KSLA Salutes: Surviving the unimaginable
SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - He is the most decorated living soldier in Louisiana history.
More than 50 years ago Ron Chatelain was charged with leading soldiers through the jungles of Vietnam.
“Combat was eye opening, especially to hit in the Vietnam war the point of the Tet Offensive in 1968," he said. "My thoughts then, were 'Oh my God, how do you live through a year of this?”
Chatelain was the oldest of five brothers and he says he took care of his brothers the way he took care his soldiers. In most cases — they were closer than family.
“I guess the hardest thing to do is to lose people, (and) your soldiers you hold them and try to reassure them that help is on the way to get them back out of there, and some of them,” he paused. “You look at them as you hold them, you can see the look of death in their eyes and you are trying to reassure them. Most of the times they talk about their moms usually and some of them if they’re married before they went over about their young wives that then you hold them close as they drift away and slip from your grasp.”
Ron himself no stranger to brushes with death. He stepped on a land mine that didn't explode and was shot down in aircraft several times.
"Just every day you get up in the morning or if you've been on a night ambush and see the sun coming up and say thank God I'm still here one more day."
His dedication to his men earned him the Distinguished Service Cross, two silver stars, two bronze stars and five purple hearts.
“When someone recognizes me for what I’ve received, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking of all those that have died that hadn’t got that recognition,” he said.
On his final night in Vietnam, Chatelain was hit four times while leading his men on a rescue mission to help others caught in an ambush.
“The radio operator with me saw that I wasn’t moving and grabbed my boot and shook my foot and said ‘don’t die please don’t die,’ I could hear him just as clear as a bell tell me that,” he said. “I remember thinking I can’t be dying, I just feel extremely at peace and that shook me out of that, and brought me back and I hurt again. (and) I thought about my mom and I got mad at myself for what I thought was giving up and dammit, I’m not going to die face down in this muddy blankety blank ditch.”
He was airlifted out, with an overwhelming sense of guilt for the next few days.
“I apologized to the battalion commander when he came to see me. He made me feel good, he told me you got everybody out alive and that was my blessing,” he paused again. “I think that’s why the good Lord sent me there and set me back for second tour.”
Chatelain completed a 20 year career in the Army and to this day he continues to help lead others who were called to serve.
“Helping others to understand what they’ve been through and mentor to them and comfort to them," he said. "That way they know someone has experienced the same thing they have and try to help them get through it.”
Copyright 2019 KSLA. All rights reserved.