|Deacon Ron Shaw of St. Ignatius of Antioch Church visits the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, a smaller, traveling version of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Traveling Tribute was set up at the Nashville National Cemetery in Madison over the Memorial Day weekend. Deacon Shaw served with the Marine Corps in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. Photo by Andy Telli
Deacon Ron Shaw stood before a scaled replica of the Vietnam War Memorial and read the names of some of the 58,000 Americans who died in that war. The names of people who didn’t make it home like he did.
“So many guys,” he whispered to himself.
“I give thanks for what I have today and what He did for me and bringing me home,” said Deacon Shaw, who serves at St. Ignatius of Antioch Church in Nashville. Deacon Shaw was among the people who visited the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, a replica of the memorial in Washington, D.C., which was on display at the Nashville National Cemetery in Madison, May 26-30, Memorial Day weekend.
In 1966, about a year after graduating from Antioch High School in Nashville, Deacon Shaw enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He arrived in Vietnam in the fall of 1967 and served as a crew chief on a CH-34 helicopter ferrying supplies and troops to the front, as well as carrying the wounded out of combat and participating in search and rescue missions.
“We were the main support for everything north of Chu Lai,” Deacon Shaw said.
During his time in Vietnam, Deacon Shaw was involved in 27 different campaigns, he said, including the Battle of Hue, the Tet Offensive, and the months-long siege of the combat base at Khe Sanh.
Despite being surrounded by the violence and death of war, Deacon Shaw never lost his faith.
“The whole time I was in Vietnam, I was very strong in my faith,” he said. “What you realize is everything you were taught growing up is turned upside down. It’s the faith that pulled you through.
“God had to be the center,” Deacon Shaw added. “No matter whether it was a good day, a bad day, whatever, no matter how many friends you lost, you had to hold onto your faith.”
He returned to the United States from Vietnam just before Christmas in 1968 and was discharged from the Marines in 1970. “We weren’t very welcomed when we got home,” he said of the Vietnam veterans. “We lost as many veterans here in the United States from suicide as we did in the war over there. Guys had a hard time adjusting.”
Deacon Shaw had his own problems once he got back home, he said. “When I came home, life was difficult adjusting to everything. I made a few mistakes, and I forgot God forgives.”
But while participating in a program at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Nashville, “I re-found my faith,” Deacon Shaw said. “God reconnected with me. … I never could understand how somebody who loved God could ever give all that up. But that’s Satan.”
Once back in Nashville, Deacon Shaw pursued a childhood dream and became a Nashville police officer. He married his wife Dianne and converted to Catholicism. “Catholics don’t know what they have their hands on. They are the Mother Church,” he said. “I love my faith. … I’ve always loved my God.”
As a police officer, Deacon Shaw spent time as a patrol officer, working in forensics, as a detective, and as a motorcycle officer. “I loved it,” he said of his 22 years as a police officer.
He retired in 1998 after he was injured when his motorcycle was hit by a driver while he was on duty.
After retiring, Deacon Shaw earned a master’s degree in social work and became a counselor.
In 2009, the Diocese of Nashville started the selection process for a new class of permanent deacons. “I had thought about it for the previous class, but God showed me that I was not ready at that point,” Deacon Shaw said. By 2009, he was ready, and with the support and encouragement of his wife was selected for the formation program.
“It was all about God,” Deacon Shaw said. “My prayer was to be all about Him. … It can’t be about me.”
After he was ordained in June 2014, Deacon Shaw was assigned to serve at St. Ignatius, where he has been a parishioner since 1982. “I’m here to serve Him until they put me in the ground out at Calvary” Cemetery, he said.
Through all his experiences as a Marine, a police officer, a counselor and now as a deacon, the common thread has been service.
“The love of God is about serving one another,” Deacon Shaw said. “It’s all about taking care of one another and respecting one another.”
All his experiences, both good and bad, help Deacon Shaw in his current role, he said. “When we go through a crisis in life we ask, ‘Why do I have to go through this: why, why, why, why?’ The truth is God is preparing you for what’s to come,” he said. “How could I be a better crisis counselor if I hadn’t had a crisis?
“If you have a real relationship with God, He always answers.”