Remembering sacrifice of young Marine from area

During the mid-1960s a lot of events were happening on the world stage.

The looming Vietnam Conflict was receiving all the national attention and was getting ready to ignite and involve the United States in a bloody conflict.

But something else was happening on the other side of the world far away in the Caribbean Sea that didn’t grab a lot of headlines.Uncle Sam’s military was involved as well and produced casualties.

I was reminded of it recently when Vietnam veteran Gary Wright told me at the Anna Arts Center recognition dinner for veterans that he was a pall bearer at a funeral of a casualty of that conflict. He, along with six other Cobden High School buddies, carried the coffin to its final resting place at Alto Pass Cemetery.

I was there in the Navy then and didn’t realize anyone else from the Southern Illinois area was involved.

But, Ronald D. Fuller of Anna, a 20-year-old Marine was killed in the Domincan Republic crisis then by a sniper’s bullet.

I was a member of Commander Amphibious Squadron 12, a naval task force led by a helicopter landing air craft carrier that led a squadron of several amphibious ships that launched Marines to any trouble spot in either the Caribbean or Mediterranean Seas.

The year was 1965 and the previous year our task force had been involved in the Panama Canal Zone  in a crisis involving American students in the desecration of the Panamanian flag. American businesses were being torched and rumors abounded that communists were behind the plot and the U.S. military was called in to help quell the disturbance. We lost 4 military men and had 17 injuries in the melee before cooler minds prevailed.

The U.S. military got involved in the Santo Domingo crisis when forces loyal to the government fought with Constitututionalists, who were alleged to have ties to communist. At the time, Uncle Sam did not want another communist Cuba so close to the America shores so President Lyndon Johnson sent in the troops to quell the disturbance.

In Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, our task force anchored in the harbor and sent helicopters into the trouble spots to evacuate civilians. I remember one casualty from our ship when an officer was killed on a helicopter on the way to the American embassy.

We were one ship of a flotilla of 41 American ships blockading the island. An invasion from the ships was launched by Marines and elements of the Army. Also, several Special Forces soldiers were deployed to protect American lives and property.

The rebels didn’t have much of a chance, but they did manage to capture a freighter tied to the docks early in the crisis. We observed through bincoulars them wheeling heavy weapons as well as carrying sand bags aboard the freighter in an apparent attempt to run through the naval blockade.

I can remember the excitement on board our ship as gun crews got ready in anticipation for possibly the first ship-to-ship conflict for the United States since World War II.

If the freighter would have made it out in the harbor, it wouldn’t have been much of a fight. Every heavy gun on the ships surrounding the harbor in the task force was aimed its direction.

However, late in the afternoon when the ship finally made its move away from the dock, it made a fatal mistake and opened fire on an American army unit on the shore.

Apparently, the army unit had some heavy firepower with them because we watched as several rounds hit the freighter and it erupted in flames. The rebels could be observed abandoning ship and it was over in just a matter of minutes.

Uncle Sam’s boys quieted down the turmoil in a short time. But, we still remained on blockade duty for several more weeks and no other attempt was made by any ship to leave or enter the port.

The United States military forces lost 44 Americans and had 283 injured before it was over.

Ronald D. Fuller became one of those 44 casualties. One American life is a huge price to pay in any part of the world no matter what the circumstance. In this case,  Ronald became one of those whose life was snuffed out doing what military men do, answer their countries’ call.

Ronald was a medical corpsman with the Marines.

One of his best friends, Larry Camden, was quoted in a newspaper obituary about him at the time.

“He just got back from South Vietnam and had been in the Cuban (missile) crisis, and I’m just sorry that he had to go, but we had to send boys to the Domincan Republic,” he said. “We’ve been buddies a long time. It’s still hard to believe.”

Ronald is gone but not forgotten by a grateful nation for paying the ultimate sacrifice.

Rep. Kenneth Gray of West Frankfort also made a comment on Ronald in the obituary.

“It is difficult to understand why we must sacrifice our own blood, but in order to preserve our freedom and democratic way of life, Communism must be halted when it rears its ugly head.”


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