“The Class of 57 Had Its Dreams” – So Did The Class of 1965

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My niece’s presentation was too powerful not to include as my morning blog.  She was invited by the Ector High School Reunion Committee to attend our reunion, share information about her dad and her work to support veterans and the on-going efforts to recover those who continue to be missing in action.  Though I’ve heard Karoni speak to large audiences on a number of occasions, she has never been more eloquent or more favorably received than she was last night at our banquet. I have never been prouder of her or more honored to call her niece.  Her message was too compelling not to share.

“Howdy!!

It’s wonderful to be here with the Ector High School Class of ’65 tonight!  I’ve heard about many of you for a long time.   The planning committee has been working long and hard on this weekend’s events. There has been no doubt in my mind this weekend was going to be something special.  A big THANK YOU for inviting us.  It is an honor for my daughter Lilian and I to join you all this weekend as you celebrate 50 years as a graduate, rekindle old friendships and share memories and laughter.

I assume most of you remember the Forrester twins – Ronnie and Donnie.  I belong to them. I am Karoni Forrester, proud daughter of Capt Ron Forrester, USMC, Ector High School Class of ’65, MIA in Vietnam since 12/27/72.  I was asked to speak this evening not only because I’m Ronnie’s kid, but because of the work I do in the POW/MIA and Veterans communities – to take time tonight to honor our veterans in this room and to share with you about Daddy and his legacy.

d like to by asking all of our veterans in the room to please stand and be recognized.   WELCOME HOME.   We are SO glad that you made it back!  Thank you for your service to our country, thank you for your sacrifice and thank you for our freedom.

The silver lining for me in losing my dad in Vietnam is the opportunity I have had to know so many who served or are serving.  Those of you who have worn the uniform are some of the greatest people I know.  It is also the veterans who have helped hold up the Gold Star and POW/MIA families as we navigate through life missing our loved ones. You always offer a shoulder for us when we need it, a hug or to share a laugh.  We are not alone because of you, and I thank you forthat as well.

When I was first asked to speak tonight, and to talk about Daddy and share a bit of our family’s story, I immediately said yes.  Then I paused and asked myself, “What do you say to a room full of people who remembers someone that you don’t?”  You see, I was only two when Daddy was shot down.  I do not have memories of my own, but rather I know my father through the memories of others, through family photos and of course, through the deep love and connection I feel for him in my heart.  I love to hear stories of him, even the ones I’ve heard before.  I’ve heard new ones already from some of you in this room and look forward to more.  Every new “Ron Forrester” story is a gift to me – a piece of my dad that I didn’t have before.

Since tonight is about rekindling old friendships and reintroducing yourselves after a few years since high school, let me just summarize quickly for you who Daddy is…Ron Forrester is the son of two of the most amazing people I’ve ever known.  He is the brother of two.  He is a twin.  He is a husband.  He is a nephew.  He is a cousin.  He is a best friend.  He is an uncle.  He is a grandfather.  He is a fighting Texas Aggie!  He is a United States Marine.  He is MY father.  He is missing.

Most of you know, but for those who do not – Daddy was a Marine Corps aviator, a bombardier navigator on the esteemed A6A Intruder. He deployed to Nam Phong, Thailand in August of 1972 to a base lovingly referred to as “The Rose Garden.”  I’ve seen pictures, and trust me, there was nothing garden-esque about the place.  The aviators there were to fly over Laos and bomb strategic targets in North Vietnam.  During the Christmas bombings of 1972, that resulted in Vietnam signing the peace treaty, Daddy and his pilot Capt Jim Chipman went on a solo night mission to take out a bridge on Hwy 1.  They hit the bridge.  I’ve been told Marines don’t miss their targets.  They never returned to the Rose Garden. On the way back to base, their plane was hit with anti aircraft artillery.  There are conflicting reports about whether or not anyone got out of the plane.

Today, both my dad and Capt Chipman are Missing in Action. Needless to say, losing Daddy was devastating.  That is not what I want to share with you today… They say that when you lose someone in your life that you love dearly and they leave this physical world, they are still always with you.  I’d like to share a few examples of how I know my dad is with me.

I too grew up in Odessa, TX.  I am a graduate of Odessa High School.  Now, like most teenage girls, I was a little difficult to raise.  Just ask my uncle.   As a teenager in high school, my high school principal was Daddy’s buddy Mr. Raymond Starnes and my vice principal was Dad’s teacher and coach, Mr. Vance Horsely.  Not only that, Mr. Horsely lived just a couple of houses down from me.  I wasn’t getting away with anything!  …well, not much.  Some may call that divine intervention, but I think Ron Forrester had something to do with that!  Now is a good time to say Thank you to Mr. Starnes and Mr. Horsely for keeping me in line back then, well, as much as you could.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Southeast Asia to meet with the governments of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  It was intimidating to go to Vietnam – my entire life it had seemed like another planet and then here I was looking out the window of an airplane about to land in that foreign place.  It was surreal, overwhelming, and kinda scary.  We were met at the airport by two members of our government team who are there working our MIA cases, both of them were Texans, and one was an active duty Marine.   When we got to our hotel room, in every room of the suite,including the bathroom were yellow roses – the flower I associate with my dad.  Texans and yellow roses?  In Hanoi??  I knew Dad waswith me, and I knew I was going to be OK.

It is said that the legacy a man leaves when he is a true testament to his character.  I have a few stories that I think will shed light here. s oldest, and the impact my father had on him.  Craig and I both went to Texas A&M after high school, and Craig joined the Aggie Corps of Cadets just as Daddy had.  One day he was talking to our grandfather and His senior boots s s junior s senior of COURSE!  What an honor forsoled and shined those t wear them to get them in pristine condition for their debut.  They looked awesome when he first put them on, and Craig made sure they stayed that way, shining them daily.  Craig went on to be commissioned as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.  He served four tours of duty and just last October he retired after 20 years of service.  I think you could say Craig quite literally walked in my father’s footsteps.

I, too, have been called to action by his loss.  I joined the National League of POW / MIA Families when I was 14, have been the TX State Coordinator for them for the past 15 years, and have served on the national Board of Directors for the past 7 years.  I participate in many POW/MIA events as well as veteran’s events across the country to support a myriad of veteran’s issues.  I was involved in the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument that resides at the state capitol and have had the blessing to help other families at their point of need.  We are getting answers and MIAs are being accounted for – it’s just a very slow process.  We celebrate each answer with the families who get one. It simply has not yet been our family’s turn yet.

We will not give up hope and will continue the mission of accounting for our MIAs. What is maybe more impressive though, are those whose lives he’s touched with his absence that we had not known but we met along the way.  The stories are truly countless, so I will only share a few.

For the past seven years, I have participated in a cross-country motorcycle ride called Run For The Wall.  Our mission is to promote veterans healing, call for the fullest possible accounting of our POWs and MIAs, to honor all of our fallen and to support those currently serving.  In fact, Run For The Wall – Southern Route stops here in Odessa each year for a night on our way from LA to DC.  When you see about 500 motorcycles coming through the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, that’s who we are!  Don’t be alarmed by the bikes – it’s all veterans and patriots coming through town.

My first year on RFTW I met five different people either on the run or in communities where we stopped who were wearing Daddy’s MIA bracelet.  They didn’t know Dad, we didn’t know them, but they had been wearing his bracelet for years.  Those meetings were emotional for both myself and those wearing the bracelet, and a blessing for each of us.

A couple of years back, after returning from the Run I received a FB request an message from someone I didn’t know.  He explained that he heard me speak at Texas A&M in 1995 and had been wearing a bracelet for my dad since.  After graduating A&M he was commissioned as an officer in the Air Force and was flying C-130s.  He still is.  He shared that he had the honor of flying a repatriation mission from Hanoi to Honolulu to return remains of two of MIAs to our homeland.  It really made my heart smile to think of this pilot, bringing our men home, wearing my dad’s bracelet and making Dad a part of that mission.

s life touched many while he was with us, and continues to touch others with his absence. the veterans in this room and my t be with us tonight, I need to tell you something about the other Forrester twin.

Don Forrester is an amazing man. He has always been there for me, knowing his brother couldn’t be. He offers “gentle re-direction” as he calls it, when I’ve needed it – at times, that has been often.  He is the first person I call when I need advice. We were at church one Sunday when I was pregnant with Lilian. He pointed his finger at my huge pregnant self and told me, as he told the congregation, “My brother will not be here to be that child’sgrandfather, so I will be that child’s grandfather.”  And he is. If you ask him how many grandkids he has, he will answer four.  He never leaves her out. Lilian knows Uncle Don as Granddad.  She also knows all about Grandpa Ronnie and attends events across the country with me, even riding motorcycles in Run For The Wall.  But she doesn’t have a void in her life because of my Dad’s absence. Because of Don, she has a granddad and gets to experience the relationship and love you get from a grandpa.

The Forrester twins: Ronnie and Donnie.  You may remember them as the twins working in the ice cream shop, or racing around town on a scooter, or trying to blow up their elementary school with a dynamite cap that they though was an electromagnet.  They are my heroes and I am beyond blessed that I belong to them.

Thank you Ector Eagles Class of ’65!  I wish you an amazing reunion weekend and thank you again for including us and for the opportunity to share with you tonight.  May God Bless each of you”.

My niece was right. It was an amazing reunion weekend and she helped make it so.

All My Best!

Don

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