Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

March 21, 2014

GARY'S WORLD: One of the few and the proud

By Gary Nelson
Senior staffwriter

CROSSVILLE — There are many people you meet in your lifetime and many lessons can be learned from those people.

It was through one such person who I met here in Crossville about 10 years ago that taught me one person really can make a difference in the world. I'm talking about my friend Ron "Scooter" Dyer.

His nickname was "Scooter" because of his love of motorcycles and riding them throughout his life.

Ron was a U.S. Marine and a Vietnam veteran and proud of it. He proudly served his country and like many Vietnam veterans came back to the U.S. without a thank you. For years he battled demons in his life, including PTSD and many other issues. Many, but not all, Vietnam veterans had problems like this.

Ron eventually overcame a lot of those problems and learned how to live with them. He also helped a lot of his brothers and fellow Vietnam veterans do the same.

I was covering Veterans Day ceremonies in Crossville in 2004 when I first met Ron. He along with a handful of other Vietnam vets attended the ceremony. It was a bitterly cold and grey-skied, breezy day. During the ceremony there were several speakers and community leaders who thanked veterans for their service.

While many wars were mentioned and the veterans who served in them were thanked by the various speakers, it stuck out to me that Vietnam veterans were not mentioned during that ceremony. I don't think it was intentional, but it just happened that day. At the end of the ceremony the group prayed for our military and those who were fighting in Iraq, the newest war our country was involved in.

As I looked around I saw this tall, skinny, gray-haired man, standing there with his head bowed, praying, holding his hat, wearing his jeans, black Vietnam veteran U.S. Marines T-shirt, boots and leather biker vest with several patches, pins and military emblems. Among those were several Vietnam veteran emblems and the famous POW-MIA "You will not be forgotten" logo badge.

The image was striking and only lasted for about 30 seconds, but I snapped the picture of the man praying. Shortly after, when the ceremony ended, I went over to the man and introduced myself, thanked him for his service and asked him his name.

I told him I was from the newspaper and I had taken his picture and that I might use it in the paper.

"You want my name?" he asked as he looked around.

It was Ron Dyer. He was shocked. First, because I thanked him for his service and second because I took his picture and was asking his name.

"You took my picture? Why me?" he asked as he laughed.

I told him the image just captured the moment and sincerity of the day so well.

After it was published in the paper, he came up to the Chronicle office and thanked me for using the photo.

He said, "The Vietnam veterans weren't even mentioned, but that picture said a lot."

After that, I would occasionally see Ron around in town and at different veterans events and he would call me the newspaper man. We became friends. In 2007 I ran into Ron in town and he said he wanted to talk to me. He told me he and some of his friends were planning a big event to honor Vietnam veterans and welcome them home.

He had the idea of having a Welcome Home celebration in Crossville and wanted to make it an official holiday.

Ron said after taking a trip to Washington, D.C. and visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he felt like more needed to be done.

"The Vietnam vets were never welcomed home so that's what I want to do with this celebration. Get the vets together, have music and a parade, let them meet and talk with each other and welcome them home," Ron said.

I told him I would be happy to come to the event.

Ron had the idea of a having a day to welcome home and honor Vietnam vets. He and a friend, Dann Dunham, and the Cumberland County Vietnam Vets began pursuing the idea furiously.

At the 2008 Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans celebration, Crossville Mayor J.H. Graham III told me that Ron "Scooter" Dyer and Dann Dunham came to him in the summer of 2007 and said they wanted to set aside March 28-29 to honor the Vietnam veterans officially in Crossville.

The city of Crossville, then Cumberland County and ultimately the state followed suit and former Gov. Phil Bredesen proclaimed March 29 Vietnam Veterans Day. It has been celebrated as such since in Tennessee and several states have followed. President Barack Obama declared March 29, 2012 Vietnam Veterans Day.

It all started here in Crossville.

A trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. was one of the things that prompted Ron to figure out a way to honor his fellow veterans.

"That trip was so moving. After that I knew I had to do something," Dyer said. "I'm glad to be a part of it."

I covered each and every one of the Welcome Home events that were in Crossville.

Ron even talked me into riding on the back of his Harley in 2009 for the Veterans Thunder motorcycle benefit ride to South Pittsburg, TN. It was an unforgettable trip and a fundraiser to go towards the Welcome Home celebration.

I met him up at the Waffle House one day with another Vietnam Veteran friend of his, Larry Bates, "Tin Man." We talked about that Veterans Thunder ride and Tin Man, who was nicknamed such by Ron because he was forced to wear metal braces and use crutches, told me that Ron was his hero.

He said the Welcome Home celebration and the planning for it and Vietnam Veterans Day gave him a reason to live. There were many others who felt the same.

I can honestly say there were thousands of veterans and their families whose lives were touched through the efforts of Ron and his many friends and fellow veterans who helped him along the way in the planning of those events.

Many have said that Welcome Home celebration was long overdue and was a big step in the healing process. It and Vietnam Veterans Day was started by a man who had a vision and built on it with his friends and fellow veterans. From there it grew and grew.

Ron passed away earlier this week after a long, painful battle with cancer. His obituary can be found in this issue of the Chronicle. I know he will be missed by so many friends, fellow Marines, veterans and his family. I will miss his humor and his passion for fellow veterans and love of his country.

All I can say is thank you and Welcome Home my friend.

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Gary Nelson is a Crossville Chronicle staffwriter. His column is published each Friday. He may be reached at gnelson@crossville-chronicle.com.