In mid 2001, I decided to look up Ronald Wayne Forrester's name on thevirtualwall.org, to see if any comments had been left about him. As there is virtually no personal information on him given with his bio, I was ecstatic to see a couple of posts written by people who had personally known Forrester. One of the guys, Mr. Robert Routh, has corresponded with me and kindly shared his memories of Forrester. He and another man, Mr. David Richardson, had known Forrester since Junior High, and the stories Mr. Routh has shared makes me wish I had known Forrester myself. Below is a compilation of the e-mails Mr. Routh has sent me. I thank you, Mr. Routh, for sharing this information with me, thus allowing me and others the chance to really know Ron.
Ron Forrester was my best friend. I don't know how or when this happened. He, David, and I, along with about 10-12 of our friends, were members in high school of a Hi-Y (WMCA sponsored) club. It seems to me I knew Ron forever. He adored my family and we him. My sisters both had a crush on him. My mother and Ron were fast friends. When I went into the Air Force my mother missed me terribly so Ron would come by to see her to cheer her up and in no time at all he'd have her laughing hysterically.
Ron Forrester was ever so much more than name, rank, serial number and date he disappeared. He was someone's brother, twin, son, ex-husband, father, best friend. He was the finest person I've ever met. He didn't have a mean bone in his body. He even had to teach himself to pull rank when his crew chief was messing around and not doing his job!
You know how Reader's Digest has a section "The Most Unforgettable Character I Ever Met"? Ron would be that character for me ... What was he like? Simply the strongest (character-wise) of anyone I have ever known. If there was anyone who could have survived Vietnam on pure strength of character, Ron was the guy. He was a boy (and man) of duty. I thought he painted himself into corners because he would give his word to do horrendously difficult things and Ron never took back his word. He wanted to go into the Air Force but went into the Marines instead because he had promised them he would (he was under no legal obligation to do so) while in The Corps at Texas A&M. He was a 130 lb tight end (might've been wide receiver but I think it was tight end) on our football team and took a lot of pounding on a frame that never would've let him be a really good football player. He had lots of guts and that was how he stayed in the game. He wouldn't quit.
My dad was a bit of a grump but Ron just baited him unmercifully. Ron was an Aggie, of course, so he had to pull all the hazing and Aggie stuff on us. I have a picture of him hazing my sister Sandra, with him in his Corps uniform (he was married in his Corps uniform). He had a tiny bugle and would play Reveille when my Dad was napping (Dad had sleep apnea and never got enough sleep). Ron was my best man. He saw how nervous I was and he said he was going to sing the Aggie War Hymn and french-kiss the bride! He might've done it, too. He was famous for pranks on his friends at their weddings. He and Don kidnapped my new wife and were going to let her off with a dime at a drive-in joint in South Odessa but they relented. My ex-wife was not mad. She adored Ron, too.
Ron eventually paid for his marriage pranks. When he and Janna were about to get married (it might've been after their wedding?) some of his Aggie friends took him out to the country between Odessa and Crane, stripped him to his underwear, and LEFT HIM! The Highway Patrol picked him up and brought him back to town! He wouldn't tell the troopers who'd done it to him.
Ron was not a big fellow. He was lean to the point of being almost skinny. Maybe 5'9". He had sandy blondish or very light brown hair and kind of a hawkish nose. Other than that he had something of a baby face. I believe he had light blue eyes but it's been a long time. My sisters told me he was handsome. Other girls seemed to think so, too. He was always calm. I don't believe I ever saw him angry. Well, maybe at Don sometimes.
Ron was a twin. I don't know if you've discovered it but he and Don were identical twins. They were both injured in middle school when someone brought a blasting cap, not knowing what it was, and the twins, Mike Swinney, and the doofus teacher hooked it up to a battery. Mike's right index finger was blown off at the last knuckle (tip). The twins had scars on their hands. I believe Ron's were the worst--that's how some people who didn't know them could tell them apart. Twins couldn't have been more different than those two! Ron was into everything, never knew a stranger, had boundless self-confidence. Don was quiet and shy and diffident. I think Don may be a social worker now. At least a helping professional of some sort. He came to my Dad's funeral and I was so glad to see him (and so very sad because he looks so much like Ron!)
Ron married a girl named Jana. She and Ron were divorced shortly before he went to Vietnam. They had a daughter, Karoni, who's about 28-30 now I guess. I met her once because I had seen her name in the paper and wrote to commend her for keeping active in the MIA program when she'd never really known her father. She called me about the time she was graduating to tell me how sad she was that her father couldn't be there to share it with her and asked me to tell her about him. I told her he'd adored her and would have been so proud! I told her what a fine person he was and how much fun/how funny he was. We went to lunch together with my own daughter, who's now 26.
Karoni Forrester wrote again after I put the remembrance on the Virtual Web but I've lost track of her again now. My mother used to keep track of Ron's family because she was still in Odessa, TX, where we're all from. However, she died in 1999.
I miss Ron Forrester every day of my life. He was one of the few rocks in my life. He was the kind of anchor everyone not as strong could attach to. The day before Ron was to leave he came to see me at my mother's house (I was out of the Air Force and in college by then). I knew I would never see him again. I could feel it in the air and I could tell he felt it, too. Neither of us really knew what to say. Finally I said I loved him and that he was the closest thing to a brother I'd ever have. He said not to worry because he was at peace with what might happen and he was ready to die, if necessary.
The Vietnam War
Bless your heart! I am so glad there are people your age who care what happened to those of us who went to Vietnam for their senior trips. I still have difficulty forgiving the war protesters who threw things at us and called us baby killers, no matter what a stupid mistake the war turned out to be. Sometimes when they are ballyhooing Desert Storm veterans (who do deserve it, don't misunderstand) I cry because my generation had to sneak back into the country, after great and courageous service, like thieves in the night. When our bus pulled out of Travis AFB in San Francisco, some of the creeps threw things at the bus. A whole generation was wasted and yet our own fellow boomers blamed those who served, called them baby-killers and tried to undermine everyone in the military. What a waste and a shame. I still have no use for the Tom Hayden's and Jane Fonda's and Joan Baez's.
I went to our 35th high school reunion last year. I enjoyed myself but Ron's ex-girlfriend was there and I was filled with sadness for him and others of our class who died for Johnson and McNamara and all the others who've died since graduation.
My father and I could not talk about Vietnam because he said Vietnam vets were a bunch of cry babies and couldn't have fought in his war. I told him that any soldier who served during his time had very long periods in rear echelon areas and then months in terrifying battles, then if they survived, the same long periods in rear echelons again. Finally they went home, to the universal adoration of the whole world. Vietnam vets were scooped up from fairly normal lives in the States, briefly (usually 6-8 weeks) trained, whisked off to Vietnam, arriving, usually, less than one full 24-hour period after starting the trip, put into hot, steamy, constantly dangerous Hell for a year or more. If they were lucky, they got a two week R&R and then shipped right back from nice safe Honolulu or Tokyo or Thailand, right back into 24-hour 7 day a week Hell. Then they were relieved of their weapons (if they survived), thrown onto airplanes and whisked back to the nice safe United States where people not only didn't thank them for their sacrifice, but they threw things at them and called them "baby killers" and blamed them for the war ... less than 24 hours after having people shooting at them. No wonder so many were so messed up. So he and I just couldn't discuss it.
Saying Good-bye, Again
When he came up missing I was not even surprised, although I was devastated, along with his whole family and mine. He disappeared in December, 1972, I believe. Nixon signed the peace accords in January of 1973. The irony of that fact just kills us, to this day.
I believed, for at least 10 years, that Ron was captive or was evading the Vietnamese. The reason I did is that I (my whole family for that matter) am somewhat psychic. I used to feel that he was standing right behind me and that all I had to do to see him was to turn around. I was frightened by that because I thought he must be dead and I feared what it would do to me to reach out. I was ashamed but frightened nevertheless (he'd have reached out to me in a microsecond!) I never actually saw him but thought many times that I felt his presence. As I said, he's the only person I've ever known who I thought capable of that kind of personal power. Finally, about 1983 or so I stopped feeling his presence on occasion and I haven't felt it since. I think he must have died. His brother Don, on the other hand, had a dream, when Ron disappeared, of a plane in flames. I told you my whole family is psychic? My sister Sandra, who might've easily married Ron if the timing had been right, said she'd felt the same presence I had. My mother said she had, too, and my grandmother dreamed that Ron had come back from Vietnam years later, entirely gray-haired, with horrible suffering etched on his face and terrible scars and she had seen him working on his car like he'd done so many times.
Ron's absence keeps me in perspective. I have had all these years he didn't have and, even though not all of them were happy, I had them. I wish he had. I hope some day there is a full accounting but I dread the day when the news announces that Ron's remains have been identified and are on their way home. As long as he is not found I do not finally, irrevocably, have to say that he is dead.
A Visit To The Wall
I can't tell you how jarring it is to see your best friend's name on the Wall. I went there for a convention and it was just electric when I put my hand on his name. Of course I got a tracing.
Another more distant friend, Ronnie Beets, has his name on the wall, too. He was a Green Beret and came back from Vietnam in a wheelchair and grievously disabled. He eventually died of his injuries. If you haven't seen the actual Wall in D.C., do so someday. You'll never forget the experience.
I'm not very political but I hope Robert McNamara gets his in Hell someday. Vietnam was a blow to our entire generation that I don't think any of us, even those who did not care either way or have relatives in Vietnam, will ever be the same as we were before.
It's interesting to share with you. So many younger people get tired of hearing us old fogeys talk about how bad we had it. Until you face a draft and induction into the military and possible shipment out to an unpopular and very dangerous war I guess it's hard to understand. Unless you have to look back at your high school year books and remember how many classmates went and never came back.
Thank you for your interest and compassion and the best of luck to you in your search.