AVB honors our fallen warriors and shares the memories of two who made it back

By Andy Kriege, YSN

Memorial Day is a time to honor and remember all the men and women who served America faithfully and made the ultimate sacrifice. We salute all those who effectively gave a blank check, payable to the rest of us, for an amount that included their lives.

That they willingly gave all when called upon by our country is why they should be honored and remembered not just on Memorial Day but every day.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words, but to live by them.” — John F. Kennedy

We also salute those among us who served, and share two stories from past YSN pages that represent the many honorable people in our extended AVB/BrandSource family who answered the call of duty.

To all who have worn the uniform and to those we have lost, we honor you and thank you for your sacrifice.

Ron Harper

Ron Harper of Quality Appliance reflects on his days in the service.

It was Jan. 31, 1968, and a 20-year-old Marine, Sgt. Ronald Harper, future owner of Quality Appliance in Waite Park, Minn., was guarding the U.S. Embassy in Saigon when the sky lit up and all hell broke loose. In the middle of a firefight, he secured the doors to the embassy and aided wounded Marines. For hours he could hear the voices of enemy combatants seeking to infiltrate the building, but despite his own wounds he hung on, and their attempt to overrun the embassy was ultimately thwarted.

That was the first night of the Tet Offensive, a turning point in the Vietnam War, marked by orchestrated attacks throughout U.S.-backed South Vietnam by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars. 

Despite the wounds he received in the assault, Harper helped prevent the embassy from falling into enemy hands, saving the lives of the civilians inside. He was later awarded a Bronze Star for his actions.

Ron Harper receives a Bronze Star for protecting the U.S. Embassy during the Tet Offensive.

“I felt it was my duty,” Harper recalled. “I was always very patriotic. It was in my heart all my life. I loved my country. I still do.”

Clearly, patriotism runs in the family. Harper’s son Nathan, a fellow Marine, is the latest in a long line of Harper family patriots, including a grandad who served in World War I, and uncles who did tours of duty in World War II and Korea.

Asked about the holiday, Harper described Memorial Day as “a beautiful day to reflect.”

“I feel very sad,” he continued. “I think about all those young men whose lives were cut tragically short. When my son went to Iraq [in 2009], it was on my mind daily,” he said, choking back tears.

Jeff Tracy

Jeff Tracy with five of his 15 grandchildren.

Jeff Tracy of Tracy’s Appliance in Lima, Ohio, reflected on his time in the service with mixed emotions. “I had the honor to serve our U.S. Army from 1970 through 1972, in the later years of the Vietnam conflict,” he told YSN. “I used to tell people half-jokingly that I’ve only traveled to two places: Kentucky and South Vietnam. And the only real difference was that unlike my Asian vacation, I couldn’t understand anyone in Kentucky!”

Jeff Tracy as a young soldier with girlfriend Joyce in 1970. The two later married and have enjoyed 49 wonderful years together.

But Tracy turned solemn when he recounted the day he departed for Vietnam, describing it as “the saddest day I ever bestowed upon my mother.” That’s because her only brother Jeff — a U.S. Marine and Tracy’s namesake — was killed in action in the South Pacific during World War II.

“I could never conceive how much pain that could have caused until I had children of my own,” he reflected.

Tracy censored this wartime photo, shielding his ammo so as not to alarm his mom.

Tracy, a past president of BrandSource, shared one of his favorite photos from the war (above), taken north of Da Nang in Phu Bai, sometime around December 1971. It was early in the morning, “just about the time we were headed out on a mission,” he said. “It was really hot that day, and I’m holding three bandoliers of ammunition and my helmet in my right hand. I shielded these items from the camera, as I did not want my mother to see them.”

“The military makes you appreciate the milestone dates in your life,” Tracy continued. These include the day he was drafted (Nov. 2, 1970) and his first day in Vietnam (July 21, 1971), which fell on his father’s birthday.

“My last image of Vietnam from a U.S.A.-bound airplane window was my mother’s birthday, May 10, 1972,” he said. “And the date I commemorate every year is the day I stepped back on my front porch at home on May 12, 1972. That day also happened to be my last day as a soldier.”

The Tracy’s traditionally observe Memorial Day by attending mass services at the cemetery where family members lie. “It is a great honor to show respect to people that I never had the chance to even meet,” he said. “But they committed to offer themselves up for their fellow countrymen. I’m proud of my participation and the path my life has taken.”

BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc., is a nationwide buying group for independent appliance, mattress, furniture and CE dealers.