Veteran's support for regiment recognized

Ron Mackedanz came home from Vietnam with two purple hearts and memories of friends dying at his side, and did what so many other veterans of that conflict did.

Ron Mackedanz came home from Vietnam with two purple hearts and memories of friends dying at his side, and did what so many other veterans of that conflict did.

He got on with his life and did his best to put it all behind him. For the most part he shunned veterans' organizations and activities and kept private his struggles with post traumatic stress disorder.

That's not how Mackedanz lives his life these days.

On Sept. 30th, the veteran who makes his home in Kandiyohi received one of the highest military awards given to former members of the 16th Infantry Regiment. Mackedanz was among six in the 16th Infantry Regiment Association to be recognized as "Distinguished Members of the Regiment'' in a ceremony held at Fort Riley, Kan., home of the 1st Infantry Division.

Mackedanz served with Charlie Company, 1st Infantry Division of the 16th Mechanized Infantry. He served as an infantryman and later was picked to drive a track/armed personnel carrier during his duty in Vietnam.


The recent award honors Mackedanz for a host of efforts on his part to support the Regiment and its veterans. They include his role as editor for the "Dagwood Dispatch,'' a quarterly newsletter.

Along with his formal role, he also goes out of his way to make contact with many of those who served alongside him, as well as those who know the price of that service. In recent years he has made trips through much of the U.S. to visit old friends.

Mackedanz, a 1966 graduate of Hutchinson High School, was drafted into the U.S. Army in May 1968. He was newly married at the time. His draft notice came shortly after he learned his cousin Lyle Mackedanz was missing in action in Vietnam.

Mackedanz was injured twice during combat in Vietnam. His first injury was suffered when his unit came under enemy fire near the village of Andien on Jan. 9, 1969.

He suffered a wound to his leg, and was evacuated by helicopter for medical care. Accompanying him on that chopper ride was a friend from the unit, Mike Tessaro, 23, of Edwardsville, Ill. Tessaro died before the helicopter could touch down.

Some 32 years later, Mackedanz contacted the parents of his friend and visited them. They had not heard from any of their son's friends since the war. Mackedanz said they let him know how much they appreciated his visit and the chance to learn about their son.

He counts himself fortunate to have returned home from Vietnam.

His second injury in combat came when both Charlie and Alpha Companies and the battalion headquarters unit were ambushed by the North Vietnamese Army near An Loc and Loc Nihn. The American soldiers were outnumbered by a large and well entrenched force.


As the ambush unfolded, a rocket-propelled grenade struck the front of the vehicle that Mackedanz drove. It destroyed the engine and blew out the compartment door, which struck him in the shoulder. No more than 30 to 50 yards away from the enemy, Mackedanz escaped through the top hatch. He was the target of small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades but managed to return fire and assist fellow soldiers who were wounded.

Mackedanz was injured by shrapnel from a grenade that lodged in his neck, shoulders and hand. One piece of shrapnel missed his jugular vein by a fraction of an inch.

He was flown by helicopter to a MASH unit and eventually reached a convalescence hospital at Cam Ranh Bay.

As he recovered, his wife, Janet, received her husband's second purple heart. No explanation accompanied it, leaving her to wonder about his fate. It was only after a Red Cross worker penned a letter for the recovering Mackedanz that she learned he was alive.

After completing his tour of duty in Vietnam, Mackedanz said he returned to heckles when he landed in California. He and Janet were re-united and he completed his military service at Fort Carson, Colo. He attended the Willmar Vocational and Technical College and worked as an agricultural loan officer for Production Credit Association in Willmar and Olivia. He retired after working as a locomotive engineer for Burlington Northern Railroad in Willmar. He devotes much of his time now to veterans' issues and tries to make an annual trip to meet with those he served alongside. It's all important to him. One of the events that proved the most moving to him was his participation in last year's "Rolling Thunder'' motorcycle rally of Vietnam veterans in Washington, D.C. Crowds lined the blocks two and three people deep to applaud the veterans, he said. "It really was the welcome home we never got,'' said Mackedanz. Now, he wants to make sure that those returning from service in Iraq receive the recognition they are due. "Vietnam vets don't want to see those guys get treated like we did,'' he said. "If we can help the guys coming home now,'' he said, "that helps us too.''

What To Read Next
Get Local