The Times West Virginian

November 15, 2013

Ronnie Talkington communicated with his mom frequently while in Vietnam

By Emily Gallagher
Times West Virginian

MANNINGTON — While he was in Vietnam defending his country, Mannington resident Ronnie Talkington made sure he wrote and talked to his mother as often as possible.

“She was having a pretty rough time because my brother had passed away when he was in the service, and it wasn’t long after that that I was sent to Vietnam,” he said.

Talkington said he made calls from Vietnam to Mannington when he could. He and his mother also communicated by tape recordings.

“I would tell her some of the things I was doing. I told her everything that I could because there were some things I couldn’t tell her,” he said. “I would ask how things were at home in Mannington.”

Talkington said his mother would also tell him that she loved and missed him.

But going into the military was something Talkington wanted to do.

It all started in 1968, while Ronnie Talkington was a student at Fairmont State. He took a semester off from college and enlisted into the Army in May 1968.

“By enlisting, I was able to get my choice of what I wanted to be,” Talkington said. “When I went into the service, I took engineering.”

Talkington headed to Fort Knox for basic training. From there he went to Fort Belvoir, Va., for Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in heavy equipment and industrial engineering.

At the top of his class, Talkington was given the opportunity to choose his assignment.

“I selected Spain but ended up in Sacramento, Calif.,” he said.

During his time in Sacramento, Talkington ran an Army Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS).

“It was a ham radio station that transferred calls from the boys in Vietnam to their parents or loved ones here in the United States,” he said.

Talkington said he even performed a wedding ceremony through the radio.

“We had radios that allowed us to talk like we were sitting right next to each other,” he said. “But you could only get signals during a certain time of the day.”

Orders would be placed to send Talkington to Vietnam but would be pulled.

He then was transferred to Fort Lewis in Washington state, but he knew it was only a matter of time until he would be sent to Vietnam.

“I was there for a little over a month until I got final orders to go to Vietnam,” Talkington said. “It was 1969.”

When Talkington was told he was finally going to Vietnam, he said he was ready for it. He was 20 years old at the time.

“They gave four days notice that I was going,” he said.

Talkington said he had a house full of furniture at Fort Lewis that he needed to bring back to Mannington.

“I had $40 in cash and a credit card, so I drove from Fort Lewis to Mannington with a car packed with furniture and a Texaco credit card,” he said. “I knew I didn’t have much time.”

Talkington said when he told his family that he was headed to Vietnam, they were upset but knew it was something he wanted to do.

Although he had experience in engineering, when he stepped foot in Vietnam, he never saw a piece of engineering equipment.

“They then right there assigned me to a trucking company,” Talkington said. “It was a whole new experience.”

Talkington said every day there was a thought in the back of his head reminding him of where he was and what was going on around him.

“You had to watch yourself and make sure you didn’t get shot,” he said.

This was one of the hardest things to take in about being in Vietnam.

Talkington worked in the mailroom while in Vietnam and was attached to the 101st Airborne Division.

“I transferred supplies for the 101st Airborne,” he said.

He said there was another side to the Vietnam War other than combat.

“What I learned over there was that you had to keep your head straight,” he said. “There was drinking and doing drugs over there, and I never drank or did drugs.”

Talkington said a lot of the guys he saw who died did so from drinking and doing drugs.

“I went back and looked to find a lot of soldiers died the day after their birthday, the day before, or were killed within the first week they were there,” he said. “They would drink and do drugs.”

Talkington said he was supposed to be there for almost two years but got out six months before he was originally supposed to. Because he did get out early, Talkington wanted to surprise his family by showing up in Mannington.

Unfortunately, Talkington had to surprise them over the phone, but it was still a good feeling to be home.

“When I landed in Pittsburgh, I had no money or a way to get home to Mannington,” he said. “I had to call my parents and have them come get me.”

It didn’t take long for Talkington’s parents to pick him up. He said they were so happy that he was home they left right away when he called them.

When Talkington got back to Mannington, it was a little over two weeks until he got a job at James Chevrolet.

He then continued his work in the postal service by applying to work at the Mannington Post Office but got the job in Fairmont.

“That was in 1971. Now I’m retired,” Talkington said. “Been retired for 11 years.”

In 1976, Talkington went back to school at West Virginia University and got his degree in business administration and accounting.

“I also got married soon after I returned from Vietnam,” he said.

To this day, Talkington still has all the tapes he and his mother would communicate through.

“Hearing my voice made her feel a lot better when I was in Vietnam,” he said. “And that I would tell her I was OK.”

Email Emily Gallagher at egallagher@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @EGallagherTWV.