Expressway span named for vet who lived nearby
They gathered together on a wind-swept bridge and remembered a man who made the ultimate sacrifice.
To applause and a few tears, family, friends and lawmakers unveiled the PFC Ronald C. “Smokey” Bakewell Memorial Bridge on Friday on the Mon-Fayette Expressway. The bridge joins Fayette and Washington counties and spans the Monongahela River on Route 43.
Bakewell, 20, of Alicia, Luzerne Township, Fayette County, died on Aug. 2, 1968, during hostile fire that occurred 42 days into his one-year tour serving in the Army in Vietnam.
“You don't know how much this,” brother Ken Bakewell said, turning to look at the marker with his brother's name on it, “and you all coming out means to us.”
More than 100 people braved strong winds on the 3,022-foot span about 200 feet over the river. The bridge is within eyesight of a home where the Bakewells had lived.
Bakewell described his brother as a somewhat quiet, humble man.
“It would probably bring a tear to his eye and a smile to his face,” he said.
Their father, William Bakewell, a veteran of World War II, said he was touched by the ceremony.
“It's unbelievable,” he said. “It really is. It does something for me.
“He'd really be overwhelmed,” he said of his son.
Area lawmakers included Bakewell's name in a bill that calls for other veterans to be similarly honored, said state Sen. Tim Solobay, a Democrat from Canonsburg and a prime sponsor of the effort.
This bridge was chosen because of its close proximity to the former Bakewell home, Solobay said. The bridge crosses the Monongahela River to Denbo, Centerville.
“If we still lived there, we be able to see this bridge from my brother's bedroom,” Ken Bakewell said.
Vietnam veterans who knew Ronald Bakewell turned out for the ceremony.
“He was the best,” said Lewis Hosler of Brownsville. “He had a good heart.”
David Thomas of Fayetteville, W.Va., served with Bakewell.
“He'd be pleased,” Thomas said. “I think it's honorable, and I think he'd be smiling.”
Ken Bakewell said he hopes putting names of soldiers on bridges makes motorists remember.
“This bridge is not only for my brother but hopefully will remind us of all the soldiers who served in Vietnam,” he said. “They didn't get a parade when they came home. I hope people will think more of all the people who served in Vietnam.”
Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.