Home News Family buries Marine in 1968, learns he was a POW in 1973

Family buries Marine in 1968, learns he was a POW in 1973

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A Texan serving with the US Marines was killed outside of Khe Sanh in 1968 and was in a national cemetery in St.Louis.

The tragic story -not unlike countless cases before him- would have seemed all too common in a time of war, except for one little detail- he wasn’t dead.

Ambushed in February of 1968, then-18-year-old Marine Ronald Ridgeway was part of the “ghost patrol,” a group of men who walked into an ambush and were declared Missing in Action for some time before being reported as dead.

Now 68 years of age, Ridgeway recalls the horrors of being a combat wounded Prisoner of War.

Ridgeway’s Marine service in Vietnam is as short as it is long- joining up at 17 in 1967, he was 18 years old when he sustained wounds in the ambush that would lead to his capture, 19 when his funeral was held (without him) and 23 when he was finally released to the United States in 1973.

“You have to be willing to take it a day at a time,” he said. “You have to set in your mind that you’re going to survive. You have to believe that they are not going to defeat you, that you’re going to win.”

Captured in the early hours during a 45-man patrol, Ridgeway and his men were ambushed by the North Vietnamese. Despite fighting back, over two-dozen Marines -including Ridgeway’s platoon leader- were killed.

As the remainder attempted to get back to their lines, they stopped to grab some of their wounded, resulting in them taking hits in the process.

“All we could do was lay there and play dead,” he said. “We were in the wide open.”

Shot through the shoulder, Ridgeway played dead even when the Vietnamese began shooting the bodies of the fallen. Hit in the buttock and with a round glancing off his helmet, Ridgeway jerked.

“When that hit, it jarred the body,” he said. “They figured they got me. Left me for dead and kept working their way down past me.”

Passing out, Ridgeway came to when American artillery began hitting the area. Ridgeway did his best to stay with his wounded friends, but he was ultimately left alone after they perished. Their bodies would rot in the sun for six weeks while American Marines tried to get permission to go back into the area.

However, Ridgeway would suffer a different fate. Captured by a young Vietnamese soldier who tried to loot off of what he thought was a corpse, Ridgeway was taken to a prison camp in North Vietnam, where he was tortured, starved and left in squalid conditions where he would lose over fifty pounds.

Ridgeway was sure he would be killed.

“You didn’t hear about prisoners being taken,” he said.

Meanwhile, his family was informed that he had been killed, with remains (mistaken as his) interred with other victims of the ambush who could not be identified.

During his time, he would make-believe a typical life for the American nuclear family. He would later find that three whole days inside his head would occupy a single day of solitary confinement.

Ridgeway never concerned himself with life back home or the thoughts of whether or not his family knew he was alive. For him, Survival was priority one at the Hanoi Hilton prison camp.

“I came back in basically one piece,” he said, recounting his return in 1973. “I came back able to live my life. . . . We went over with a job to do. We did it to the best of our ability. We were lucky enough to come back.”

Later on, he would view his own grave from years earlier, bearing his name and that of those who could not be identified.

“Ambushed Patrol Died in Vietnam Feb. 25, 1968.”

According to the Miami Herald, the experience was sobering.

“It brought back memories,” he said. “The loss of life of those that I knew. It was a solemn experience.”

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