MASON CITY — Retired Mason City High School teacher Ron Stroup spent a year as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and took enemy rounds three times.
He escaped uninjured all three times and came away unharmed after flying 1,000 hours in a period of one year, a year full of many scary moments.
A native of Corwith, Stroup was born two days after Pearl Harbor and grew up in an environment in which veterans were treated with great respect. “They were heroes in my hometown,” he said.
In high school, Stroup was a star pitcher on a Corwith High School baseball team that won a state championship.
He went to the University of Iowa on a baseball scholarship but injured his knee, eliminating any hope for future baseball glory.
But he was also involved in ROTC and got interested in the flight program. In the fall of 1964, six weeks after graduating from college, he went in the Army and 18 months later was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.
“Our company was attached to the 101st Airborne, flying them into the highlands of central Vietnam,” he said.
“Our toughest missions are what we called LRRP — long-range reconnaissance patrols. We would drop five or six men, black-faced and in camouflage and hopefully undetected, so they could see what was going on.
“Then later we’d have to go get them. One time they came to the helicopter, threw a body in and the rest of them jumped in over it,” he said.
Stroup said a frightening moment came on one flight when the helicopter was supposed to put men down in what turned out to be a burned-out area.
“As the helicopter came down it blew all the ashes up and we couldn’t see what we were doing. When we plunked it onto the ground, a hole was punched in the bottom of the copter. Fortunately, we were still able to fly it,” he said.
Stroup said, as a pilot he was much more afraid of the weather than being shot down by the enemy.
“Bad weather and mountains don’t mix,” he said.
By far his scariest moment, he said, was when he had a general onboard and the helicopter went into a bank of clouds, making it almost impossible to see.
They found an opening in the clouds and flew above them, only to fly into a second bank. “We knew we were over mountains and we knew we didn’t have enough gas to get back over the ocean,” he said.
Finally, they found an opening in the clouds and were able to descend and find a place to land. “That was the scariest moment of my life,” said Stroup, shaking his head.
He said when he returned home, he didn’t experience the resentment that many Vietnam veterans endured. “It might have been because I came home alone and not as part of a unit,” said Stroup. “At any rate, nobody spat in my face.”
“I did my duty and I’d gladly do it again,” he said. “I know some say we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. I don’t look at it that way. I did what I was called to do.
“I’m not a ‘sit-around-and-tell-war-stories’ kind of guy. It’s not glorious — and I have a lot of other things to do.”