Like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle, information gleaned about my twin brother from those familiar with parts of his life that I didn’t experience are a welcomed gift.
I guess it was in the early 1990s that I met John Kitchens. Simply by happenstance, I was in West Texas and John had stopped by to visit with my folks. He and Ronnie were friends at Texas A&M. John was in town on business and he carved out the time to thoughtfully visit my folks.
When I walked into my parent’s home and met John, he looked at me and said: “So this is what Ronnie would have looked like if he were still with us.” I smiled and said, “Only if he took very good care of himself.”
I can’t recall if John’s wife Donna was also an Aggie, but they were good friends with Ronnie at Texas A&M. John was Ronnie’s go-to-person for tutorial support in some of the complicated math stuff that is totally outside any frame of reference ever remotely locked away in the left side of my brain. Okay, so truth- be-told, I don’t have much of a left-brain function. Somehow Ron managed to take his portion and mine. I still don’t think that’s fair, but I’m at least always in my right mind.
Several years ago Ralph and Terri Crow walked into church unannounced one Sunday morning. Ralph said, “You probably don’t remember me, but I was one of the groomsman in your brother’s wedding”. That Sunday’s visit proved to be the catalyst for the beginning of a great friendship. Not only were Ralph and Terri friends of Ron, but now the General and I can claim them as close friends as well. Our lives have been enriched.
A couple of years ago, I posted a Memorial Day remembrance on Facebook the day following Memorial Day. One of the responses I received from my posting caught me totally unawares. The General and I were having lunch in a quaint restaurant in Upstate New York. The kind message brought tears to my eyes. The thoughtfulness of the communication will always have a special place in my heart. The message read:
“Don, my name is Dennis Carpenter and I am one of the Marines who waited in vain on the flightline for his aircraft to return the day he was lost to us. As I stand every Memorial Day as a member of our VFW honor guard my mind will return me to that day and that flightline and they sense of loss that I feel for Ron and the other brave men our squadron lost. Rest assured that I will never forget him or the others for the rest of my life. Thank you for stepping forward on Memorial Day and speaking for your brother and for those who served with him and who knew him as a brave man and a compassionate friend. Sgt. Dennis Carpenter VMA (AW) 533 COM/NAV Night Crew”.
In the course of the past two-years, Dennis and I have exchanged many emails and telephone calls. I am now happy to call him friend.
A short time after receiving Dennis’ initial message, Robert Williams thoughtfully reached out to me. He was one of the pilots stationed at Nam Phong the same time Ron was there. Actually, he welcomed Ron to the Rose Garden and invited him to take the top bunk in the modest pod they called home. Robert and I also have subsequently become good friends.
The list of friends whose lives touch Ron’s and have subsequently touched mine include many. In response to my recent posting of my younger brother’s address to a Rolling Thunder group on their way to Washington, I received the following response from Mike Bliss:
“Thank you, Donald for posting your brother’s words. Semper Fi, Larry. I, among many others, choose to never forget. Actually, I believe I mis-spoke. It’s not that we ‘choose’ to never forget; rather it is impossible to forget”.
Of course, that was not my first communication with Mike. Last year Mike posted a Memorial Day message on Facebook. His words captured my attention. I sense they will yours as well. His posting was entitled: “Memorial Days – My Thoughts 2017”:
“Memorial Day – The word memorial… it must be related to the word memory. Some wordsmith could tell you all about the root word from which memorial and memory are derived. Not me. I just know that they are related and that’s good enough. Memories are about remembering. Memorial is about celebrating or honoring the memories. I’ve lived 65 years, so as you can imagine I have many, many memories”.
To highlight a point, he added: “Pick a name, any name of someone gone from this world…I chose Ronald Wayne Forrester. I didn’t choose his name because I was particularly close to him, but rather so I can better relate or explain or demonstrate my understanding of what Memorial Day means… At that time, Ron Forrester was an officer in the Marines, a 1st LT, and I was an enlisted Marine, a Lance Corporal. Lance Corporals and Lieutenants didn’t socialize or hang around together. We had a working relationship… I got to know Lt. Forrester as a very respectful, soft-spoken gentleman. I respected him. We never discussed personal lives, though, because of the nature of our duties and our ranks. It was always strictly business. I have learned more about his personal life in the years since”.
The affirmation that Ron is remembered as “a very respectful, soft-spoken gentleman” is a gift to his family. We remember him that way as well.
A couple of years ago, Tom Chasteen reached out to me. He and Ron were stationed at Cherry Point, NC together. Consequently, I’ve shared a phone call or two with him as well as several electronic messages.
I’ve also heard from Ron’s next-door neighbor in base housing at Cherry Point, N.C. Like the pieces of a jig saw puzzle it all falls together to more perfectly depict the essence of Ron Forrester.
In response to a recent posting, Les Adams Sr. wrote: “I worked on Capt. Forrester’s A6. I was a communication/navigation technician. We all cared about our aircrews. I’ve worn his bracelet and four others whose planes I worked on for decades. I wear them not because I took part in the “POW/MIA” thing. I lost men I personally cared about, admired. I wish he was with his wife and daughter and granddaughter. He died to free a nation from oppression. I don’t care how it turned out. I wish he was home. Find him”.
I close by sharing the words of Anne Boykin in response to this week’s posting as well. I’ve thought of Anne as my friend for so long that I sometimes fail to remember that she knew my brother first. Thanks to Anne, I have more pieces to the puzzle:
“I knew Ron as ‘Forrester’ at A&M. Most of the guys in Squadron 8, or Animal 8 as we called it, were known by their last names. The guys in Animal 8 studied hard and played harder. I was dating one of the guys in the outfit when I first met Ron. He was different, sort of shy, and very serious about his calling to be a pilot. At the end of their senior year, 1969, I married one of the guys in the outfit. Everyone went their separate ways. Three years later, we heard that Ron was MIA. To think of Animal 8 without Ron was difficult to say the least. The outfit was a well-oiled machine and a vital link was missing. A few years ago, I was looking at a piece of memorabilia I had from my days at A&M. I had looked at the Bonfire Booklet many times. But this time was different. A photo of some of the members of Animal 8 out at the cut area for Bonfire stood out. Of course! The young man on the far right, in a stance all too familiar, had to be Ron. I shared it with Karoni who agreed. She had never seen the photo and said, “That has to be my Dad! I stand the same way!” To be able to share this photo with Ron’s daughter and his family filled my heart. Ron will never be forgotten”.
I live with gratitude to all who knew Ron. I have heard from many others whose names aren’t listed. Please forgive my omission. It is not purposeful. Thanks for sharing your memories! They add to pieces of the puzzle and I sense the discover of each piece as a cherished gift.
All My Best!