More details emerge about Scottsbluff Vietnam veteran

November 3, 2017 GMT

When Ronald E. Bales, of Scottsbluff, left to serve in Vietnam, he had no idea so many people would be interested in his life decades after he was killed in action.

About two years ago, filmmaker Ken Burns contacted the Legacy of the Plains Museum for information on Bales for a new documentary series he was making on the Vietnam War. Then-archivist, now-director Amanda Gibbs searched for information on Bales, but ultimately came up empty.

In a Nov. 1 story published in the Star-Herald, a reporter wrote about a Veterans wall at the museum honoring Panhandle veterans. Gibbs said in he story she wanted to know more about Bales and hoped someone reading the article would contact her. All her previous attempts revealed nothing from his days at Scottsbluff High School. She only had his photograph.

After seeing the article, a family member contacted Gibbs on Nov. 2. He was surprised to see Bales’ photo. The family member said as far as he could remember, Bales was never honored as a veteran before in the Star-Herald.

Gibbs fought back tears as she relayed the information.

Bales died in combat, Killed in Action (KIA), trying to save the life of one of his fellow men who suffered an injury on the battlefield.

“From the sounds of it, Bales tried to save him and died from a mortar to the chest,” Gibbs said, fighting back tears after finally learning what happened to Bales. “He died a hero but was never acknowledged locally for his actions.”

Bales had previously served in Germany before re-enlisting and was sent to Vietnam. His family member said he was the last family member to see Bales alive in January 1971. Bales died on April 15, 1971.

Gibbs now knows what happened to this native son, and hero. She understands why Ken Burns was so interested in him.

“His family member doesn’t know who he (Bales) tried to save, or if he lived, but now we know,” she said. “I want to thank the Star-Herald for helping us on this. We appreciate it.”

Bales’ information will be updated in the archives at the Legacy of the Plains Museum. His photo is already on the wall at the museum. His service mattered to Gibbs before she knew his fate. Today, the community knows he wasn’t just a veteran. He was also a hero.