Titled “The Forgotten Hero,” the statue being created by renowned bronze artist Sandra VanZandt of Claremore for Joe Ronnie Hooper Memorial will be dedicated this Sunday at noon at Claremore’s Joe Ronnie Hooper Memorial Veterans of Foreign Wars, 1717 West DuPont Street, Claremore. There will be an All-American luncheon immediately following the dedication ceremony.
The life-sized bronze statue will reside in front of the VFW named for Joe Ronnie Hooper, a Vietnam veteran and recipient of the Medal of Honor, and many other awards. He is of the most decorated veterans in American history, but few know of him.
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Staff Sergeant (then Sgt.) Hooper, U.S. Army, distinguished himself while serving as squad leader with Company D. Company D was assaulting a heavily defended enemy position along a river bank when it encountered a withering hail of fire from rockets, machine guns and automatic weapons. S/Sgt. Hooper rallied several men and stormed across the river, overrunning several bunkers on the opposite shore. Thus inspired, the rest of the company moved to the attack. With utter disregard for his own safety, he moved out under the intense fire again and pulled back the wounded, moving them to safety. During this act S/Sgt. Hooper was seriously wounded, but he refused medical aid and returned to his men. With the relentless enemy fire disrupting the attack, he single-handedly stormed 3 enemy bunkers, destroying them with hand grenade and rifle fire, and shot 2 enemy soldiers who had attacked and wounded the Chaplain. Leading his men forward in a sweep of the area, S/Sgt. Hooper destroyed 3 buildings housing enemy riflemen.”
There is much more on the citation; this is only the first paragraph. Hooper was a true hero, and he was a member of Claremore’s VFW until his untimely death in 1978. He and his wife Faye bred racehorses locally after his retirement from the Army and were in Louisville at the Kentucky Derby when he died due to a massive stroke. He couldn’t be killed by the Vietnamese, although he was wounded many times. His Purple Heart is adorned with one silver, and two bronze oak leaf clusters. He was also awarded the Silver Star with one bronze oak leaf cluster, the Bronze Star with valor device and silver oak leaf cluster, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry and many others.
The VFW has been working on the monument to Hooper for over 10 years, a project being completed due to the passion of Immediate Past Commander Bill Richey. “This is so important to the community,” Richey said. “We think that it will become a draw for visitors from all over the country as they learn of the extraordinary exploits of Hooper.” As a part of the project, memorial bricks are being sold at $100 each to honor other veterans’ service to the United States. The bricks will be placed around the statue, bringing honor to all veterans’ service.
The monument to Joe Ronnie Hooper, the Forgotten Hero, is an honor that is long past due. Hooper is also dedicated to all Vietnam veterans, whose service, until recently, was largely ignored, ridiculed and disrespected. They hope that it will help bring understanding to the individual service members who served in Vietnam and the difficult times they have all endured.
Applications for memorial bricks are available at the Post, as well as online at the Joe Ronnie Hooper Memorial website, www.JoeRonnieHooperMemorial.org.