By HEATHER POHLABEL
Daily Globe Staff Reporter
SHELBY - Despite being 22 1/2 years of age and married, Ron LaBarge was drafted into the Army on September 26, 1966. After basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, LaBarge was sent to advanced infantry training at Fort Polk, Louisiana before being sent to Vietnam."I had a 13 day leave and a free plane ride. It was a TWA. You never forget some little things," LaBarge said. In Vietnam, LaBarge was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division, where he served seven grueling months in the jungle of Vietnam. "I carried a gun and set up ambushes. Some of the time you had contact; other times you didn't. If the Viet Cong wasn't after you, the leeches and ants were," he recalled. Manned with an M16 grenade launcher, LaBarge patrolled the jungles of Vietnam with a group of seven other soldiers on three day missions. "We would set an ambush out in front of us with mines," he explained. "We'd sleep an hour, and be up for an hour. We paired up and that's the way we did it. We would just sit tight for three days. Sometimes we would go out and search villages and look for ammunition and guns or whatever. Sometimes we would make contact, and that was tough. I wanted to kill him and he wanted to kill me. I got used to it, but I never got over the fear. I was scared," LaBarge admitted. During his seven month tour in the jungles of Vietnam, LaBarge was granted "R and R" in Hawaii. He sent a letter home to his wife to meet him there. "I was seven months pregnant!" Jane exclaimed. "I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I knew that I was going to do it!" "That was the only time I ever saw her pregnant," LaBarge added. Shortly after his visit with his wife and unborn daughter, Lori, LaBarge had a life-changing experience. "This one morning, seven of us were going to do mine sweeping, and at the last minute they called that off for my group and sent another group. Those guys all got ambushed and killed, but one (of them)...that would have been me," LaBarge emotionally recalled. "That scared me so bad." "We had to pick those guys up and put them in a poncho, we didn't have body bags, and put them in a chopper and I just thought I'm not going home like that. So, when we got back to base camp, I asked how I could get out of infantry," LaBarge recalled. "So, I re-enlisted in the Army for three more years. I had six choices of what I could do. I chose supply. I was sent to Cam Ranh Bay - safest place in Vietnam." At Cam Ranh Bay, LaBarge said he was treated wonderfully. So wonderfully, in fact, that even after being released from his duties in Vietnam and sent back to the states to work for 13 months, he opted to go back to Cam Ranh Bay. "They treated me nice there. They didn't know what it was like fighting out in the jungle. I had a bed, a locker, got hot meals every day and nobody was shooting at me," he explained. "I had a good job in Vietnam." In May of 1970, LaBarge would return home to his family and job at the Tuby. This would end years of nervous waiting for his wife, who would get nervous when she didn't receive a letter in a week. "I would freak out every time I saw a green car. The army cars were green..." she shared. Once back home for good, Ron "didn't even take a week's vacation. I took three or four days off and went right back to work. I had a family and we had bought a house, so I had to go to work," he shared. LaBarge was just one link in a strong family tradition of service to the country. His grandfather, Henry James LaBarge served in World War I, his father Orville in World War II, Ron in Vietnam, and his nephew Tim served in the Navy. Ron is Retired from the Tuby with 41 years under his belt. He enjoys attending his grandson's basketball games with his wife, daughter, and son-in-law, and travels to Florida yearly "after basketball season."