All heart and courage, too

Ron Pfrimmer hopes to join Hall of Heroes

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COEUR d'ALENE - There is a section at the Ronald D. Rankin Veterans Memorial Plaza called the Hall of Heroes. It honors Purple Heart and Medal of Valor recipients.

Ron Pfrimmer would like to be included on that impressive list of more than 100 names.

"It would be nice," the 77-year-old said.

Pfrimmer grew up in Coeur d'Alene and was among the class of '54, the last to graduate from the old Coeur d'Alene High School on Seventh Street. The Long Beach, Calif., resident had a 29-year military career, six in reserves with the Marine Corps. He was a lieutenant colonel when he retired in 1982.

He and his wife of 56 years, Marlys, are in the Lake City this week vacationing and spending time with friends and family. It was during such a visit to North Idaho last year that he became aware of the Memorial Plaza outside the Kootenai County administration building dedicated to veterans.

His military career took him to Vietnam in 1966-67, and it was there he earned two Purple Hearts.

While sitting at The Coeur d'Alene Resort on Saturday, a polite, casually-dressed Pfrimmer recounted the incidents when he was hurt.

The first occurred when he was riding in the front passenger seat of a Jeep that included a driver, radio operator and sergeant. Pfrimmer, an artillery battery commander, was leading the group in a search of a new forward gun position near Chu Lai.

They were headed down a narrow road when there was an explosion.

"The VC would use shells that hadn't exploded and detonate them," he said. "We got hit by one of those."

Pfrimmer was blown out of the Jeep. The driver was killed, the radio operator badly wounded. The 1st Sergeant radioed for help. Pfrimmer spent a short time recovering in a hospital in Chu Lai, then returned to his unit.

He was hurt again, this time south of Da Nang, nine months later when he was struck by shrapnel from mortar fire.

"I should have taken cover, but I was looking for where those mortar rounds were coming from," he said. "If you could see the flash, then you could direct fire to those who can take them out."

Pfrimmer was seriously injured. He suffered head wounds in the attack, his retina was permanently scarred and his left hand contorted.

"I used to be left handed," he said, smiling, as he held his hand up.

Pfrimmer was evacuated to a hospital in Da Nang, and later taken to a naval hospital in Bremerton, Wash., where he would stay for six months recovering from his injuries. When he was released from the hospital, he returned to limited duty for two years.

"I never went back to Vietnam again," he said. "Most Marines had two, sometimes even three tours."

After leaving the military, the graduate of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., put his degree in business administration to work. He entered the aerospace field and spent 15 years with Lockheed Martin.

"We built the external tank for the space shuttle," he said proudly.

Since his retirement 15 years ago, he and Marlys have traveled extensively. They love spend time with their two sons and their families.

These days, he has another mission in mind: He would love to join the men and women of the Ronald D. Rankin Veterans Memorial Plaza.

"It would mean a lot to me," he said.

Kerri Thoreson of Post Falls, Ron Rankin's daughter and curator of the Ronald D. Rankin Veterans Memorial Plaza, said she would be happy to help Pfrimmer and said she just needs the paperwork to verify the Purple Hearts.

The Hall of Fame, she said, is updated occasionally.

"It's about due for one, so this is good timing," she said Sunday.

Pfrimmer treasures his years in the military. To be included on the plaza, he said, would be a tribute to those he served with. He described them as dependable, honest and courageous, folks he would gladly give his life for, and who would give their lives for him, too.

"Probably the best people I ever was associated with were in the military," he said.

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