Marine camp, but felt silly coming in wearing nothing but their underwear and dog tags. Worse for them all, though, was the trench foot they got after that. He said he felt lucky that they did escape and didn’t end up as a prisoner of war because those guys weren’t treated very well.

Ron received the National Defense Service Medal, The Vietnam Service Medal, and Vietnam Campaign Medal. Ron was wounded three times while serving in Vietnam, twice from shrapnel from enemy fire and once from friendly fire. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Gold Star.

In March 1968, he was on his way back to the USN hospital in Philadelphia. Eight months later, he was identified as disabled and released from active duty, but it was several years before he received his honorable discharge.

Ron was a warrior, strong in his convictions to defend his county, but the war changed Ron. None of us expected the change in him from the Vietnam War, but there was no doubt he was different. Jumpy and sullen at times. The military blamed it on “shell shock” which was later called PTSD. That was part of it, but not all of it. Later we learned that defoliant which our own government sprayed –that Agent Orange— caused tremendous permanent damage to our troops. Cancer, lung issues like COPD, and nerve damage, to name a few. This was for anyone the chemical was sprayed over, in addition to those handling it. There is no doubt that it was a pathetic decision and use which caused permanent disability, death, and birth defects to the enemy and to our own troops. Worse also, was the government’s denial of medical and disability claims for our soldiers for years afterwards.

Ron came home a changed man—a different person than the one who left. Even though he didn’t die in Vietnam, he gave his life for his country. There’s no doubt about that, but I am so very glad that he stayed the same sweet person he always was. Many of our veterans returned angry, aggressive, and abusive. Some turned to drugs or alcohol to try to drown out the past, but Ron stayed straight and strong even though it totally affected his life.

Ron took courses in landscape design at Anoka Technical and worked at a nursery. I swear he knew the common and technical names of every plant and tree around. Later he took a manufacturing job at Thermo-serve in Anoka because it paid better and wasn’t seasonal. It was there that he met Kathy Skogman. The two became inseparable, and married December 5, 1970. They rented an apartment in the basement of a house in Anoka for a while. Their son, Michael Shawn was born March 29, 1972 and life was going pretty well for them, so they bought a cabin on Lake Fremont near Zimmerman, but after the diagnosis of PTSD and Agent Orange, the marriage broke up and Kathy and Michael moved away.

The doctors at the VA were predicting a very bleak future for Ron. They said his lungs and heart would struggle and fail and the degenerative nerve disorder would affect the rest of his life until he could no longer function on his own. Ron was convinced that his son would be better off in a stable family and didn’t feel he could offer that, so he gave up his parental rights, which I feel was a very loving, self-sacrificing decision.

Ron continued to work as he could, but he spent a lot of time in the VA hospital. Several years later, he met Susan Russell and they seemed to have a lot in common. They both loved comedies and sports. From the time he was little, Ron loved to laugh,—the Three Stooges were his favorite. He, Bob, and their friend Roy DeMars used to do an imitation of the “wise guys” routine that would crack us all up.

It wasn’t long before Ron and Sue fell in love and were married June 21, 1980. Ron and Sue had something special. They loved their kitty-cats and were both big sports fans—Twins baseball, Vikings football, and hockey, whether professional or high school, and especially the playoffs and tournaments—they followed them all.

Despite all the trips to the VA hospital and the challenges of his illness, Ron and Sue were married thirty-six years. They bought a conservative one-bedroom house in north Minneapolis and made it their home. Despite the changes in north Minneapolis over the years, Ron and Sue had great neighbors and loved their neighborhood. A few years ago, a tornado passed over their area and damaged their house roof, porch, etc., but they got it fixed and continued their life together. It was a good life. A good marriage, they were faithful, respectful, and loving throughout their lives together—and they had a lot of laughs.

One day Ron told me, “I have two families now. Sue’s family treats me like I’m one of them. They’re really nice people and I love them all.”

Ron valued his friendships and his family. He loved and respected everyone. Despite COPD, aspirated pneumonia, central nervous system and other health issues and restrictions, he remained in good spirits throughout his lifetime. He worked when he could, volunteered at Salvation Army, and attended many seminars and training at the VA, and made the best of his life.

Ron was fiercely patriotic, a kind, gentle, person, with a passion for life. He put his life on the line for his country, but the war, PTSD, and Agent Orange changed his life into something very different. It affected his health, his marriage, and his whole life in every way. He spent countless weeks at the VA hospital in a constant battle against the illness that haunted him. The VA doctors tried shock treatments, and experimental medication over the years to try and resolve the issues—nothing worked. But despite it all, he kept a positive attitude. He said he was a lucky man because he was one of the GI’s that came home. He always remembered his fellow classmate, Jim Pepper, who died in Vietnam in September 1967. They had most of their classes together all through high school. Ron said he was a friend,  and a good man, who didn’t have to die.

Ron was a man of gentle strength. He made the best of every day and every situation, happy despite the trials he faced. He looked at the bright side and saw the good in people. I don’t remember him bad-mouthing anyone—ever. He could have been bitter, angry and questioned “why me”, but he never did that.

He was a faithful, respectful husband, always praising Sue whom he said was, “one of the best things that ever happened to me.” There is no doubt in my mind that the world would be a lot better place if there were more men like Ron in it. I certainly miss his positive spirit and his phone calls. It was always fun to talk with him. Especially, some of the recordings he would leave. “Hey, Sue, no one’s answering, hello, hello. Nope, they’re not there. What should I do, Sue, leave a message, or what?” She’d say yes, and he’d hang-up anyway. Or she’d say, “You can call back.” Sometimes he’d just sit there, breathe, and wait. It was so sweet. But our conversations were always good. We’d talk about whatever was going on in his life, yard work, the weather, sports, etc. Just simple conversations. He’d always call me several times a year to talk about his son, Michael, especially at the start of school, at Christmas, and on Michael’s birthday each year. He always wondered how Michael was doing, but said he knew he was well taken care of because Kathy was a good person. He said he just wished he knew if he had a good life, and I’d tell him each time that I was sure that he did.

God blessed us with Ron. He was a good brother and a good son, a patriot, sports enthusiast. He was funny, and a generous loving father to a son he chose to never see again to give him a stable home. God brought him back to us after the war and kept him with us for many more years than the military predicted. God gave him a positive attitude and kept him decent, respectful, kind and loving for all the years he was here. Even though we miss Ron dearly, I know for certain that Ron knew the Lord. We talked about it several times, and for that, we know with all certainty that he is with the other family of believers in heaven. We’ll see him again. For now, his memory is always with us.

We love you Ron. Save a place for me, I’ll be coming too.

 

2 Timothy 4:7-8  I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me, the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day.

 

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