reminisces about an Army buddy in Berlin who passed away in 2002
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.
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.
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!
After my attempt to contact Ron, his wife kindly sent me the two pictures in this article. These were recent photos and it is astounding to note how little he had changed in the 35 or so years sinced I had last seen him. She assures me that he led a full life in his continued career with the U. S. Army. He was buried with full military honors in the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetary in Elmwood, Illinois. Further history about the Berlin Brigade can be found here. The shoulder patch of the Brigade is shown at left and those of us who served in Berlin were especially proud of this patch. Much information about the recent history of Berlin can be found by using a Google search. Zehlendorf notes can be found here.
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