WOONSOCKET ‚Äď Roger Brissette and his sister Vivian will never forget their little brother Ronald, who got drafted in 1965, went to Vietnam a year later, and died during The Battle of Loc Ninh Plantation on June 11, 1966.
‚ÄúI think about Ronnie every day,‚ÄĚ Roger, now 72, admitted last week after sending his brother‚Äôs picture to this newspaper for publication on the Military Page.
A combat friend of Ronnie got in touch with Roger in 1996, setting off a discovery process for the remaining Brissette family members.
According to the friend, Ronnie Brissette gave his life to save his buddies. An unauthorized report of the battle backs up this recollection:
‚ÄúDuring the battle,‚ÄĚ the report began, ‚Äúone grenade rolled next to PFC Ron Brissette, who although already wounded by the Viet Cong was still able to move and fire his rifle. He threw himself towards the man next to him, taking the blast from the grenade, thus saving the life of one of his friends. Seeing this, Spec 4 Richard Mitchell stood up with his machine gun and started firing. The remaining members of the platoon began yelling at him to stay down. Mitchell didn‚Äôt. Sgt. Hozy heard Mitchell say, ‚ÄėIt doesn‚Äôt matter. We‚Äôre all dead anyway.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
Ronnie Brissette was one of 18 members of his company to die that day as the Viet Cong overran the Recon Platoon at Loc Ninh Plantation, which is more well known for supplying the rubber that makes Michelin tires.
‚ÄúI was at work the day we found out Ronnie had died,‚ÄĚ Roger Brissette recalled. ‚ÄúMy dad and stepmom came to the company where I worked. I got a call to report to the personnel office. My dad and stepmom were there. I remember them telling me Ronnie had died. I also remember having to walk back to my department, crying like a baby.‚ÄĚ
Roger Brissette broke down and cried again, 45 years later, as he spoke of his brother.
‚ÄúI think of Ronnie every day of my life,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúI have personally come to grips with it.‚ÄĚ
Vivian is still battling her feelings over the loss of her brother.
‚ÄúI guess that I would add only that the pain of the loss hasn‚Äôt gone away,‚ÄĚ Vivian said. ‚ÄúNot one bit ... that I haven‚Äôt really ever come to terms with it. I‚Äôm still angry on top of sad.‚ÄĚ
The Brissette family mourned their lost brother Ronnie. No family ever fills the hole left by the death of a young brother or sister. It was no different for the Brissettes. They eventually moved on with their lives, keeping Ronnie‚Äôs memory close in their minds and their hearts.
Then the phone rang one day in 1996 at Roger Brissette‚Äôs home.
‚ÄúThe guy on the other end asked if this was the family of Ronnie Brissette and I said, ‚ÄėYes, my son is Ronnie Brissette. He is named after his uncle who died in Vietnam.‚Äô This fellow said you‚Äôre the guy I want to speak with. He told me we had a lot to discuss. Then he said he had been waiting to speak to Ronnie‚Äôs family for 30 years. He said he was my brother‚Äôs best buddy in their unit. I don‚Äôt want to use his name in your story because I haven‚Äôt been able to get him on the phone to get his permission. So let‚Äôs just say he was Ronnie‚Äôs best buddy.‚ÄĚ
The best buddy spoke to Roger of a religious medal Ronnie had given him back in Vietnam.
‚ÄúHe said one of the things that had been bothering him over the years was that Ronnie gave him a St. Christopher‚Äôs medal to keep him safe. He said he had been carrying it for 30 years and felt guilty. He thought it should be returned to Ronnie‚Äôs family. But I said no, Ronnie gave it to you as a friend. You keep it. That‚Äôs probably why you are still around.‚ÄĚ
Roger Brissette and Ronnie‚Äôs best buddy have kept in touch over the past 15 years. The friend has provided a wealth of information and anecdotes about his time together with Ronnie. They are detailed on his website: www.aveteransmemory.com
Ronnie Brissette was awarded the Purple Heart, the Military Merit Medal and The Gallantry Cross with Palm awarded by the Government of the Republic of Vietnam with this meritorious citation:
‚ÄúCourageous combatants, well known for their sacrifices, who have always exhibited a spirit of good will and cooperation. They assisted the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces in blocking the Red Wave of aggression from engulfing South Vietnam and Southeast Asia ‚Ä¶ Some died in the performance of their missions. Their losses have been greatly mourned by both Americans and Vietnam comrades-in-arms.‚ÄĚ
Roger Brissette now knows so much more about his brother‚Äôs time in Vietnam then he did back in July of 1966.
‚ÄúThe captain who escorted Ronnie‚Äôs body home told us Ronnie died from multiple fragmentation wounds caused by a mortar shell exploding nearby,‚ÄĚ Roger said. ‚ÄúRonnie‚Äôs friend said that might have been true, but that the battle was so crazy, he thought it was a combination of the grenade and maybe even rifle fire along with the mortar that killed Ronnie. He was right in the trench with Ronnie. He said the mortar hit nearby, most of it hit Ronnie, who was between the mortar and himself. Then Ronnie dove on the ground when a grenade landed and saved the life of a sergeant.
‚ÄúRonnie‚Äôs friend said the sergeant whose life Ronnie saved has completely buried the memory of that day and never talks about it,‚ÄĚ Roger Brissette said.
One thing we know for sure: Ronnie Brissette died while saving the lives of at least two of his fellow soldiers.
‚ÄúRonnie would be 67 years old if he had lived,‚ÄĚ Roger Brissette said, wistfully.