BERMUDA RUN — Ron Hope didn’t want to be out front. It’s not his way.
“I’m not at home, and I’ll be in and out all day,” he said when asked if he’d mind being photographed near his flagpole. “I don’t know.”
Hope, 72, proudly displays both the U.S. flag and the familiar black-and-white POW-MIA standard to honor prisoners of war and the missing in action.
He understood the request well. He is, after all, a distinguished Army veteran and former national commander of the Disabled American Veterans, a nonprofit created by Congress with more than 1.2 million members.
It’s Memorial Day — a solemn occasion, particularly for a man who lost a limb in service of the country — and he’d like for his fellow Americans to pause to remember those who never came home.
But he really wasn’t thrilled about being in a picture.
“It’s not about me,” he said in a quiet voice. “It’s about the military and the sacrifices made by others.”
Finding a calling
Like a lot of men of his generation, Hope knew that time in the service likely was in his future.
He’d started college in Texas in 1966 on a football scholarship, but “I was not very big and not much of a football player.”
So after a year or so, he began to evaluate his options. He wanted to fly, but the Air Force, Navy or Marines were likely to put a young man in a jet.
Hope chose the Army and a warrant officer training program, where he would learn to pilot helicopters. He served from January 1968 through April 1970.
And since Vietnam would be the first air-mobile war, there was no doubt where he would serve.
Hope went to Southeast Asia as a member of the 1st Air Cavalry, and was wounded on July 15, 1969, when his helicopter was shot down. He suffered severe burns and badly damaged his left shoulder and arm.
Doctors saved his arm, but in his own words, it wasn’t much use. He said he later broke it in a boating accident and had it amputated. “I really wish they’d taken it off (earlier),” he said.
After his discharge, Hope went back to school. The GI Bill, along with decent health care through the VA, really is the least the country can do for young people who swear (and mean) an oath to protect and defend.
He started in real estate but was restless. “It was OK. I made a living, but it was not what I wanted to do,” he said.
The lightbulb moment came when he learned about the DAV, an organization that became “a second family” and a real opportunity to give back to his veterans, their survivors and their dependents.
He started as a national service officer in 1979, and stayed 38 years before retiring in 2010. He stayed active in the organization, and was elected in 2014 the national commander of the 1.2 million-member organization.
“There is nothing more satisfying than being able to help someone pay the bills and gain access to benefits that they fought for and richly deserve,” he said.
A debt owed and repaid
Memorial Day, during Hope’s professional life, was filled with events where he and his fellow representatives could observe — and respect — the day with others who didn’t need reminding that it meant far more than reopening a pool or inhaling a grilled hot dog.
Since retiring, it’s become more personal and quiet.
“I’ll call some people that I’ve stayed in touch with,” he said. “Memorial Day and Veterans Day, those are two of the most important days of the year for me. Americans, without the military, wouldn’t enjoy the freedoms we all have, freedom of speech and the right to get an education.”
Hope isn’t much for dwelling on his experience or his sacrifice.
He loved his time in the Army and the sense of purpose, order and discipline it imparted. For that he is grateful.
But as far as he’s concerned, his helicopter was shot down during an assault, it crashed and he was wounded. It’s just a matter of fact, and he wasn’t about to let it slow him down or prevent him from his calling at the DAV.
Each spring, he tills, plants and tends a magnificent vegetable garden next to a golf course. For anyone passing by his home, it’s not unusual to see him working in his yard or unloading a trailer filled with mulch one shovelful at a time.
Ask about that, he’ll answer politely and talk about how to try and keep deer away before steering the conversation back toward veterans and the DAV. And 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the organization, which is both a milestone and testament to the enduring importance of their work.
“Even during the lockdown, representatives were in there working with veterans on a one-to-one basis,” he said. “And we have all kinds of volunteers out there making sure veterans get to their medical appointments who might not be able to get to them otherwise.
“We owe those guys so much,” Hope said, perhaps forgetting for a moment that he is one of those veterans.