More than 100 veterans and community members gathered at Wilson Middle School in Moline on Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and honor the Vietnam veterans, specifically Capt. Ronald Ross and his family.
Capt. Ross, who was promoted to captain posthumously, was killed in action on Oct. 31, 1969, when he was hit by shrapnel from a B-40 rocket. He passed away in Capt. William Albracht's arms.
Capt. Ross, from Muskego, Wis., left behind his wife, the former Trisha Leigh Edwards, and a son, John Ross.
On Saturday, Mr. Ross and his family journeyed to Moline from Stout, Iowa, for the ceremony. He was presented a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol Building, as well as a shadowbox filled with a number of military awards his father had earned, including the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with a Bronze Service Star, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon with Device, and a Sharpshooter Badge with Rifle Bar.
Mr. Ross said he was "extremely grateful" for those who had organized the ceremony.
"On behalf of my family and myself, I want to say thank you for making this day a day that will always be remembered as something special," he said.
The event was organized by Lt. Gen. Mick Bednarek, the commanding general of First Army, and the office of U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona.
Among the speakers Saturday were Lt. Gen. Bednarek; Rep. Schilling; Capt. Albracht, who was the ground commander at Firebase Kate, where Capt. Ross was killed; retired Lt. Col. Ken Donovan, who was the last supply pilot into Firebase Kate, and U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Mount Vernon.
Lt. Gen. Bednarek told Mr. Ross and the crowd that his father was being recognized "for what he did and what he represents, not only in our Army and our services but across our nation."
He said there is a special title for those families who have lost a loved one in defense of the nation. "We refer to them as the Gold Star families," Lt. Gen. Bednarek said. Mr. Ross and his family, "You are in that very small but so important fraternity," he said.
During the emotional ceremony, the speakers told stories about Capt. Ross' life, and stories of how he was killed. Capt. Albracht gave a recall of that day, explaining that the two were readying to check the perimeter of their area when rockets began to fall.
"I saw it coming. It was a B-40 rocket," he told the crowd.
The room was silent.
He explained that he saw the tail of it coming over his shoulder. It quickly fell and exploded. Capt. Ross was hit. The two were thrown down.
"He did die in my arms," Capt. Albracht said.
Rep. Schilling told the crowd that as this year marks the 50th anniversary of America's involvement in Vietnam, it was "just" and "fitting" that the group gathered to honor the memory of all of the Vietnam veterans, Capt. Ross especially.
"Those who served the cause of freedom in Vietnam deserve not only the undying gratitude of this nation for their service in an unpopular war, but also the recognition for the dedicated citizens that they still are," he said.
Rep. Loebsack said as a nation, "We simply did not recognize those veterans" for years. Not at the time of the war, "and not very much since as well."
But over the last decade or so, he has seen the nation "mature." Finally, the nation has "begun to appreciate what our Vietnam veterans did for us," after several conflicts including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said many Vietnam veterans might feel bitterness, anger and resentment. He said he, too, would feel the same. "But we're getting there," Rep. Loebsack told the crowd.
"I think we've come a long ways," he said, "but we have a long ways to go."