Canton Repository

May 26, 2001

Soldier buried, with full honors 

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
COPLEY WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

WASHINGTON -- Massillon native Ronald Stanton, missing in action in Vietnam for almost 33 years, was finally buried Friday with his four fallen comrades in Arlington National Cemetery.

“I feel a relief,” said his sister, Bettie Stanton of Massillon, as the ceremonies ended under clearing skies in the sprawling national cemetery. “I felt it was a good ceremony. I think the Army did a wonderful job.”

The five men were laid to rest with full honors, including a caisson-led procession to the grave site, a firing salute, a Chinook helicopter flyover and music performed by an Army band.

Although her younger brother had been declared dead when the war ended, Bettie Stanton, 60, always wondered whether he might still be alive since his body had not been found. The wreckage of the men’s
Chinook helicopter was not discovered until years after the war ended. The identity of the remains were not confirmed until recently.

Stanton, a helicopter gunner and sergeant 1st class, died a day before his 22nd birthday and a week before he was scheduled to return home to Massillon.

The other four were Charles E. Dietsch of Mount Dora, Fla., the aircraft commander; Henry C. Knight of La Habra, Calif., pilot; Jerry G. Bridges of Columbia, Tenn., flight engineer; and Charles H.
Meldahl of Monroe, Wash., crew chief.

All were members of the 243rd Assault Support
Helicopter Company. They were last seen alive when they flew into the South Vietnam jungle on a supply mission early in the morning of Oct. 20, 1968. Their helicopter was among several that took off; the others turned back because of bad weather. The chopper that Stanton was in never reached its destination, and a search party was unable to find any trace of it.

With Bettie Stanton were her son, Lamar Stanton,
38, of Massillon, and her sister from Mobile, Ala.
Altogether, more than 200 people gathered, including friends, family, soldiers and veterans who knew the five.

Friday’s ceremonies began with a service at Fort
Myer chapel in the lush, rolling cemetery, where more than 260,000 servicemen and their families are buried.

After family members were seated, Army Chaplain
David W. Acuff entered, followed by an honor guard
bearing a flag-draped coffin containing the
commingled remains of the soldiers.

“I am the resurrection and I am the life, says the
Lord,” Acuff told the civilians and soldiers who filled the chapel with its white walls and tall, stained-glass windows. Referring to the five, he said, “We thank you for giving them to us, friends, family and the United States Army.”

Jon Beckenhauer of Annandale, Va., who served
with the unit in Vietnam, delivered the eulogy. “These men gave meaning to the words honor, duty, country,” he said. “They were our brothers in arms. We are not afraid to say we loved them.”

Beckenhauer, among 56 veterans of the company
who reunited for the burial, said the nation is “forever indebted to their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their loved ones. When duty called, they were there and they were ready. They did all they were asked, and with their very lives affirmed their commitment.”

Acknowledging that those who served often were
“scared to death” and “dealt with the confusion and
complexity and violence of battle in their own way,”
he said they drew faith from their trust in each other.

“The common theme was a bond of self-respect and unspoken love,” he said. “These men were willing to guard something more precious than their lives.”

Beckenhauer’s voice cracked as he explained that
“as soldiers we were trained to never leave anyone
behind. We felt guilty that this crew was left behind. Catch the wind, fellow aviators,” he said, turning to the casket. “I say welcome home. Your last mission is complete.”

With the service over, a procession went to the burial site, with the band in front, followed by a company of soldiers, the United States and Army flags, the chaplain, a six-horse-drawn caisson bearing the casket, four long black limousines for relatives and scores of others behind.

The group gathered around the grave site and under a large oak tree.

With a roar in the sky announcing their arrival, the
three Chinooks flew over like dinosaurs lumbering
above the treetops.

As the flag was held over the casket, a three-volley
salute was fired. A woman hugged a young girl as a
lone soldier played taps. The band finished with
“America the Beautiful,” and U.S. flags that were
touched to the coffin were presented to Stanton and family members of the other men.

At the end, a trained bald eagle named Challenger
was released to fly by the gathering. A daughter of
one of those who were buried works at the American Eagle Foundation, which cares for the eagle and brings it to military events.

Bettie Stanton said her brother was drafted but “he
felt proud to go.”

Lamar Stanton, 9 when his uncle was in Vietnam,
remembers him as an avid hunter and poker player
who “had a lot of fun hanging out with the guys.” He said of the ceremony, “This is very nice. I think it’s an honor to be buried here along with all these guys.”

Larry McAdams of Baytown, Texas, who served
with Stanton, recalled him as a “good soldier and a
buddy.”

McAdams described his bittersweet feelings after the ceremony.

“It’s mixed emotion. It’s so good to have these guys back on American soil. It’s good for the families to have some closure.”