Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.
(Libertyville, IL) Ron Kugel has kept busy and productive his whole life. It’s the way he was raised.
In Cedar Rapids IA, Ron graduated from high school in 1953 when he was 18. There were no jobs available in Cedar Rapids at the time, and Ron knew his dad wasn’t going to let him “park his butt on the couch.” He decided to join the Air Force; however, when he went to the Air Force recruiter, there were no slots available. The Marine recruiter was right next door, and he was looking for people, so Ron enlisted in the Marines.
Soon he was in San Diego for 3 months of basic training, and then 3 months of infantry training at Camp Pendleton. By early 1954, Ron was at Camp Fuji, in Fujioka Japan, assigned to the 3rd Tank Battalion, 3rd Marine Division.
Ron says there were challenges being in the Marines in Japan. “When they signed the Korean Armistice, that was the license for the Marine Corps in Japan to go ‘spit-and-polish’. We’d stand formation in the morning, then go work on our tanks, go to lunch mid-day, and then we had to stand formation again. Each time we had to be in clean dungarees and fully polished boots again. It was terrible.” Ron recalls Camp Pendleton wasn’t even that bad.
In an effort to get out of Japan, Ron applied for different postings and at one point he applied for the Naval Academy. He went down to Yokosuka, and passed the written test -- but failed the eye test. For the next attempt, he applied for the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) – but memorized the eye chart first! He passed the eye test at 20-40 – but the posting required 20-20, and again he missed out.
In December of 1954, the 1st Marine Division in Korea was getting ready to be replaced by the Army and Ron’s unit was sent to Korea as replacements, targeted to return with the 1st Division. “Our M47 tanks were fully armed and ready to go – 90 mm shells in the turrets, with .50 caliber and .30 caliber machine guns. I looked through the gun sights and I saw the Communist soldiers marching back and forth in their padded jackets. All I had to do was squeeze the trigger and I could have started World War III.”
Ron recalls another incident where “I was walking guard duty one night in Korea, and it was kind of cold, so I was wearing a parka, with the hood up. The Officer of the Day snuck up on me. I got my butt chewed that night. He said in no uncertain terms, I was never to let him catch me like that again. He said he could have slit my throat from ear to ear, and I would never have known what happened. The Armistice had been signed, but you treated each day as if something would happen.”
By February 1955, Ron’s unit had spent only 3 months in Korea when they were shipped home. When Ron got back to Camp Pendleton in April 1955, Ron went to desert training. He was released from Active Duty in Sept 1956 from Camp Pendleton. He was ‘released’, not discharged, because he was obligated to a full 8 years of service. Ron points out that he spent his 19th birthday in 1954 on a ship on his way to Japan. For his 20th birthday in 1955, he was on a ship on the way home from Korea. And for his 21st birthday in 1956, he was in desert training at 29 Palms in San Bernardino County in Southern California. “So I spent three birthdays, including my twenty-first, with no way to get a drink. And you know what a Marine wants to do…..”
But overall, Ron was glad he went into the service. When the Marine Corps released Ron, he convinced his parents to come to Camp Pendleton from Cedar Rapids to pick him up. His parents, his brother and a sister came to California, and they all drove back to Iowa together.
Of course, as they neared Cedar Rapids, his father asked Ron what he was going to do, and told him about an ad for a position at International Harvester Motor Truck Div. Ron applied, and got the job in the parts department. Sadly, his father died of a heart attack two weeks after Ron got home, on Ron’s first day at work. Fortunately, though for Ron, it was at International Harvester that he met his future wife, Eleanor (Ellie).
In 1960, Ron went to work for Link-Belt Speeder (later FMC Link Belt) in Cedar Rapids. In 1976, FMC transferred Ron and his family to Libertyville. Unfortunately, in 1986, FMC relocated the operation to Kentucky, and Ron was laid off. He found work over the years with a couple of different companies, but was able to retire at age 62 in 1997. It wasn’t long before he found a part time job, and worked it for 14 years. Finally, in 2011, he decided it was time to sit on the couch for a while.
Ron and Ellie have been in Libertyville for over 40 years. They raised a family of two sons and a daughter. His daughter served in the Navy for 24 years, retiring as a Chief. He’s very proud of all of his kids, but especially proud of her service, as he is proud of his own time in the Marines. Ron also has been active for over forty years at the American Legion Post 329 in Libertyville.
Ron Kugel, enjoy your well-deserved day with Honor Flight Chicago. And thank you for your service!