My brother, second lieutenant Ronald Thomas Stetter, is on the Vietnam Wall. I was 10 years old when my 21-year-old brother was killed. The day we were informed that Ron was missing, I remember settling down to watch my favorite Friday-night TV show, The Wild, Wild West. It was early spring, warm for Buffalo. The doors were open, and my dog started to bark. I climbed upstairs, and, out of the screen door, I saw an Army officer stepping out of the car. I knew immediately what was about to occur. I will never forget the look on that officer’s face. We were told that Ron was “missing in action since April 28, 1968.” A few weeks later, on Mother’s Day, we were told that Ron had been killed. It was the only day in my life that I was glad our mother was dead. (We had lost her to breast cancer eight years earlier.)
At the funeral, our brother Charlie, in full uniform — he had been drafted a few months earlier — handed the folded flag that covered our brother’s casket to our father. Something broke in our fragile little family that day. Ron was the oldest, and, with our mother gone, he was my default caregiver. When the babysitters my father would hire couldn’t get me to take my nap, eat, or do pretty much anything else, they would call on Ron. He would laugh his infectious laugh, and I would always get my way.
When I became a little older, age four, I (and the rest of the world’s female population) had a crush on Paul McCartney. One day, Ron came home from high school with a bunch of friends and told me the biggest surprise in the world was waiting for me — McCartney was in our home to see me! The next day, my classmates leered at me with envy because I bragged to everyone that I kissed Paul McCartney. A few years later, when I watched “Paul McCartney” walk the stage with my brother at his high school graduation, I began to second guess his identity.
Ron was an Eagle Scout and a straight-A student. His immediate goals were to serve two tours in Vietnam, then finish his college degree at West Point. His ultimate goal was to become the youngest member of the Army’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ron was so sure of himself. When he quit school to join the Army, my father was livid. That night, friends took Dad out to break the news to him. He returned home roaring drunk, taking his anger out on the living room coffee table — with an ax, in the snow.
On Ron’s last visit home, he was so proud of his new rank. Dad was still livid, and his last words to his oldest son were, “There’s nothing dumber than a second lieutenant.” Those words my father regretted until the day he died.
Ron was killed during the Tet Offensive in the A Shau Valley in South Vietnam on April 25, 1968.
His entry on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Web site reads:
2LT - O1 - Army - Reserve
101st ABN Div
Length of service 2 years
His tour began on Mar 2, 1968
Casualty was on Apr 25, 1968
In, SOUTH VIETNAM
HOSTILE, GROUND CASUALTY
GUN, SMALL ARMS FIRE
Body was recovered
Rest in peace, big brother.