Submitted photo##During his visit to Washington, D.C., memorials, McMinnville’s Ken Vronman holds a photo of himself from his Coast Guard days in the Korean War era. His ship sailed waters off Korea, predicting the weather.
Submitted photo##During his visit to Washington, D.C., memorials, McMinnville’s Ken Vronman holds a photo of himself from his Coast Guard days in the Korean War era. His ship sailed waters off Korea, predicting the weather.
Submitted photo##Vronman, standing, and another Korean War veteran were viewing the monument to their war when they were surrounded by a crowd of young people visiting from South Korea. It turned out to be a youth choir.
Submitted photo##Vronman, standing, and another Korean War veteran were viewing the monument to their war when they were surrounded by a crowd of young people visiting from South Korea. It turned out to be a youth choir.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping By: A moving experience for a veteran

This year, though, he’s put his rod aside and taken a different sort of trip — a very special one to see the memorials in Washington, D.C.

“All the memorials were very emotional for me,” the Korean War veteran said.

Vronman, who served in the Coast Guard in the 1950s, was one of 13 Oregon vets who went on the trip sponsored by the Vital Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Gresham.

He and another Korean War vet joined one Vietnam vet and 10 World War II vets. The eldest member of the group was a WWII nurse, who is 97.

Each veteran was accompanied by a companion. Vronman took one of his sons, Scott, who lives in Thousand Oaks, California.

He also has a son Mark, who lives at McCoy, south of Amity, and another, Mike, who lives in Sonora, California.

Vronman and his wife, Pat, moved to McMinnville about 18 months ago. They also have three grandchildren.

Vronman and his wife grew up in Springfield. They were already married when he joined the Coast Guard, figuring he could serve his country and — being aboard a ship or boat — have a warm, dry spot to sleep each night.

He’d never been out on the ocean. The first time, “I got seasick in a storm,” he recalled.

The experience was unpleasant, but it was the only time he experienced seasickness.

After basic training at Alameda, California, he was assigned to the Coast Guard’s Yaquina Bay lifeboat station at Newport. The crew rescued fishermen and other people who were in trouble off the Oregon coast.

Called up for war duty, Vronman served on a destroyer escort, the USS Falgout. The 434-foot long ship, built in 1943, carried about 200 sailors. 

The ship sailed out of Tacoma to an ocean weather station off the coast of Korea, then moved up and back across a grid releasing weather balloons and predicting typhoons and other weather phenomenon headed toward land. That way, the ship could let troops on the ground know what kind of weather was coming, he said.

After several weeks of weather duty, the Falgout headed for Midway island, where the sailors spent a month helping with air/sea rescues. They returned to weather station duty for a month, then went to Guam for air/sea rescue. Then it was on to another weather station, then to Japan, and back to another weather station.

Finally, the Falgout sailed to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands for refueling.

It was December, cold and dark 24 hours a day, Vronman recalled. Decades later, he would spend time in other parts of Alaska for his job, then finally for salmon fishing excursions — pure pleasure.

Following his Korean War tour, Vronman returned to the West Coast and served at a lifeboat station at Grays Harbor, Washington. He stayed there after his four-year stint in the Coast Guard was up.

“I went into fishing,” he said. “I leased a boat and took people out.”

He ran charter excursions in the summer and studied at Grays Harbor Junior College the rest of the year. He eventually transferred to Oregon State University to earn a degree in forest management.

He spent 10 years in that field in California, then joined a forestry consulting firm based in Portland — Mason, Bruce & Girard. He became a partner in the company before retiring.

The work took him all over the world.

He inventoried timberland in Alaska, examined forestry machinery in Sweden and traveled to Japan, Denmark and other countries. He even went to Russia several times to look at timber in Siberia for a company that hoped to build sawmills and pulp mills there.

“The firm said it had 10 million acres of forest there. I figured it was a mistake. It had to be 10 thousand,” he said, “but when I got there, I realized it really was 10 million.”

He said it was covered with white pine, red pine, spruce and birch. There was plenty of timber, but not much else, he said.

“It was a third-world country, with empty factories, people just barely existing,” he said. “They really needed the industry.”

Unfortunately, though, the Russian government interfered and the U.S. company never built any mills there.

Last year, Vronman’s brother-in-law, Paul Nordling of Woodburn, took a Vital Life trip to see veterans’ memorials in Washington, D.C. He encouraged Vronman to sign up, as well.

In August, the foundation called, saying the McMinnville man had been chosen to go.

It wasn’t Vronman’s first trip to the U.S. capital. He’d been to Washington several times in association with his work as a forestry consultant.

He’d visited the Smithsonian museums on the Mall, but he’d never taken time to view the memorials, he said.

This time, he had plenty of opportunities to do that. With the group, he visited the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Wall, the Iwo Jima memorials and other sights. 

The group also went to Arlington National Cemetery, where they saw Audie Murphy’s grave and watched the precision changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They viewed the nearby Air Force memorial, which includes a trio of soaring steel bars and a glass monument showing the Missing Man formation.

They traveled out to the Smithsonian’s new aviation museum in Chantilly, Virginia. The Enola Gay is on display there, along with an SR-71.

An American Legion post, one of the oldest in the nation, treated them to dinner. Veterans’ groups, police, firefighters and others honored them at the airports when they departed Portland, arrived in D.C., and returned.

One evening, Vronman and another vet were visiting the illuminated WWII memorial when they met another group of students. These were eighth-graders on a field trip.

After the adolescents thanked the vets for their service, their teacher gathered them together for an impromptu lesson on the Korean War. The teacher spoke about the 38th parallel and other aspects of the conflict. 

“He was accurate,” Vronman said. 

One of the most moving experiences he had in Washington, D.C., occurred when he was spending time at the memorial honoring the Korean War. 

The memorial features images of soldiers etched on a wall, along with larger-than-life soldiers trudging across a battlefield. It evokes a great deal of emotion, he said.

But it became an even better experience for Vronman and the other Korean War vet on the trip. As they stood looking at the wall, they were surrounded by group of young people wearing orange and green uniforms. The kids lined up and began to sing.

“It was a South Korean children’s choir,” he said. “They’d performed in Carnegie Hall, and now there were with us, singing the South Korean National Anthem.”

The memorial itself was moving, he said. Hearing the children sing elevated the experience to one he’ll never forget.

Starla Pointer can be reached at 503-687-1263 or spointer@newsregister.com.

 

Comments

@@pager@@