Other Matters: Memory Of A Friend

There is someone I think of every Memorial Day, and many other days. Cornelius Ram and I were among a collection of young men who accepted the United States Marine Corps’ bet that we weren’t tough or smart enough to wrestle commissions from it. It quickly became apparent to everyone, including the drill instructors charged with pounding us into the shape of Marines, that Corky Ram would have no problem. He was a standout in the grueling weeks of officer candidate competition and then in the months of physical and mental rigor designed to make us worthy of those little gold bars on the collars of our fatigues. After high school in Jersey City, New Jersey, he had served a hitch as a Navy enlisted man, and then got a college degree before he chose the Corps. He was two or three years older than most of us, and a natural leader. He could tell when the pressure was about to cave a green lieutenant exhausted from a 20-mile forced march with full field pack or demoralized after a classroom test he was sure he had flunked. Corky knew how to use encouragement or cajolery to restore flagging determination. He helped a lot of us make it through. The picture on the left is how I remember him from that period.

Unlike most of us who served our few years and got out, Corky made the Marine Corps his career. He served two tours in Viet Nam. Here is the official 5th Marines’ Command Chronology of what happened to him and another officer on his second tour in January of 1971, as the war was slogging to its demoralizing conclusion:

“On 10 January Major Ram (2/5 XO) and Captain Ford (E Co., CO), while attempting to aid two wounded Marines, were killed by a 60mm surprise firing device.”

There’s a bit more to the story. Major Ram, Executive Officer of 2/5 Marines, and Captain Ford (of Glen Rock, NJ), Commanding Officer of Echo Company, were overhead in a command helicopter when they spotted the wounded Marines in the open and in the path of oncoming enemy troops. The helicopter pilot, convinced that the open area was mined, refused to land in the vicinity of the wounded Marines and instead put down at a distance. Major Ram and Captain Ford exited the helicopter and began to cross the open area toward the wounded men. The pilot was right – the area was mined, and both Major Ram and Captain Ford died as a result. At least one of the two wounded Marines survived; he visited the Ram family several years later and described the circumstances.

Corky Ram was one of 13,085 Marines who died in hostile action in Viet Nam. I knew others, but he was the one I knew best. More than once, I have stood gazing at his name on the wall at the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, DC. When Memorial Day comes around, he symbolizes for me the American service men and women who have died in the nation’s wars. What we and all of the free world owe them is beyond calculation.

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Comments

  1. John Birchard says

    I read your remembrance of Major Ram this morning, Memorial Day, and I watched “60 Minutes” last night and the tribute to a Medal of Honor winner from the current war – and am struck by the similarity between the selflessness of the two men separated by more than a generation. “My” war was the Korean conflict, but the strain of heroism runs through all our wars. Ordinary men doing extraordinary things. Citizen soldiers who step forward when most would step back. I’ve read that in the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq something less than one percent of the American population is directly affected by the losses suffered in these faraway places. We would do well to remember they are there to keep the rest of us safe at home… and to honor them with our respect and gratitude.

  2. Dave Rilling says

    Great article about Corky; He was a Marine’s Marine, that is for sure. On tough little man. I talked with his daughter last year and hope to visit with her and her family in New Jersey before year’s end. This is always a day of mixed emotions for most of us, thankful for life but sad that Freedom costs so much in Blood, Sweat and Tears, to quote a famous prime minister of days gone by. Hope all is well with you out there on my left flank Thank you for this remembrance of Corky.

  3. Michael Ram says

    Doug, thank you for your service, your resolve, of course – your memories, and keeping my father’s spirit alive. Like you, I think of him every day, and he remains my biggest hero. Today, we honor and reflect on all those brave men and women who sacrificed all for their country.

  4. Foster Smith says

    I think we all knew Corky would succeed; he was surely the most respected member of our band.

    Corky always made me think of what the Corps should be called–The Warrior Corps.

  5. kelly (ram) mooz says

    The Ram family can’t thank you enough for remembering our father. My brother, Mike, was only 11 months old when he was killed. The remaining 5 of us were 2 through 14 years of age. It was very tough losing him but we are so thankful for your memories and kind words. We miss him dearly and my boys (ages 12 and 14) know alot about him, thanks to those of you who are so thoughtful as to remember him in words. My oldest son carries his first name, Cornelius, as his middle name. We are very proud to call him our dad and so happy that we are not the only ones that remember.

    All the best,
    Kelly

  6. Linda Ram says

    Thank you, Doug, for sharing your memories and for all those Memorial Days that you kept my father’s spirit alive. He was indeed very good at cajoling–of course, in my memories, it was those last 10 sit-ups that I wanted to give up on, but the idea was the same. It means the world to his children that people remember him fondly. Thank you for your service, thank your for your heart and thank you for the memories. (And hey there Dave!)

  7. Charlton Price says

    All of us as American citizens every day must do whatever we can to help assure that Major Corky Ram and thousands of others will not have died in vain. Let’s search our hearts to discover and determine what we as individuals can do about that..