Honoring a hero

Evart veteran Ron Bailey receives Vietnam War medals

EVART — Ronald Bailey Sr. had to wait nearly 50 years to get the medals he earned as a young infantryman fighting in South Vietnam.

That wait came to an end on Tuesday morning in a small presentation at the Evart City Depot as U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, presented Bailey with the National Defense Service Ribbon, Vietnam Service Ribbon with two bronze service stars and the Republic of Vietnam Service Ribbon with device. Bailey also received his sharpshooter badge with rifle bar.

“Ron, you’re a patriot from a very patriotic family,” Moolenaar said. “You’ve given so much to this country and our way of life with your service in Vietnam.”

The congressman explained many service members, like Ron, returned from fighting in Vietnam and did not receive the warm welcome they deserved.

“It is important to make sure that those who served in Vietnam know we are very thankful for their service,” Moolenaar said. “Ron, you’re an American hero. You went to fight for our country and everything we believe in right there on the front lines.”

Bailey, who also celebrated his 68th birthday on Tuesday, stops short of calling himself a hero.

“All I knew was fighting,” he said before the presentation, shaking his head. “It wasn’t any picnic, neither. It was rough, but I was dedicated to serve my country.”

Attending Bailey’s medal ceremony on Tuesday were State Rep. Joel Johnson, R-Clare, and State. Sen. Darwin Booher, who also is from Evart.

Booher, who worked with Moolenaar in the state legislature for eight years, said he spoke with Bailey a few times about his medals.

“Finally, after all this time and work, Ron, you have your medals,” Booher said. “Right from the start, Ron told me it wasn’t about him — he wanted these medals for his grandchildren.

“Ron and I grew up around this area at the same time, so we all know about each other and our families,” he added. “It’s important we recognize our Vietnam veterans who weren’t appreciated like they should have been. Thank you for your service, Ron.”

Bailey, who grew up on the family farm in Sears, said it was only by chance he enlisted in the Army.

“Me and my brother had a bet that they wouldn’t take me,” he said. “Before I knew it, I was at Fort Knox in boot camp.”

It wasn’t long before Bailey had to say goodbye to his wife, Jean, and a 1-month-old son, to go to Vietnam.

“I wasn’t there but two months and saw my best buddy die in a foxhole next to me,” he said. “I did all I could to take him back to the medic, but all I could do was tell him, ‘I’ll see you in heaven.’”

During his nearly 10 months in Vietnam, Bailey said the fighting was constant, and the change of positions of the enemy became quite frustrating.

“We’d take a hill one day and clear them out of their holes and bunkers, and they’d leave,” he said. “Then, we would move on. But the very next day, they’d be right back where they were. It was a hopeless fight.”

As his time continued in Vietnam, Bailey learned his four brothers also were fighting in the country.

“They had five of us boys there,” he said with a smile. “They ended up shipping out the other guys and I was left there.”

When it came time for Bailey to leave Vietnam, he suffered a breakdown. He was quickly transferred to Japan before getting sent to a ship to come back to the states.

“I left Vietnam without any of my belongings and just never got my medals,” he explained. “It’s definitely an honor to finally get them.”

Jean said when they found out Ron was getting his medals on his birthday, it made the day even more special.

“I’ve been hearing about these medals all these years, and now he has them,” she said. “It’s one birthday he won’t forget.”