Ronald Edgar Riede - First Lieutenant
- Distinguished Flying Cross
Ronald Edgar Riede was born on January 5th, 1944, in St. Louis, Missouri. Known simply as “Ron”, he was always interested in airplanes and engineering. Even as a young kid Ron could name every kind of plane that passed over his home. In school, he was ahead of his classmates to such a degree that he skipped the fifth grade and moved directly to 6th grade. As a child Ron played baseball on a little league team and also played the trumpet. After graduating high school Ron enrolled at Iowa State in aerospace engineering. He chose Iowa State for its aerospace engineering program instead of Missouri University of Science and Technology even though he had a full scholarship to attend at Missouri.
At Iowa State, Ron roomed in Helser Hall and was a member of Stalker house. Those who knew him remembered Ron was a hard-working student who would always help underclassmen with their homework. While Ron did not participate in the intramurals along with his housemates, he always supported them on the sidelines. And, unlike most of his other classmates Ron was not from Iowa. On the weekends when others were back home helping on the farm or visiting their families Ron was stuck at school studying. Toward the end of his time at Iowa State Ron confided in others that he was not sure he wanted to be chained to a desk for the rest of his life - he even admitted that he wasn’t sure if engineering was what he wanted to do. Ron graduated Iowa State in the spring of 1966. Wanting some excitement in his life before he began his career as an engineer, he decided to join the Marine Corps Reserve.
In the Marines, Ron joined the flight school, hoping to become a jet pilot. In every flight school class, the top members of the class were able to choose whether they flew jets or helicopters. Ron about this ability to choose and studied as hard as he could. He became top in his class but when it came time to choose what he wanted to fly Ron learned that there were no fighter jet spots available in his class, so he became a helicopter pilot flying Huey gunships.
Ron was deployed to Quang Tri Province, Vietnam with the 1st Marine aircraft wing. Being a helicopter pilot in Vietnam was one of the most dangerous jobs in the military at the time. The military used 12,000 helicopters in the Vietnam war. Over 5,000, nearly half, were destroyed. The average lifespan of a pilot in Ron’s position was 30 days. Ron earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying in a sortie where enemy fire brought down several of his wingmen. Disregarding his personal safety Ron landed his helicopter and instructed his machine gunners to provide covering fire as he dragged his comrades out of the wreckage. While he did more than was asked of him none of his fellow Marines survived.
On April 11th, 1968, Ron, as copilot of a Huey gunship, was tasked with escorting two medical helicopters that were evacuating injured marines back to base. The actual pickup of the wounded went smoothly however as they were flying back down a valley the gunships and the medical helicopters became separated in the clouds. When a break in the clouds occurred the lead medical helicopter suddenly came down on top of Ron’s helicopter and both crashed to the ground. Twelve men including Ron died in this collision. In his commanding officer’s letter to Ron’s family he stated, “Ron was one of the finest Marine officers I had ever known. His exemplary conduct, leadership, and singular determination to do every job well were qualities that all of us respected.”
Ron’s eligibility to be named in the Gold Star Hall went unrecognized for years until a former Helser Hall housemate of his and fellow Vietnam Marine veteran, Bill Evans spoke up. Because of Bill, Ron’s name was added to the Gold Star Hall this past summer so a whole new generation of Iowa State students can remember the life and sacrifices of Ronald Edgar Riede.