Ron would have been 87 now, but he did not reach that age. His life story came to a halt in April 1951 when he was just 21. Exactly how and why nobody knows.
Rob told me the story and stopped when the story ended. But it was really a story without an end. What makes it so excruciatingly painful is that it has no end.
His brother Ron was just twenty when, in a spurt of patriotic fervor, he joined the US Air Force. The year he wore uniform was also the year the US entered the Korean War.
During the Second World War, the allied forces liberated Korea, which had been under brutal Japanese rule for thirty-five years. The Soviet Union liberated the north, while US took over the south. The two regions had separate governments, and, as the Cold War heated, they turned hostile, each declaring the other an usurper. In June 1950 75,000 North Korean troops marched into the south and nearly brought it to heel. The UN declared it an invasion and the US entered the war to lead a multilateral force. Four months later, when US troops crossed the Yalu River in pursuit of northern soldiers, China entered the fray and the war turned vicious. Fortunes turned many times; Seoul changed hands four times. Through it all, the US conducted regular and massive bombing raids on the north.
A young recruit, Ron completed his training at Maxwell airbase with enthusiasm. He started participating in bombing raids, piloting fighter planes. He hated strafing raids; they required low-level flying and he could clearly see the people he was killing.
It was late afternoon when the assault team, the 17th Fighter-Bomber Group of 66th Squadron, met in the Suwon military airbase. Commander Dwayne Bosworth would lead and two other young pilots would fly on either side, while the youngest and rawest recruit, Ron, First Lieutenant, would bring up the rear. After the mandatory checks and the shortest briefing, the group was airborne. The sky was clear and they expected a quick arrival at the target area.
In less than two hours the group was over the target area of a military encampment seventy miles south of Pyongyang. It was still an hour from dusk and they could clearly see the camp they would hit.
The other three were flying faster F-82G Twin Mustangs. Ron was flying a well-used older plane, the single-engine fixed-wing F-51D Mustang night fighter. He was certainly the most vulnerable from anti-aircraft fire, but, given their mission, they were all vulnerable. On this occasion, there would be no suppression of anti-aircraft artillery and machine guns. These were days before precision guided weapons, and they had to fly low to hit their targets. Ron’s plane had been adjusted for a lower convergence point to reduce the risk of ground collision during a downward dive and to increase the firing time before pulling up. That and the additional armor underneath the cockpit and the engine were Ron’s only protection.
The posse returned to Suwon and reported. A file was opened showing Ron as missing. Limited efforts were made to ascertain Ron’s fate, but he had gone down in enemy territory and intelligence was slow and scant. Little information came through in the second year, and the air force authorities declared him officially dead at the end of the year and started the procedure of essentially closing his file.
A lingering issue that remained in the minds of all who knew Ron. The posse members who had the last glimpse of Ron noticed his plane did not crash. It did not burn either. Ron somehow managed to land his damaged plane slowly and carefully on the ground. They saw no more. Based on the report, subsequent US pilots went over the ground more than once. They saw neither Ron’s plane on the ground nor Ron. The North Koreans were unlikely to have any interest in an old plane, to glean technological insights, when everybody was turning to jet planes. Its swift removal was mysterious. If the North Korean army captured Ron, there were never any sightings or reports from retrieved prisoners of war. Was he able to get away from his ruined plane and the Korean soldiers out to capture him? Did he successfully escape and find refuge somewhere?
Brenda, Ron’s fiancée, took it hard, waited five years, three years after the armistice was signed in July 1953 ending the war, then moved to another town and reportedly married a school teacher twenty-one years older.
Ron’s family waited anxiously for years, hoping to get some news that could bring them closure. They still wait.