On Veterans Day, an alum’s stories, thanks and a family's gift

On the 55th anniversary of the day he made the trek home from Vietnam, Heidelberg alum Ron Willoughby, ’68, shared reflections of serving his country and the deep bonds of those in his U.S. Marine Corps unit. Ron was the keynote speaker at Heidelberg’s annual Veterans Day ceremony Thursday.

“After 13 months, 20 days and 11 hours, I was very thankful to get home,” said Ron, who attained the rank of sergeant. “It’s important to share our experiences and where we see our country going ... because God knows we need help.”

Sharing those stories hasn’t always been easy. To that end, though, Ron arranged a reunion of the 26 men from his unit who came home with him. It was “an amazing experience” to reunite with them but it also stirred memories long ago buried but never forgotten.

“You become bonded like brothers,” Ron said. “Our wives didn’t know what we did because we didn’t talk about it.”

“It wasn’t a good thing to be a Vietnam veteran,” he recalled.

Ron said veterans of his era “vowed that that’s not going to happen to the kids over their fighting today. We need to thank them, make sure they have the right equipment and counseling available to them when they get home.” 

Continuing to tell stories honors the service and sacrifice of all veterans and the freedoms their service provided to us. “Get active. Please support veterans. Support our country,” he urged.

A very special presentation

At the ceremony, Heidelberg honored 2nd Lt. James L. Tangeman, ’67, believed to be the only ‘Berg alum to have lost his life in Vietnam. Jim’s three sisters – Joanne (Tangeman) Getzen, Barbara (Tangeman) Krajenke and Sandy (Tangeman) Simmons -- joined other Tangeman family members at the ceremony to honor their fallen brother. 

In a poignant moment, the sisters presented President Rob Huntington with the American flag that draped their brother’s coffin, along with his service medals. President Huntington received them with “deep, deep appreciation” for bringing these profoundly meaningful symbols of Jim’s ultimate sacrifice to his Sweet Alma Home. Dean of Student Affairs Chris Abrams read a poem from the family that had been written by one of Jim’s high school teachers.

Phil Ness, vice president for University Advancement & Alumni Affairs, spoke about Heidelberg’s approach as a military-friendly school throughout its history. In a demonstration of the power of friendship, Robert McDowell, ’68, led the way for a group of alumni and friends to honor Jim's memory and service by creating the James L. Tangeman Scholarship to assist other veteran or reservist students or their family members.

“The scholarship speaks so much to who Jim was ... that his friends would honor him in this way 50 years later,” Phil said. “He was special … a scholar-athlete and a friend to many. It was a very special moment for him and his family when he graduated from Heidelberg in his dress whites.”

Thanks to many

President Huntington concluded the ceremony by expressing gratitude to the participants, organizers and attendees of the ceremony, especially to the Tangeman family for traveling to be with us and for their meaningful gift. 

Special thanks also go to: the United Veterans Council for presenting the colors and the salute; our keynote speaker, Ron Willoughby; senior Tess Connors who helped organize the ceremony on behalf of Student Senate; Chaplain Paul Sittason Stark for the prayer for peace; and student musicians Jayce Porter for singing the National Anthem and Ethan Campbell for the playing of Taps.

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