By Kris DiLorenzo
Former Sgt. Ronald Ymbras, a Vietnam veteran is on a mission. Wanting to ensure that current and future generations appreciate the tributes to his fellow combatants who lost their lives, he has self-published”Fallen Never Forgotten,” a compendium of Vietnam War memorials representing every state in the nation.
Ymbras, who opened his Ronny Reliables Cleaning Co in Ardsley in 1973 and relocated to Elmsford two years ago, has been traveling to veterans’ gatherings around the country, giving presentations on “Fallen Never Forgotten”. The 268-page hardcover book has been acquired by military organizations and institutions including the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor, N.Y. the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial at the PNC Banks Arts Center in Homdel, and the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond.
A native of Yonkers, Ymbras joined the Army in 1966, when he was 18. He first attended mechanics school, and the “jump school”, training as a paratrooper. His first assignment was with the 82nd Airborne Division. In 1967 he was sent to Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division, and in 1968 he returned to the U.S. Like other vets of that era, he did not receive a hero’s welcome. “When we returned home from the war we were treated like crap at the airports,” Ymbras states in the foreward to his book. “People called us baby killers and threw dog shit at us,” He also began suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Meeting other veteransat the 1982 dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. energized him and soon Ymbras was involved with veterans’ organizations, speaking at high schools and church groups.
It was Ymbras’ son Matt, 33, who was the instigator behind “Fallen Never Forgotten.” For years he urged his father to put memorabilia from Vietnam- photos, newspaper clippings and other documents – into a book. “I used to keep a camera in my ammo pack,” the elder Ymbras told the Enterprise.
Then, on a road trip in May 2015 father and soncame across two places that happened to bear the names of two men in Ymkbras’ squad who had been killed by “friendly fire”. Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport in Westfield Mass, a public/military airport reminded him of John Barnes; and Hubbard Park in Meriden, Conn reminded him ofGlen Hubbard. “Friendly fire is not very friendly,” Ymbras commented.
In seven months, Ymbras assembled photos and descriptions of a memorial from each state, Matt Ymbras, who attended the Intitute of Audio Research in New York City and owns Startup Magic, a company that designs websites, social media and internet advertising for its clients, helped his father found RU Airborne, set up that organization’s website and Facebook page, and release the book. RU Airborne has over 24,000 Facebook followers to date.
Ymbras explained his method of collecting information on memorials. “I found out about memorial sites through research on the internet, visiting seven sites – in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and the one in Washington DC. For photographs , he said, “on craigslist I offered $50 for 10 to 15 photos, but by January I was hiring professionals for between $30-$50 per photo. About 10 percent of the people donated their photos.”
For more detailed information Ymbras called curators and gravestone keepers at the memorials. “I was the schmoozer, ’cause I can speak military talk,” he said.
As a result, Ymbras gleaned background information about the memorials, such as who the landscape architects were, how the memorials were funded, who provided the sculpture, and what happened on dedication day. “We used mostly memorials that were updated,” Ymbras elaborated, “mostly state memorials, some national ones. We tried to blend an array of reasons for why and where. A lot were put up in the 80’s and 90’s and now have additions, like educational centers. Some are at rest stops. We’re still finding other ones.”
Selecting which memorial to feature for each state wasn’t easy, but aesthetic factors often determined his choice. For example, Vietnam Veterans Plaza on Water Street in Manhattan didn’t make it into the book. “It has skyscrapers, no trees, it’s dark; so we decided to use the one in Katonah instead,” Ymbras said. That memorial, at 2610 Route 35, has particular resonance for Ymbras, as he had lost three boyhood friends from nearby Yonkers. He was present at the memorial’s 1987 dedication, and carried the 101st Airborne flag in the parade that marked the occasion.