Last Sunday at the annual Westminster Veterans Day program, Adrian Gamboa, a 27-year Marine veteran and the current commander of the American Legion Post 31, introduced distinguished Carroll County native son Colonel Ronald Hollingsworth. Everyone in the room immediately stood.
When Hollingsworth enters a room you instinctively feel an overwhelming need to stand out of respect. For those who are not aware, Hollingsworth, one of us — a 1960 graduate of Francis Scott Key High School, served two years in Vietnam in heavy combat. For his service he earned two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.
Perhaps it was best said by the Carroll County Times Editorial Board on Nov. 11, “it takes a special and brave individual to enlist and serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. And when it comes to taking care of those who have served, at least in Maryland, we believe Carroll is second to none.”
When you look up “special and brave individuals,” my friend Hollingsworth stands front and center. He served in the Vietnam War around the Củ Chi District of Saigon, known for the dangerous tunnel network.
According to Gamboa, Hollingsworth got off a ship in 1966 and was “immediately directed to a helicopter that took him to Củ Chi. He was given a map and a jeep and was instructed to report to his officer in charge. He was part of a five-man advisory team that was attached to a South Vietnamese Regiment. Within the first few hours 2nd Lt. Hollingsworth was on his first mission … During this mission they were ambushed several times. …”
Gamboa also mentioned that during Hollingsworth’s tour in Vietnam, Hollingsworth struck up a friendship with the late Adm. Jack McCain, the late Sen. John McCain’s father, upon an occasion when the admiral “toured his unit and Ron took him through the entire fire base. … The Admiral invited him to the celebration of his son’s release as a Prisoner of War. This is the type of impact Ron made during this years in the Army …” In his subsequent presentation Hollingsworth also mentioned working with Gen. Colin Powel in Vietnam.
“While many of my age were running off to Canada to avoid the draft, I stood up and accepted the call to serve my nation,” said Hollingsworth. Bear in mind that Hollingsworth had earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Morgan State University and master’s in Business Administration from Central Michigan University.
Yet despite his distinguished service in Vietnam, when he returned home, “I was bitter and disappointed. I gave up a lot for this country. I felt no one appreciated my service to our nation. For years I felt that way. That is a common feeling of many Vietnam veterans even to this day …” (Amen.)
“Two incidences stand out in mind when I returned home from Vietnam. First, the country had truly opposed the war in Vietnam. But they took out their resentment of the war on the returning service men and women. I was greeted with harsh words and called names like ‘baby killer.’ There were no brass bands and no celebrations. It was like returning to the enemy nation rather than America. …”
Two incidents in Carroll County helped turn things around for Hollingsworth. One was an interaction with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis at the Western Maryland College summer training camp practice in which Lewis said, “I play a child’s game and get a lot of recognition and fame and make a lot of money. You stood up and put your life on the line for this nation. So I want to say ‘thank you for your service and welcome home.’”
“To hear a nationally known football player say that to me just filled me with pride and joy,” explained Hollingsworth.
The other incident involved a woman thanking him at one of Westminster annual Memorial Day parades.
“One year a young lady comes out of the spectators and grabs my hand and says thank you for your service. She then grabs me in a bear hug and she won’t let go …
“After those two incidents, I said to myself, ‘Why am I down in the dumps? I have nothing to be ashamed of. No matter what anyone says? I am proud of my service to this nation.”
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In full disclosure, Times correspondent Kevin Dayhoff served stateside in the USMC Reserves from 1971 to 1973. According to Dayhoff, “My experience with the Marine Corps had an outsized influence on my life in spite of the fact that my service stateside was entirely and completely unremarkable.”