By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
It reads like the end of a story. Lynnwood’s Ron Paschall was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on April 30, 1994, more than 22 years after he was killed in Vietnam.
A Herald article, published May 2, 1994, told how the 21-year-old soldier’s helicopter was shot down on Easter Sunday 1972, six days before his scheduled homecoming. It wasn’t until 1994 that his remains, and those of two soldiers who died with him, were recovered.
Ron’s father Marvin Paschall, who died in 1998, was at Arlington for his son’s burial, a somber ceremony ending with a 21-gun salute. His wife, Ruth, had died in 1993.
“It’s a relief to really know that he wasn’t a prisoner, that he has been found,” Marvin Paschall told The Herald 19 years ago.
It reads like the end of a story, but it wasn’t the end.
Last week, The Herald received an email from Wade Pavleck, a 61-year-old Vietnam veteran who lives in International Falls, Minn. He and Ron Paschall served for a year together in Vietnam with the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Division. “It was 1970 and ‘71, July to July,” Pavleck said last week.
They became good friends. After Spec. 5 Paschall was reported missing in action in 1972, Pavleck visited Ron’s parents in Lynnwood. He exchanged letters and cards with the family for a while.
“We lost contact over time,” Pavleck said.
His email asked for help: “I am trying to locate any next of kin,” Pavleck wrote. “Ron is to be awarded a post-combat award for saving the life of our company commander in 1970 during operations at Phouc Vinh in Vietnam. However, without a next of kin the award will not proceed. Ron was a wonderful friend and a true hero.”
Pavleck was aware that Marvin and Ruth Paschall had died. He recalled Ron having a sister. “I cannot remember her first name, and have not been able to locate her,” his email said. “Can you help me?”
A look at 1994 The Herald article solved the mystery. Ron Paschall’s sister is Janet Peyton. She and her husband accompanied her father to Arlington National Cemetery in 1994. Janet Peyton lives in Everett and drives a school bus for the Mukilteo district.
After learning Friday that two Vietnam veterans who served with her brother are working to have him receive a posthumous award, Peyton said she was surprised and honored. Her contact information will be passed along to Pavleck and his former company commander. And their information will be sent to Peyton.
“That’s great what they’re trying to do,” Peyton said. “I thought after all these years people would be done with it.”
Her brother, she said, graduated from Meadowdale High School in 1969 and was drafted that year. She was 17 when he died, and remembers Ron as a typical teenager. “Back then he just liked to hang out with his friends and cruise in his car,” Peyton said.
In Sonora, Texas, retired Army Col. Pete Bradley has been working with Pavleck to make sure a lifesaving act by the Lynnwood man does not go unrecognized. In 1970, Bradley was a major, and the company commander overseeing Pavleck and Paschall.
Now 75, Bradley spent years trying to learn the name of the man he believes saved his life in 1970. He didn’t know it was Paschall until meeting Pavleck at a Vietnam veterans reunion less than a decade ago.
“Ron did save my life,” Bradley said last week. He described how he was leading six to eight helicopters in for a fuel stop after running combat assaults. “Ron was my door gunner,” Bradley said. His helicopter landed and was refueling when another chopper crashed. Bradley said he and Paschall ran to pull that crew from “a blazing fire.”
“I got doused with jet fuel, and my pants were on fire. I tried everything to put it out, but couldn’t. Ron ran over to me with a little fire extinguisher, and he did put it out,” Bradley said. “The medevac helicopter picked us up, five of us, and that was the last time I saw him.”
Bradley was in a burn unit in Texas for more than three months.
“I ended up getting an award for heroism. It always bothered me whether Ron got one as well. To be honest, I did not know his name — talk about the fog of war,” said Bradley, who was commanding about 150 troops at the time.
The award Bradley received for that incident is called the Army Soldiers Medal for Heroism, which he hopes to attain for Paschall. “He should have had one, too,” Bradley said.
Ron Paschall was awarded a number of other medals, which his father showed to a Herald reporter in 1994. The Lynnwood man was the recipient of a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and “a special medal made for those who were missing in the war,” Marvin Paschall said at the time.
Ron Paschall’s death, two years after the incident with Bradley, came during a massive Easter offensive and an incident known as “Bat 21.” That was the radio call sign for the navigator of an Air Force reconnaissance plane that had been hit by a surface-to-air missile. Paschall, whose UH-1H helicopter crashed April 2, 1972, was among many servicemen killed in the effort to recover the navigator.
Gene Hackman starred as the plane’s navigator, Lt. Col. Iceal “Gene” Hambleton, in “Bat 21,” a 1988 movie based on the 1972 incident. The navigator was eventually rescued.
“I knew all about ‘Bat 21,’ but did not know Ron had died until Wade told me about it,” Bradley said. “I’d been trying to find out who he was for years.”
Pavleck said Bradley was the best commanding officer a soldier could have. “He was a true leader in a difficult environment. What he is doing in Ron’s memory is yet another example,” Pavleck said.
“We were a bunch of kids flying around in a war,” he added.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.