Ronnie Miranda got more than his share of raw deals.
I’m not going to get into his family life or his upbringing. Hell, we all have a some issues there and no one survives childhood and adolescence unscathed. My parents did the best they could and I’m sure Ronnie’s did as well.
Ronnie and I were raised in a small town. The kind of town that was close knit and great to be raised in but also the kind of town that you wanted to get the hell out of as quickly as possible when you turned eighteen. I went to College. Ronnie went to Vietnam.
Ron did his duty. No. He did more than his duty. He did three tours of duty. He was awarded the purple heart and the silver star. Ron was a sergeant in the army. He would have been a good one. Hard but caring. A mother hen on the battlefield. He and his men were pinned down by a Viet Cong Machine Gun bunker. Armed only with a pistol and a hand grenade he stormed the bunker and killed all inside. Shrapnel form the blast went through his body. I know. I saw the scars years later one day when we were out fishing. Lazing on the bank of a fishing hole...Ronnie pulled off his shirt to get some sun. I’d never seen scars like them but it didn’t take a genius to figure out where they came from and how he got them. I didn’t ask because I didn’t have to.
Had I been drafted at eighteen...I would have gone with bells on. Like many working class eighteen year olds raised in small towns...Overseas...South East Asia...War...was the Betty Crocker quick mix for adventure and heroism. What do you know when your eighteen? Personally I was just a small town redneck...homophobic and bigoted like most others I went to school with back at that time.
When I turned twenty one... after three years of almost flunking out of a junior college...I moved to San Francisco and decided to take my studies seriously. The first year of extension night classes I didn’t miss a beat and pulled a 4.0 average. I enrolled as a full-time student in San Francisco State the following year. At that time I wasn’t so callow and green and red around the neck. I would have nailed both feet to the floor before going to Viet Nam. Not because I was scared but because by then I had enough sense to know it was wrong. But I didn’t have to worry. I was 4F. Probably the only benefit of having had polio as a baby...it saved me from the draft and getting my gung-ho ass shot to pieces trying to be a hero.
Ron Miranda didn’t have that option. He wasn’t a great student but he was damn fine shot and he lived for hunting and fishing.
In my early twenties I returned home for a weekend to visit my parents...which meant...I got restless in the evening and went out to the local bar at the bowling alley for a drink, a girl and some hot sex. Really, you almost never found a girl and hot sex but you could always find a drink. Dark American bars. My eyes hadn’t adjusted yet as I ambled up to the bar and ordered a beer.
“Hey A. Is that you?” A voice in the dark.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“It’s Ronnie Miranda.” Ronnie took a stool next to me.
“I haven’t seen you in years. Where in the hell have you been?” I asked.
“I’ve been in Nam...three tours of duty and I didn’t get a letter from any of you sons-of-bitches,” he said. I guess he’d been thinking about stuff like that while he sat there on his own drinking beer in the dark bar with the long shadows as company.
“Jesus. I didn’t know you were in Vietnam. Hell, Ronnie most of us left. I don’t know where a lot of our class went...” I said.
We moved on and talked of other things. Later, Ronnie disappeared for a few minutes. In his absence I remember bartender saying that Ronnie had been a real pain the ass since he came home.
Somewhere in the evening Vietnam came up again and Ronnie asked me what I thought about it. I told him I was against it, was active in the movement and didn’t think we had any business there. He said he suspected as much. It may have been my unruly hair and beard. It may have been my blue chambray shirt and jeans. We didn’t argue about it. He shrugged his shoulders and let it ride and we forgot about it.
I don’t remember much after that. I returned home at other times to visit my folks and a couple of summers I returned home to work in the fields. On a few occasions during those years I’d run into Ronnie and we’d grab some beer and go out fishing. Another friend mentioned that Ronnie had a future as a Air Traffic Controller because he had excellent eyesight. That didn’t happen. Ronnie stayed close to home and took on the worst job he could have. He became a bartender.
I eventually finished Uni and took up a teaching position in Australia. I flew home one Christmas to visit family. I walked into Carlo’s with my brother and a friend from Australia. We had done some Christmas shopping and decided to have a beer before returning home for lunch. Ronnie was tending bar. He shook my hand and welcomed me home then proceeded to call all my old friends from high school and within an hour the bar was filled with my old high school buddies. We got roaring drunk. My brother’s wife was not impressed. My parents were not impressed. We were supposed to be home for lunch and we didn’t get home until after closing time.
I never saw Ronnie Miranda again. It was a few years later when back in Australia I got a long distance call from my brother telling me about my old high school buddy, Ronnie Miranda. Ronnie married but it didn’t work out. He and his wife had been separated for about six months when he drove by her house one night at three o’clock in the morning. He’d finished his shift tending bar, closed up and had more than a few drinks. He found another man at her house. He kicked down the door and shot Mitch Arbel twice with a 12 gauge shotgun.
Ronnie Miranda was on the run. He disappeared. This was in 1980.
There was a lawyer in my home town and we were close friends too. His name was Chuck Vaughn. Years later Chuck told me that Ronnie had called him that night. Chuck advised Ronnie to turn himself in. Ronnie said he couldn’t do it. He disappeared and wasn’t seen again for thirty-one years.
It’s a shame. Chuck was a fine lawyer and had he lived would have defended Ronnie.
Last year the law caught up with Ronnie Miranda. He was working in a restaurant in Florida. He lost his temper, threatened someone. He was arrested and released. A little later information came back on his fingerprints. The police paid a visit to his trailer and he surrendered peacefully. Thirty-one years on the lam were over. Ronnie Miranda was coming home. Not as a war hero but as a murderer who spent almost half his life on the run.
Ron Miranda shot Mitch Armbel with a twelve gauge shotgun at three o’clock in the morning. That’s a fact. He had finished up his shift tending bar and had been drinking heavily. That’s a fact. His shot gun was in the car. That’s a fact. Ronnie claimed he planned on going duck hunting a few hours later. He drove by his estranged wife’s house. The lights were on. it seemed strange to him. It was three in the morning. He stopped the car and investigated. He was overcome with rage when he found another man in her house. These things add up. What doesn’t add up is premeditation. What doesn’t add up is murder in the first degree.
Damned near everyone who knew Ronnie Miranda knew he came back from Vietnam with serious baggage. He had deep seated problems. He had seen and done some serious shit. I’m not sure Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was a well know term back then...but it sure as hell is now and there’s enough history on Vietnam vets for it to be a text book term associated with returned combatants back then and today.
It is obvious that Ronnie Miranda was guilty of killing Mitch Armbel and should serve time. But it also seems obvious to me that it was a crime of passion. It was not premeditated. Ronnie Miranda needed help. Mitch Armbel was a victim. Ronnie’s wife was a victim. And Ronnie Miranda was victim.
I’m sure the public prosecutor is proud of his latest scalp. It may well be his springboard into politics and bigger places. After all it’s not whether justice has been served in our system...but how many hits you have on the scoreboard.
I’m sure the public defender did all he could to represent Ronnie...but one can only wonder what a good defense lawyer might have done with a charge of first degree murder on a crime that was so obviously not premeditated.
I knew Ronnie Miranda when we were little kids. We were friends. Ronnie was not always easy company but he was a good friend, generous, honest and loyal. I live more than 11,000 kilometres away and I only found out about his capture and trial a week ago. I looked it up online. The trial lasted three days. The jury took two hours to find him guilty of the first degree murder.
I don’t know. I would have expected more. A longer trial. A jury sweating it out for days. An immediate appeal. An expert witness from Veterans Affairs testifying to the damage done to combatants by Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. None of those things happened. It’s a sad thing. Ronnie was troubled man not a bad one.
Leave no man behind.
Ronnie Miranda didn’t leave his men behind in Vietnam. He didn’t desert them. They didn’t desert him.
Ronnie Miranda was deserted when he came home. He was deserted by the nation he served. And it’s sadder for the fact that he’s not alone. Even now we see it happen time and time again.
Different wars, same bullshit.
“Support our Troops” says the bumper sticker.
But heaven help the soldier who returns with problems because no one else will.