Ohio woman receives war medals from father she never knew
By SAMANTHA ICKES | Akron Beacon Journal | Published: July 5, 2019
CLINTON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — Tina M. Hoffman has no memories of her father.
What she knows about him she has learned second hand through photographs and stories of people who knew him.
Sgt. Ronald L. Poland was killed in south Vietnam when Hoffman was 3 years old. She didn't know he was her biological father until she was a teenager.
Decades after his death, Hoffman, 52, finally has a piece of her dad.
Hoffman grew up calling her mom's second husband "Dad." He had adopted her around the time he married her mother in the late 1960s. By her teen years, her parents had divorced and the man she thought was her biological father suddenly was no longer in her life.
It was then her mother told her about Poland.
Last week, Hoffman had tears in her eyes as her cousin, Marine Staff Sgt. Victoria Poland, presented her with her father's service medals. Ronald Poland was drafted into the U.S. Army in July 1969. He died on Sept. 5 the following year after the truck he was riding in struck a land mine, according to newspaper articles.
As Hoffman wiped tears from her eyes, she could think of only one word to describe how she was feeling: "Emotional," she said.
Thursday, the nation celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the original 13 American colonies severing ties with the British monarch. Many brave men and women served or continue to serve in the military, ensuring the United States remains a free country.
Hoffman and her family — like many families — remember their loved ones in the military and the sacrifices they made as they celebrate the country's independence.
'Daddy's little girl'
Though Hoffman doesn't remember, her mother Bertram Sickels said her daughter was "daddy's little girl."
Not long after Hoffman's parents got divorced, Poland was drafted.
Before he set boots on the ground, he got remarried to Jane Poland, who lived in Canal Fulton at the time and later moved to Colorado where she now resides. Ronald Poland went through about a year of training before being shipped to Vietnam. He died two months after he arrived overseas at the age of 23.
According to one newspaper account, Poland was the 103rd person to die in Vietnam in Stark County.
His service medals were sent to his wife in Colorado, who held onto them for decades before deciding it was time to pass them on to Ronald Poland's daughter.
"She never knew her dad," Sickels said at the service June 27. "I think this will be good for her."
Hoffman's aunts, Vickie Brown and Robin Gramlich, said Hoffman was deeply affected by the loss of her father. She found out about her biological father more than a decade after his death. The knowledge caused her to shut down for a while, Gramlich said.
On Veterans Day last year, Hoffman heard a number of stories about her father for the first time through a high school classmate of his, Frank N. Kemp, Sr.
"I think she's feeling the loss more now as an adult," he said. "Tina really didn't get to feel the whole impact of losing him."
The Family of Heroes Hall at Ohio Veterans' Memorial Park was packed with family, friends and veterans who watched as Ronald Poland's service medals were presented to his daughter.
Hoffman said she was excited but nervous for the ceremony.
She received at least eight service medals, including a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Army Commendation, Vietnam Service and the National Defense Service medals.
After receiving a box of Poland's belongings along with the medals, Brown sought the help of Bryan Bowman, coordinator for veterans issues in the office of U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Rocky River. Bowman also serves as the president of the Serving Area Military (SAM) Center located on Lincoln Way E in Massillon.
Bowman, with the help of Joanne Stallard, looked through the contents of the box and put together a presentation for the ceremony.
The box of Poland's belongings provided a detailed record of his service in the U.S. Army. He had served in the Army for nearly a year before he was sent overseas. The records include hotel receipts, bus passes, a Bible and all the letters sent to the family throughout his service.
"It's the most extensive collection historically I think I've ever seen," said Bowman, who served as the master of ceremonies.
Clinton Mayor Allen Knack and Canal Fulton Mayor Joe Schultz spoke briefly during the event. The Canal Fulton Veterans of Foreign Wars did a three-round volley and played taps. The 555th Honors Detachment performed an honorary roll call and displayed the battlefield cross.
Blue Star Mothers Chapter 2 President Sue Simmons presented Hoffman with a handmade quilt.
"Know the warmth of the quilt is like the warmth of your father's love for you," she said as she handed the red, white and blue quilt to Hoffman.
Some of Poland's belongings, including original documentation and a scrapbook, will likely be donated the Library of Congress' Veterans' History Project in Washington, D.C.
Poland was one soldier out of 3,095 Ohioans killed in action in Vietnam. His name is listed on the wall at Ohio Veterans' Memorial Park.
"With Vietnam veterans — they're not treated right, and I thought this was a good way (to honor him)," said Brown, who is a member of the Blue Star Mothers. "Vietnam has always been close to my heart."