• grenloch
  • Gloucester
  • July 02, 1948
  • January 25, 1970
  • Army
  • RANK:
  • SP5
  • KIA
  • South Vietnam


Ronald D. Heck was born on July 2, 1948.  His home of record is Grenloch, NJ.

He served in the US Army and attained the rank of Specialist 5 (SP5).

Heck was killed in action on January 25, 1970.

July 2, 1948-January 1, 1970
SP5, Army            Glenloch, NJ

Well, I made it.  You wouldn't believe how much it's changed around here--for the worse, I think...It took about 31 hours to get here because we stopped at Travis, Hawaii, Wake Island and Guam.  I tried to call you from Honolulu but nobody was home.  Hawaii is really beautiful.  The flight over was really terrible--bumpy.  The food was lousy and the whole thing was one big mess.  Trans-Caribbean--never again.

            I don't know what I'm going to be doing as of yet.  I'm sure they'll find something...I'm getting tired of this place so I think I may take stateside duty.  At least I'll be able to come home a little more often.

One thing I've noticed is that I'm respected more.  There's all new guys and they know I've flown before.  I went down the flight line yesterday and one of the ships had such a bad power loss, it couldn't take off.  I climbed up, looked at it and told them what was wrong.  These new guys just don't know what to look for.

As soon as I get hold of a PACEX catalogue, I'll order your china.  It won't be there for your birthday but better late than never.

So, people, I guess I'll go eat some breakfast now so I'll be seeing you all in about 5 months, hopefully.  Do what you want with this money.

The letter Ron Heck wrote to his parents was dated January 11, 1970.  He had already served a year in Vietnam as a helicopter mechanic before volunteering to return for another six months.  His next, and last, letter was written January 20, 1970, five days before he was killed.

Well, it's been 10 days now and I'm finally getting settled down.  Everything is going pretty good and I'm starting to feel a lot better.  This heat was really ripping me up for awhile.  Everything 'down below' is fine as long as I watch the food and booze.  I'm eating real good and drinking a lot less.  In fact, I think I've even put on some weight.  I'm keeping regular hours now and I think that has a lot to do with it.  Like I'm usually sound asleep by ten.  Oh, did you get the money order I sent?

Next month, I'll try to order your china set.  If Diane wants me to get her that ring, tell her to send me the size and I'll order it for her.

Tell everybody I said 'Hi' and all that.  Oh, tell Diane or somebody to get me the Beatles' Abbey Road album, a two record album from WIBG and one by Led Zeppelin (it has a round sticker on the cover with something LOVE written on it).  Use some of my money to get them.  I saw all of them over at the Collegetown record shop but forgot to buy them.

So, gang, I think maybe I'll close it here for now.  As soon as battalion figures out my DEROS, I'll give you the countdown, but expect it around July 1.

P.S.  Would you please send some towels (2), a tube of Clearasil (flesh color) and some World War II books.

Lewis and Marion Heck raised two boys and two girls on Lake Avenue in Grenloch, NJ, a quiet corner of Gloucester County located just inside the border with Camden County.  They attended Grenloch Presbyterian Church and were active in the community.  Their old neighborhood is adjacent to a park on Grenloch Lake.

"Our kids played on that property all through growing up," Marion says.  "Our backyard adjoined the park on two sides.  They were there all the time."

Marilyn Fine, now living in Carmel, Indiana, was the oldest of the four children.  She remembers her "little" brother.

"Ron was tall," she says.  "He was thin and good looking with blue eyes and light brown, curly hair.  He was a very pleasant guy who appeared easy-going but, like me, was not really on the inside.  He was rather shy and respectful of his elders.  I remember Ron and Bob fighting as normal kids do, but Ron was always being the one to try to settle the argument as he was a real peacemaker with no temper."

Bob Heck, now in Turnersville, NJ, recalls the friend he had in Ron.  "We were close," he says.  "We thought alike, as brothers often do.  I was only two years older, so we had the same friends, liked doing the same things.  He was gentle in nature and avoided fights, unless there was no way out."

Diane Uron, of Barrington, NJ, the baby of the family, was two years younger than Ron.  She had to follow him through the school system, often drawing the inevitable comparisons.  "There was one teacher, Mr. Mason, who would always have comments for me about why I couldn't be more like my brother, Ron," she says.  "Being a ten year old sibling, I did not want to be compared with another.  Ron enjoyed school; I did not."

Diane also recalls both boys being very athletic.  "Bob and Ron were always playing some sport in our backyard," she remembers.  "They used to call it the 'Grenloch Summer Olympics' with all their friends in Grenloch there.  They both played Little League baseball.  Ronnie also had a newspaper route that served Grenloch and Grenloch Terrace."

Bob and Diane remember number 22 on the football team of Washington Township High School.  "He could hit," says Bob.  "He was known as the 'Monster Man.'"

"Ron played basketball in high school, too," adds Diane.  "Mr. Paone, his economics teacher, was also his basketball coach and thought very highly of him."

"Ron was just a nice person," his mother says.  "He never tread on people.  A kind-hearted human being.  A brave soul."

As a teenager, Ron became interested in fighting fires as a way of helping others.  Ralph Chamberland, of Grenloch, and Fire Marshall at the time, recalls, "Ron spent a lot of time at the Grenloch Firehouse.  He joined the juniors and was one of the best.  He quickly became a good fireman."

When he was only seven, Bob Redrow, of Pitman, NJ, one of Ron's cousins, remembers Ron taking his younger brother and him on a tour of the firehouse.  Bob was only seven at the time.  They became enchanted with the equipment and did not notice that Ron was no longer at their side.  "Suddenly, a siren screamed, and the air horn burst out," Bob says.  "Ron had sneaked into the cab of one of the engines and waited for us to walk in front of it.  We almost went through the overhead doors.  I am thankful, now, that he took the time to be with us that afternoon."

After graduating from Washington Township High in 1966, Ron went to college in Salem, West Virginia, for a year.  But he was unhappy at college and decided not to return for his sophomore year.  His older brother, Bob, was already in the service when Ron decided to enlist.  Lew remembers a conversation with his son in mid-1967.  "He told me, 'What's the use in spending all that money to send me to college?  I might as well go in the Army now and then go to school on the GI bill.'"

"I remember him standing in the kitchen of my parents' home in Grenloch," Diane says.  "He said that it was necessary for the USA to be in Vietnam due to communism and oppression of the South Vietnamese by the North Vietnamese."

Marilyn recalls Ron's saying he wanted to serve his country and keep his future nieces and nephews from having to go to foreign soil to fight.  Then she adds, "And since he did not adjust well to college where life was certainly more serene than in Vietnam, that showed to me that he believed in what he was doing.  He was willing to sacrifice some time in his life for others.  He told me a story about Vietnamese children with guns, running across the fields shooting at his helicopter and the Americans having to scare them or even shoot at them.  He was really appalled by that but knew it needed to be done."

The Hecks value a strong character, a good sense of right and wrong.  Ron, in a greeting card sent from Vietnam in June of 1969, credits his inspiration.  The card shows Snoopy leaping in the air, ears flopping up and down, with a big smile on his face.  The caption reads--"Happiness Is Having You For A Dad"and "Happy Father's Day."  A handwritten note is just to the left of Snoopy.

On this Father's Day, I'd like to say "thanks" for a whole lot of things.  I can realize a lot more things a lot better now and it adds up to me being a better person because of you, so again I'd like to say "Thanks, Dad".  See you real soon.  (Then I'll be jumping like Snoopy here).
Love, Ron

In early 1970, the 145th Aviation Battalion (Combat) was based at Bien Hoa Air Base.  Located just north of Saigon, Ron's subordinate unit, the 118th Aviation Company (Assault Helicopter), flew support missions for ground units in contact with the enemy.  They flew "Hueys" and called themselves "The Thunderbirds."  Troop insertions, extractions, and fire support missions were everyday events.  Larry Smith of Franklin, Wisconsin, remembers:  "Those were very rough times for all the flight crews.  We were short on people, put in a lot of hours, and, unfortunately, lost too many good men."

On January 25th, the unit lost a real good man.  Major Michael Hefferman, Commanding Officer, wrote in a letter to Lew and Marion Heck:

Ronald was the crew chief of an armed UH-1C helicopter on a combat support mission about 30 miles southwest of Saigon in Long An Province.  The fire team your son was flying with was providing aerial weapons support for a unit of the 3d Brigade, 9th Infantry Division.  The unit on the ground encountered enemy resistance and called upon the gun ships to provide aerial support.  Ronald's helicopter, the second aircraft to make a firing run on the area, was hit by a secondary explosion from the ground.  The helicopter was severely damaged and forced to make a landing.  Ronald died instantly as a result of the explosion and endured no suffering.

Ron's sister, Diane was almost twenty years old when she returned from working in Philadelphia to her nearly darkened home, save for a small kitchen light.  She wondered why all the extra cars were in the driveway.

"I opened the door to go in," she says.  "My mother was sitting on the steps waiting for me.  She told me she had something to tell me and that two Army men had visited earlier in the day.  As soon as she said that, I knew.  It really hit me the next day when I had to call my office to alert them to my absence."

"What I recall vividly," she continues, "is that Franklin Atkinson, who died in Vietnam the prior year, had a sister, Jill.  She called me on the phone to convey her feelings when she, too, had gone through the same thing.  Jill and I were good friends, and that meant a lot to me."

Asked what she would say in tribute to Ron, Diane says, "Just expressing my love for him as a brother is a tribute.  I think just having lost a brother in that horrible war is something no one can express in words."

On February 3rd, Ron was buried at Bethel Cemetery in Hurffville, NJ, after the funeral service at Grenloch Presbyterian Church.  Friends were wonderfully supportive, and the family bonded tighter than ever.  They looked for help and they found it.

"Up until that time, nothing bad had ever happened to our family," Marilyn says.  "We had no major illnesses, accidents, or anything like that. I felt kind of safe from bad things happening to 'good' people.  I was immensely saddened for me and for my family.  We are sure Ron became a Christian at a camp years earlier and was praying for us all along.  We heard from one of his Sunday school teachers that Ron had asked him to pray along with him."

"He was burdened that family members were not born again," she continues.  "Although we went to church all the time.  Ron's death was in God's perfect plan for our family.  Even though I know it was God's will for Him to take Ron, I wish I had responded earlier to the gospel message.  Without that, we have nothing."

Marion Heck says, "Many things happened to us due to Ron's death.  Mainly, we were broken.  But we turned to the Lord and He has helped us, sustained us.  We will never really get over losing our son.  We just go on without his presence.  Parents never expect to outlive their children.  It's so unnatural.  Yet it happens every day, and, the older we get, the more we see it as a common occurrence.  But we never thought it would happen to us.  Our solace is that God knows all things.  And if one believes the Bible is God's words to us, Romans 8:28 says that 'all things work together for good to them who love God and who are called according to His purpose'.

Ron Heck initially went to Vietnam because his government asked him to.  He returned a second time because he wanted to help his buddies and the Vietnamese people.  He was known as a peacemaker and was committed to finishing what he had started. 

"Ron knew why he was there," Marion continues.  "He said it to his father when he came home from his first year over there.  That is why he said he would go back.  Ron's life was important...that's all I can say."

Excerpt from They Were Ours: Gloucester County's Loss in Vietnam
by John Campbell
Used with permission of author

Sources: John Campbell and NJVVMF.


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