ShareThis Page
News

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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me