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Bridge over Mon could be named for Alicia man killed in Vietnam

| Monday, April 11, 2011

More than 16,000 Americans died in Vietnam in 1968. Twenty-year-old Ronald Bakewell was one of those killed.

Last week in Harrisburg, a bill was introduced to name a new state bridge in Bakewell's honor. The bridge linking Fayette and Washington counties is going up within a stone's throw of the home just outside Brownsville in the small coal mining community of Alicia that Bakewell shared as a boy with his mother, the late Mary Elizabeth Bakewell, his father William and his younger brother Ken.

House Bill 1281, designating the bridge carrying toll-road Route 43 over the Monongahela River as the Pfc. Ronald "Smokey" Bakewell Memorial Bridge, is being sent to the House Transportation Committee for a vote, said its sponsor, Rep. Bill DeWeese, a Greene County Democrat.

It must clear the full House and Senate and receive the governor's signature before becoming law.

Ken Bakewell, 61, who is living in Finksburg, Md., said he and his father very much hope the bill reaches Tom Corbett's desk. He said his mother, who died in 2009, never quite recovered from the shock of losing her son. The same, Bakewell said, goes for him and his father.

"He was a good boy, a quiet boy," Bakewell said of his brother. "As my older brother, he took care of me. Sometimes he put up with me."

For U.S. troops, 1968 was the bloodiest year of the Vietnam War. Private Bakewell was killed on Aug. 2.

He was shot, his brother said, near the north-south divide, the demilitarized zone, by a North Vietnamese sniper.

In his last letter home, written only days before his death, Bakewell expressed misgivings about the future.

"It was very negative, very dark," his brother recalled. "I remember he signed off, 'Well, mom, I've worried you enough.' "

The family later found out that, on the eve of his departure for Vietnam, Ron Bakewell had confided to a friend that he thought he would not survive.

"One of the last people he spoke to before shipping out was his best friend," Ken Bakewell said. "The friend said, 'Smokey, I'll see you in a year.' My brother's eyes teared up and he said, 'Buddy, I'm not coming back.' "

The family, however, had no inkling that Bakewell was anything but optimistic. His final letter home arrived at the house on Alicia Road four weeks after his death.

Ken Bakewell recalled the good times he shared with his brother. "We worked on motorcycles together," he said. "He would sometimes come home from a date and we'd watch Johnny Carson and laugh and Mom would get up out of bed and tell us to pipe down."

Looking back, Ken Bakewell has reason to be proud. Given the chance to get out of the draft -- the story goes that a local businessman proposed to intercede with an influential congressman -- Ron Bakewell turned the offer down.

"Oh, no," his brother recalled Ron telling his mother, "I'm not going to have you hang your head in shame and have people say about me, 'There goes that draft dodger.' "

In a prepared statement, DeWeese said that "as a nation, state and region, we must never forget the gallantry and bravery of those who have worn the uniform in conflicts overseas."

He said that naming the bridge after Bakewell "will remind people of his patriotic sacrifice for time immemorial."

Ken Bakewell said his brother is buried at Lafayette Memorial Park in Brier Hill.

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