One of the things I enjoy most traveling through the Midwest doing military exhibits is you never know who you will meet. Last year while we were in Iowa, I had the privilege of meeting Ronald Soppe, who was an Army combat medic in Vietnam. Ronald was looking at a book while in our exhibit, striking up a conversation with him I learned the list in the book was all the men he provided care to while in Vietnam. He had come to the wall to see if the men on the list were listed on the wall. In short he was there to see if they hade survived.
Ron had explained the hard cover book was his diary, but he never had it published. Some years ago at a unit reunion his diary went missing and he thought he had lost it.
Ron returned to the next reunion two years later and the “thief” fessed up and retuned the diary along with a “butt load of damn books.” The “thief” was one of the names on Ron’s list and became wealthy after Vietnam and published his diary as a way to say thank you. Now I, being a historian, never let an opportunity to learn more go by, so I asked if I could borrow the book to read and would return it at the walls closing ceremony.
Over the next couple of days I learned some amazing things about Ron. He was a hero hiding among us. Ron was a recipient of the Army Distinguished Service Cross and three Purple Hearts. That was not the amazing thing though, what was amazing was no one knew. Ron returned home after Vietnam and went back to civilian life and put those entire things behind him.
Over the week, we read the book and had it out on a table. People started asking about the book and making statements like “Ron is my neighbor, I never knew,” “I knew he was a medic but thought he never saw action in the field,” and so on. By the end of the week Ron’s diary was the most sought after item in the tent. Guests would see it and bring other people back to show and say, “ See, I told you!” When Ron returned he had 25 of “those damned books” to give to his friends and family. I am honored that he let me keep the one because I could not finish reading it in Iowa. I asked Ron for a favor, if he could sign my copy. Ron agreed with one condition, that I did not tell anybody.
Ron served in the 25th Infantry Division from March 1968 to February 1969. Ron provided care to 48 wounded men in combat where he was wounded three times while caring for others. Ron, as a Specialist Fifth Class, received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second highest decoration from General Abrams. In March of 1969 he returned home and continued with life like nothing happed.
I share this story with you not because of what he did in Vietnam, but because of the humility Ron lives his life with after Vietnam. In a world where so many strive for celebrity at any price perhaps we should be more humble like Ron.