HUDSON–A special event will be conducted on Saturday at the Elks Lodge in Hudson to present a long overdue award to a Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran former Private First Class Ronald K. Jablanski. The award is a Bronze Star with Valor device for his leadership and courage during combat operations in 1969.
The citation, which is signed on behalf of the President of the United States by Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller, will be read by Command Sergeant Major Gary Flaherty of Canaan, and the award will be presented by Army Colonel Todd Traver, who is from Chatham and is currently stationed in Atlanta, GA.
Mr. Jablanski was a rifleman in Company L of the Third Battalion, Third Marines, Third Marine Division. The regiment was deployed to Quang Tri Province just south of the Demilitarized Zone for an action called Operation Idaho Canyon. The citation gives an account of the events of September 17, 1969. Company L was establishing a perimeter and the lead platoon came under fire from a concealed North Vietnamese Army force, pinning down the point men.
The citation reads in part: “Rapidly assessing the situation, Private First Class Jablanski unhesitatingly moved to the forward position, quickly established firing positions for two machine gun teams, and effectively directed their fire. Then, with complete disregard for his own safety, he fearlessly led an aggressive assault through the entrenched enemy force and boldly continued his [attack] until he reached the top of the hill and secured his position.”
Mr. Jablanski grew up in Hudson. He was the president of the class of 1968 and immediately after graduation enlisted in the Marines. He spoke about that time in a recent telephone interview:
“There were fewer and fewer opportunities for deferment, and I felt like I had three choices: go to Canada, go to jail or go to Vietnam. I wasn’t going to do either of the first two choices. The Marine Corps had a two-year program, so I thought I could get it over with.”
His decision to enlist was also supported by the fact that he had two older brothers already in the Marines.
Quick for sure. He added, “Six months training, six months and four days in Vietnam, and six months in the hospital, first on a hospital ship, then a hospital in Guam and then back home at St. Albans Navy Hospital in Queens and the VA in Albany.”
He was discharged from the Marines in March, 1969, still 19 years old.
“I pretty much buried everything, until recently. I didn’t talk to one person about it. I didn’t tell one story. I stayed home by myself a lot. I think I was afraid people would ask questions.”
What Mr. Jablanski, who is retired from the U.S. Postal Service and lives in Worcester, MA, said about his experience in Vietnam is that “I was wounded three separate times by RPGs or hand grenades. The fact of it is that we were overrun. It was as horrific as anything you could imagine. I never thought I was a hero, I just thought I was a survivor. Most of the platoon was killed.”
“I think, ‘I should have done more,’ but like Gary [Flaherty] says, it’s not about the number of people who were killed, but the number that was saved.”
What follows is an excerpt from Charles Smith’s 1988 book “U.S. Marines: High Mobility and Standdown 1969”:
“Shortly after midnight two days later, on Hill 154, adjacent to LZ Bird, a reinforced NVA company firing RPGs, small arms and throwing grenades struck at Company L, now under command of First Lieutenant Richard C. Hoffman. After two hours of vicious fighting, the enemy penetrated the 2nd Platoon’s lines, but soon were pushed back. Although Hoffman’s Marines reestablished the perimeter, they continued to receive a heavy volume of RPG and machine gun fire from the northeast, despite the accurate support of five batteries of the 12th Marines, two “Spookys,” and three flights of gunships, the assault and subsequent attack by fire lasted until first light when Hoffman sent out patrols to clear the field…. Hoffman’s men killed a total of 41, while suffering 13 dead and 23 wounded.”
Mr. Jablanski was badly wounded in both legs and his side and was evacuated to a hospital ship. “I was lying in the hospital ship and I got a letter from my buddy saying, ‘So how does it feel to get a Bronze Star?’” He said his name had been called out in an award ceremony at battalion headquarters, but he was not there to receive it. “When I was in the hospital, an officer gave me the purple heart and he was calling me a lance corporal. I said I was a private, so he promoted me on the spot. It was in the Register-Star Newspaper, a notice of the purple heart and listing the rank as Lance Corporal.”
But then he was accused of misrepresenting his rank and told that he could be imprisoned, so he decided to drop the entire matter of his rank or the award that his buddy told him he had received. He believes that with the conclusion of Operation Idaho Canyon two weeks later, the paperwork went missing. But for all the intervening years, he saved his buddy’s letter and the newspaper clipping.
“I thought it wasn’t worth it to pursue the issue,” he said. “It’s taken me 50 years to forget all this stuff, and now it’s all coming back, but I think I can handle it better now.”
It is clear that much of the strength Mr. Jablanski finds comes from his family. He is married and has a son and a granddaughter. “I think this whole thing started when my granddaughter found my purple heart [and] was carrying it around and asking about it.”
It was about the same time that Mr. Jablanski was getting help with his compensation benefits from Mr. Flaherty, the director of the Columbia County Veterans Service Agency. Mr. Jablanski told him the story of his experience in the war and how he thought maybe he had been awarded the Bronze Star. Mr. Flaherty encouraged him to follow it up and helped him with the research.
Mr. Jablanski remembers that on Memorial Day there would traditionally be a reception at the Armory in Hudson. In that first year back and still on crutches he went to the Armory and climbed up the steps but he couldn’t open the door to the room. “I just didn’t want to face all those people. I went to our 50th Anniversary High School Reunion and I asked if I could say the prayer, which was a prelude to the toast. I mean, you grow up in a small hometown everybody is important to you– suddenly a can of worms is opened up. Personally I hadn’t cried in 49 years. I cried once in Vietnam and I said I will never cry again. I met a half dozen friends in Hudson and had zero clue they were in Vietnam. It’s so big–I don’t know how to explain it.”
Speaking about the award ceremony at the Hudson Elks Lodge on Saturday, he said, “I’m not sure how I will get through this. I never belonged to an organization [for veterans], but now I joined the Legion post here a couple months ago. Then they asked me if I would be Grand Marshal of the Flag Day Parade in Hudson. I said I didn’t think I could do that, but my wife told them I could, so I guess I will.”
The Flag Day Parade & Festival is scheduled for Saturday, June 8.