Remembering Ronny Dale Bair
(August 21, 1949 to July 31, 1987)
I first met Ron early in 1970 under unusual circumstances at 981st MP Sentry Dog Headquarters in Cam Ranh Bay (CRB), Vietnam. As I recall there was at that time enemy activity country-wide as part of the Tet lunar new year holiday offensive. Everyone had to fill sandbags during the day, and then at night we were banded together and dispersed onto the sand between two of the barracks buildings. We stayed there all night. There was no moon and it was pitch black. We heard booming fire-power all night long but it was at a distance and we sustained no injuries. Somebody near me started talking and it soon became apparent that he was talking to me. I couldn’t see him and I didn’t recognize his voice. I was concerned about the enemy fire and uncomfortable in the dark and remember wishing whomever it was would just shut up. I guess he eventually did and the next morning I saw who had been speaking. It was of course Ron but I did not know this. He had just joined our unit. He had recognized me because I was the Company Clerk but I had no idea who he was at that time.
We quickly became good friends.
He had come from sentry dog training school in Okinawa. I don’t recall him having sentry duty once he came to Vietnam. I do know he worked at the kennels, which were located about a mile from where the barracks were. He and I were also on the same schedule, which meant that we both worked during the day and slept at night, whereas the dog handlers worked nights and slept during the day. I do not recall his dog at all — which now leads me to believe that he did not come from Okinawa with a dog.
As we became friends Ron and I talked about ourselves and our backgrounds. He talked about his home in New Philadelphia, Ohio, mentioned his parents, his brother and sisters, and that his father (Dale) was a musician. I was interested in this last point and Ron explained that his father was part of a band. I’d never before known anyone who did that so it was fun to hear him speak about how his father used his music to entertain others. Ron also told me that his girlfriend at the time was Ruth Mae Fockler, and I knew that they corresponded. Letters sent by mail in 1970 were our lifeblood, as hard as that is to imagine today.
Ron was a lot of fun to be with — outgoing and positive — and was a very good sport. In order to let off steam and keep my sanity I would jokingly try out funny routines with him. One was a holiday TV “commercial,” and involved his name: “Moms and dads, this Christmas give your little girl a genuine Ronny Bear. He’s furry, he’s fuzzy, and he’s full of fun! Don’t be disappointed this holiday season — reserve your Ronny Bear TODAY!” Turns out he thought this nonsense was hilarious, and so we had a good laugh over it.
We also helped each other study to go before the examination board for promotion to sergeant. He became eligible for promotion in July or June, and I in September. I helped him review MP- and dog-related subjects and he passed his board exam and was promoted to SGT E-5. He later helped me study for my exam and told me a foolproof way of doing an about-face while walking forward, without stumbling over my feet. It worked like a charm every time and was impressive in front of the board. I became SGT E-5 in September.
For relaxation we went to local bars, especially when they had live bands (usually Philippino) performing. We could have either weak mixed drinks or canned beer or soda — the canned stuff often tasting of rusted metal due to the heat and the humidity of Vietnam. Things like cookies, crackers, and candy, by the way, usually were sold at the PX in tins to prevent spoilage from vermin. M&Ms for some reason were the only candies sold in bags, and as a result the bags often had mouse or insect holes in them no matter where we stored them.
At around the time I got promoted, Ron was selected to be the team leader and sergeant in charge of the 981st’s Phan Rang outpost. It was the outpost closest to CRB but it was still a potentially dangerous trip by jeep. He was unusual in that he knew how to conduct himself with both superiors and subordinates. Everybody liked him and that worked to his advantage with his superiors and in motivating those in his charge. Although he would return to CRB a couple of times before I went home in January, we did not see much of each other once he moved to Phan Rang. Phone communication was reserved only for military business and was at best sporadic and prone to disconnection. I stayed the whole time in CRB, and if Ron had been there too we certainly would have kept in touch after we left the Army. The day before I left for home, Warren Dodge, one of Ron’s friends from Phan Rang, came to CRB on business of some sort and he told me that Ron “says goodbye and wishes you well.” That was the last I ever heard from Ron and if I had it all to do over again I would have moved heaven and earth to keep in touch with him.
In addition to Warren and myself, Ron was close to Terry Gawel, who is from Michigan. He and Ron used to play basketball together and sometimes wrestled. Terry eventually moved up to An Khe and Tuy Hoa, and was a veterinary technician (vet tech). I remember too that Ron walked on the balls of his feet, the way a high school athlete might have done. (Many years later his eldest son Jeff verified this as soon as I mentioned it to him, and also told me his father liked to imitate Cleveland Browns announcers while practicing football moves with his young sons.)
After I left the Army, it was in the late 1970s that I thought I’d like to contact Ron. Grand Central Station as well as my local library in NJ had scores of phone books from all over the US. I found a current one for New Philadelphia but when I looked, there was no listing for him. I felt frustrated and did not try again until the advent of the internet, when things like that became simpler. I tried online phone books but with no luck. Eventually the thought occurred to me that as unlikely as it seemed, he may no longer have been alive. I looked up his name in the New England Death Index, a user-friendly database that recorded deaths as part of Social Security data. That’s where I found his name in 2005.
Ron had died in the summer of 1987, just short of his 38th birthday. I was in shock. It was almost better not to know at all than to know this. Ron, I am sorry I didn’t keep in touch with you back then and wasn’t able to locate you while you were still alive. Things might have turned out differently if I had. I think of you even now forty-some years after we first heard each other speak on that pitch black night in Vietnam, miss you more than I can say, and hope you are finally at peace.
Submitted by Steve Dragovich, Company Clerk, 981st, 70/71.
Sent from my iPad