The Oklahoma National Guard's last Vietnam veteran is retiring this month after more than four decades dedicated to the Army, but he leaves behind a legacy that includes three generations.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ronald Petty, 61, served in active duty, reserves and National Guard during his career. His son died in action in Iraq in 2004, and his grandson also has joined the Guard.
“His positive attitude and enthusiasm will be missed,” said Brig. Gen. Robbie Asher, chief of the Guard's joint staff. “Throughout his career, Chief Petty has always been a positive, proactive and highly professional soldier who never faced a challenge he could not overcome.”
The challenges began when Petty was still a teenager. The son of a World War II Navy veteran, Petty said he never meant to make a career of the military when he joined in 1969 at the age of 18.
“It was the G.I. Bill that got me to join,” Petty said. “I couldn't afford to go to college, and I wasn't really ready for college anyway.”
Petty knew he was likely headed for Vietnam, but he didn't even make it that far before he was picked for special duty.
“I remember stepping off the plane in Bangkok, Thailand, and everyone was being separated into two groups,” Petty said. “I assumed this was normal so I went where I was told to go. The next thing I know I am being recruited for special operations training.”
Petty, 5 feet 7 inches tall and 165 pounds, was selected for his slender build. He spent 16 months mostly in Cambodia as a member of 18-man unit working alongside their South Vietnamese counterparts to disrupt North Vietnamese traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
He and his team lived in the jungle, never eating or sleeping in the same place twice and relying on local scouts for their knowledge of the land.
“On patrol we would carry several hundred rounds of ammunition and two water canteens,” Petty said. “Thankfully, no one from my team was killed while we were over there. We still exchange Christmas cards and emails.”
After his tour, Petty went to college but stayed in the Army Reserves. The Army offered a good paycheck, but Petty still planned to leave the military behind after he began his civilian career.
Petty earned his managing and marketing degree before going back on active duty. In 1975, he joined the Guard. He got a civilian job working for an oil-field manufacturing company.