I knew the name Ronald Belligio several weeks before I actually met him. I was a specialist in the Signal Company that was a component of the Berlin Brigade in 1965. Among my duties I was the house draftsman, meaning I knew how to use a mechanical inkwell lettering device called a "leroy." Every weekend my job was to get the names of incoming officers and men that were under orders to report to our Company for duty and make several name tags for them. One day in late 1965 one of those newly assigned was Spec. Belligio. I created an assortment of name tags for him and others. When I was finished, our First Sergeant informed me that Spec. Belligio would join Spec. Will Glover and me in our room and would I please set up a wall- and foot-locker for him. A few days later upon return to my room from day's duty I found Ron unpacking and setting up his gear. We introduced ourselves and I took an instant liking to this soldier.
Ron took his work very seriously and yet he always had a joke or two to relate when humor was needed. I remember Ron reviewing technical manuals so that he would qualify for a monthly bonus known as "pro pay" (proficiency pay). This was not a bonus to sneeze at as the supplemental pay really helped us out. After he passed his test he coached and quizzed me so that I would be ready the next time the tests were given.
Somehow Ron reminded me of an Italian elf - larger than an elf at five-feet-ten for sure, but an elf nonetheless. He had a full head of black hair that was always combed from front to back (of course it was trimmed to meet military regulations!) and a thin black moustache that reminded me of David Niven or Errol Flynn - it was always precisely trimmed. Like me, Ron tended to the roly-poly, and that is probably one factor that drew me to like him. He was also very neat and kept his military appearance sharp.
We were in the 592nd Signal Company, which comprised two major groups: -The garrison unit of specialists working in the headquarters compound running the wire central telephone office, the radio transmission equipment, crypto intercepts and support activities. The field unit continually maintained and ran field tests of equipment that would be needed if it was necessary to vacate the headquarters. This included radio and microwave transmission equipment, mobile telephone switchboards and other equipment necessary to keeping the Brigade's central communications working.
I recall soon after Ron arrived a bus ride from the HQ to our barracks. The bus was an Army shuttle that looped through the Zehlendorf borough of Berlin, stopping at various housing compounds and military installations. On this ride we passed a sign pointing to a local museum and Ron asked when we could go visit the "Zum Museum." Well, I had the chance then to give Ron his first German lesson, explaining that "Zum" was a word meaning "to the." We never did get over there.
The Headquarters compound consisted of the military headquarters of the Berlin Brigade (commanded by a Brigadier General) and the military governor of Berlin (a Major General). The military governor, while logistically within the European military command, actually reported directly to the Ambassador to Germany. Within the compound was a sizable civilian contingent serving the State Department's consulate section and in support roles for the military.
Though we worked together for the better part of a year, our duties diverged and I was assigned to bunk in a different room within the same Signal Company. Not working together during the day didn't mean that we didn't hang out from time to time during off-duty hours. We found interesting (and cheap!) things to do in the evenings and the occasional weekend.
There was always the Service Club where we could play cards or ping-pong or just hang out with soldiers from other units. There were the short bus trips to nearby watering holes, though neither of us ever got seriously plastered. They were just other places to hang out. There were the occasional longer trips via the U-Bahn (undergound) that took us into the active night-life areas of Berlin itself (we were quartered pretty far from the center of West Berlin: The Kurfürstendamm (or Ku-damm as Berliners and Americans alike called it).
We had a number of interesting daytime forays into the many quarters of Berlin - even once taking the official Army bus into East Berlin. I had been there a couple of times before but I accompanied Ron on his first trip. Now Ron had been stationed in other hot-spots of the world but he had never been in what was then known as enemy territory! The tour was a special treat for Ron, and for myself as well.
Eventually Ron was promoted to sergeant and our daily routines diverged further as he had new duties and responsibilities. There were times, though, that our maintenance duties converged in the switchboard area or the central office. There were also times when the number of regular switchboard operators (local German ladies) was down and we were needed to help take care of calls. It was here that I saw Ron at his best (and maybe a bit of his worst!) as he would carry on with his reparté with these ladies, who ranged from some attractive young women to some who were in their late 50s. It seemed impossible for Ron to remember some of their names so he invented nicknames. There was the grape-squasher, so named because she wore a lot of purple outfits. There were a couple of not to flattering names he had for a couple of our switchboard crew.
And later I was promoted to sergeant as well and gained my own set of problems and responsibilities. And we saw less and less of each other during the last few months of my posting to Berlin. That was too bad because, as I look back 40 years ago, I remember all those good times that we spent together both on the job and during our free time.
Returning to the more recent times, I am ashamed for not contacting Ron prior to late 2002. One of my jobs took me to the Chicago area (Deerfield) in 1990. If I had remembered, I would have recalled that Ron had called Chicago home and I could have phoned him. By 1993 I was hooked on the Internet and the World Wide Web was very familiar territory. I knew about the resources that allow one to look up names, addresses, and phone numbers. Did it ever occur to me to look up Ron's information? Not at all, I'm ashamed to admit. Not until early October, 2002, did I do this.
I found a "Ronald Belligio" in the Chicago area, with the address listed. I typed up a letter and sent it off. A week later or so I received a very nice reply. Unfortunately, though, the reply was from his wife, LaVerne, who broke the sad news to me that Ron had died earlier in the year. Several times I've wondered why I didn't think of contacting him sooner. With the number of times I visited Deerfield or passed through O'Hare, I could have met up with him and we could have had some pleasant times together.
Ron, my friend, I'm sorry. I hope with the publication of this story more people will know you and more people will think about calling a long-forgotten friend or colleague or even a stray family member. As always, save a seat for me at your table in the Heavenly Mess Hall! I'll be there someday!