Eastern Iowa Army veteran dedicates retirement to honoring fellow veterans

MARION, Iowa (KCRG) - As part of the Freedom Festival in Cedar Rapids, KCRG-TV9 is honoring four separate heroes in this year's "Tribute to Heroes." Over the last few weeks, as part of the weekly "Show You Care" series, TV9 has highlighted a number of local heroes.

The final nominee was Ron Dirks: an Army veteran from Marion who has dedicated his time to honoring and helping other veterans and their families since his retirement in 2009.

Dirks is a proud grandfather of four, who enjoys babysitting and challenging his grandchildren in cards, but that does not translate to handing out victories to his younger proteges.

Dirks served in Vietnam between 1971 and 1972. He was drafted into the United States Army before finishing college at the University of Iowa. Decades later, he has collected piles of memories that he will never forget.

Dirks was inches away from death, after a sniper attacked his convoy in Vietnam. He says at that point, he was given a purpose: he has dedicated his life, especially since retirement, to fellow veterans.

"I said: 'God, I wish you'd tell me what you want me to do,'" Dirks recalled. "I heard a voice say: 'all I want you to do is worship me and honor your veteran brothers. That's why I spared you that first day.'"

Since then, it has been Dirks' purpose to share those moments in time with other veterans.

"I want people to remember: there's a lot of veterans over the years, centuries, that have given their lives for this country," Dirks said. "And if I have anything to do, I want to honor as many of them as possible."

Dirks has accompanied fellow Vietnam veterans and their families, volunteering with the Vietnam Moving Wall since 1996, Honor Flights, and as a member of the Color Guard through the American Legion Post 298 in Marion since 2011. He was also the Commander of the Freedom Festival Voices of Hope Color Guard for six years.

It was one of his fellow members of the American Legion post, Roger Norfolk, that nominated him.

"His heart is good, he's a patriot, he loves veterans," Norfolk said. "He does a lot of funerals, which is very integral to what we do. So he was a natural choice."

After decades of service, Dirks had not thought about the impact he's made- until he was nominated as a hero. Since then, it has been on his mind a lot. As he looks back now, he works to keep moving forward.

"I'm just shaking my head sometimes, knowing how many people I did affect," Dirks said. "And I'll keep doing it. I'm going to keep doing it, long as I can. I'm 70, feel like I'm 45, might be the beer, I don't know. But anyway, that's just who I am, I guess."