Sunday, May 21, 2000

Sign honors war hero

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        VILLA HILLS — To all who knew him, Ron Niewahner was an easy-going young man who loved to shoot pool, joke with his buddies and flirt with the girls when he wasn't bagging groceries at the local market.

        But on Dec. 13, 1968, just 10 days after his 20th birthday, the skinny, red-haired man took on a new legacy — that of hero.

        On that date, just 17 days after arriving in Vietnam, the young sergeant took part in a search-and-sweep mission in enemy territory.

        As small-arms fire raged around him, Sgt. Niewahner “fearlessly moved through the bullet-swept area to the aid of (a) fallen comrade and evacuated him to safety,” the Department of the Army reported.

        While carrying a second wounded soldier to safety, Sgt. Niewahner was hit by fragments from a Vietcong anti-tank rocket and small-arms fire.

        The next day, the Niewahner family received word that the youngest of their five sons was missing in action.

        “Mom had a dream that Ron was gone,” said Millie Niewahner, her late mother's namesake. “He told her, "I'm happy. I'm in heaven.'”

        That evening, a knock at the door confirmed the family's worst fears. Ron, who had followed his older brothers Mike and Lou into combat, would not be coming home.

        In death, Sgt. Ronald L. Niewahner received a number of honors — the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.

        But on Saturday, the young soldier received what was probably the most heartfelt award — a Kentucky historical highway marker dedicated in his name, on the street where he grew up.

        With a crowd of about 200 looking on, Ron's sisters helped former Gov. Louie B. Nunn unveil the marker at the corner of Valley Trails and Niewahner Drive — the street named for Ron and a civic-minded family.

        The Rev. Raymond Hartman, pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Crescent Springs, where Ron served as an altar boy, gave the invocation. Brother Jim Niewahner recalled “a fun-loving, teen-aged boy who was anxious to join the Army rather than be drafted.” Army Col. (ret.) William K. Clark recalled “how kindly and courteously” the Niewahners treated him when he had the sad duty of notifying them of the death.

        “Knowing Ron like we did, I'm not surprised by his actions in combat,” his oldest brother, Ed, recalled.

        In one of his final letters, Ron told his godparents how he'd “missed death by about 25 feet,” after a chance encounter with five Vietcong.

        “I'm doing fine, and looking forward to coming home,” he wrote ... “See you in a year, I hope. Be good, and may God bless you.”


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