Early in my career, I was placed in charge of the “Man and Woman of the Year” honors at our local Chamber of Commerce. Part of my responsibilities included interviewing and producing a short video of each winner to be shown at the awards luncheon. (Yes kids, once upon a time we actually used film.)
In 1990, one of the winners was Gilbert Ronstadt, father of the famous singer Linda Ronstadt. Gilbert’s father Fred immigrated to Tucson from Mexico in 1882 and opened a wagon making business in 1892. Gilbert was born in 1911, one year before Arizona achieved statehood. The Ronstadt family played a critical role in Tucson’s evolution, active in both business and civic endeavors. Fred’s love of music was ingrained in future family generations including Gilbert, whom many said could have performed professionally. While Linda became the most famous, even to this day it is rare to find a Ronstadt that doesn’t sing or play a musical instrument.
Gilbert was a World War II Veteran. A quiet yet amiable fellow, he was always generous with a smile and had a mischievous twinkle in his eye that belied his age. Though another family member resided on the property, Gilbert lived alone in a large home.
I was so charmed by this man that I returned several times to visit with him after the award ceremony. Even in the middle of the afternoon, Gilbert would insist that we begin each chat with a copita of Tequila (Spanish for little glass) to “smooth the vocal chords.” He would then proceed to regale me with stories of his childhood growing up in a town where the main streets were still no more than dusty dirt roads.
Perhaps my favorite was a project he and his youthful buddies undertook one summer. Borrowing one of his father’s freight wagons, they drove mules from the desert floor to the top of 9,000 foot Mount Lemmon. There they cut down a large pine tree, hauled it back to Tucson and spent several weeks hollowing out the log and adding a mast and sail. Satisfied with their handiwork, the new sailing ship was once again loaded onto a wagon and hauled 200 miles to the Sea of Cortez for its debut launch. Gilbert said the craft promptly “sunk like a rock.”
When Gilbert died in 1995 I asked some of his family members if any of these stories were ever recorded. None were. “Living history” was lost forever.
I reflect upon this story every time one of our previous guests on American Warrior Radio dies. I don’t have the heart to do an accurate count but they include World War II Medal of Honor recipient “Woody” Williams, Navy SEAL “Miracle Mike” Day, John Eslinger (who did two tours of duty in Vietnam but was never in the military) several Korean War combat Veterans and, most recently, Vietnam Combat Veteran and good friend General Gene Santarelli.
This week we will be broadcasting a chat with World War II Veteran Joe “Peppy” Sciarra who spent five and half months fighting in the jungles of the Philippines. Joe is passionate about communicating his generation’s stories to younger people so they never forget the sacrifices that were made on our behalf. Several days after we recorded the interview, Joe called me to share his abiding gratitude for the opportunity to share his story. Joe is about to celebrate his 99th birthday. I hope it isn’t the last time I talk with him.
Having never served, I consider it my duty to record these important stories for future generations via American Warrior Radio. It has been said that “time is the coin of the realm.” We can always make more money, but we can never make more time. If you are a Veteran of ANY generation and you have not yet told your story, please consider it your duty to do so via The Havok Journal of any of the other platforms available out there.
Since the dawn of time, storytelling has shaped how we think and how we learn. Every time a story goes untold, our society is lesser for it.
Ben Buehler-Garcia is the host for American Warrior Radio which was established by local broadcast icon Dave Sitton in order to educate and inform the 99% of the population that never served in the military. American Warrior Radio contributes by telling the stories of our men & women in the military, those who support them and sharing issues of importance to veterans and their families. Ben never served in the military – which is why he supports those who do.
For over 25 years he has volunteered with various initiatives to support military families including the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee, Employer Support of the Guard & Reserve, USS Tucson 770 Club, the Tucson Community Cares Foundation and as the Honorary Commander for the 12th Air Force/Air Forces Southern.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.