‘I found a home here in Craig’: Vietnam veteran Ron Epplin reflects on long road traveled
Four years ago, Ron Epplin packed up his belongings and moved halfway across the country from Seattle to Craig, Colorado, not knowing what was in store for him.
Epplin moved to Northwest Colorado to be closer to his aunt, who is currently in long-term care in Meeker. What Epplin didn’t know at the time was that the move to Craig would give him a new chance at life.
A former U.S. Army Special Forces Officer and a Vietnam veteran, Epplin – like many young men from that era who returned home from fighting in the jungles of Vietnam in a war that was largely unapproved back home – struggled with PTSD once he came home, making it difficult to adjust to a normal, everyday life once again.
“I was never diagnosed, but I struggled just like a lot of men that came home from that war,” Epplin said from his home in Craig. “We were all 18, 19 years old; we were so young and right off the street, for the most part.
Just 19 years old at the time he landed in country in 1969 as a draftee, Epplin – fresh out of Officer Candidate School – worked his way up to a Recon Platoon Leader before eventually taking over as a Company Commander shortly after the Tet Offensive of 1970.
Fighting in country was hard for all, but seeing some of the things he saw at such a young age stuck with Epplin once he returned home to the U.S.
Despite being so heavily involved in veterans affairs in Craig over the last four years, being around fellow veterans was not something Epplin took to right away following his time in the service.
“I had some real issues,” Epplin, the adopted son of a World War II U.S. Marine, said. “I avoided everything; I wasn’t going to go to the VA and tell them I couldn’t sleep. I worked in the oil field for a few years after getting out of the Army and worked the night shifts because I couldn’t sleep anyway, so I thought I might as well work those hours.”
After getting out of the oil field, Epplin went to work in newspaper distribution in Everett, Washington before then working for the Seattle Times, driving delivery routes at night.
“I can assure you, for about 40 years I hardly ever talked,” Epplin said. “That was the advantage to working at night and driving delivery routes: I didn’t have to talk to anyone. I had various routes, I would go out and deliver and then come home.”
Then, seeing an opportunity to retire early and move to Craig, Epplin jumped at the chance to be closer to his Aunt Mary in Meeker.
That move is one Epplin is so thankful he made four years ago.
“When I first got out here, I knew I wanted to volunteer because I was going to have so much time on my hands,” Epplin said. “I went and met with Brian Baxter at the VFW, and he really, truly helped me more than anyone.
“He was a huge help for me. He helped me really open up and get involved,” Epplin added.
After getting involved with the American Legion, Epplin then joined the VFW and then joined the Elk’s Club in recent years, helping run Bingo each week. On top of his dedication to local veterans, Epplin also delivers meals for St. Michael’s Community Kitchen one day a week, lending a helping hand to those in need in the community.
“This community really gave me a home and a second chance at life,” Epplin said. “Compared to the way I lived for 40 years, not being anti-social, but just hiding out and not wanting to be social, this place has really helped turn my life around.
“I recognized Craig is home right away,” Epplin added. “I felt good here right away; I understood people that didn’t know me, and I felt safe here. I found a hometown and a home with good vets and good people.”
When citing his volunteer work throughout the community, Epplin said its his way of saying thank you to the Moffat County community.
“I really feel I’ve been given a last chance here, and I’m so grateful to this community,” Epplin said.
His work in this community won’t stop anytime soon though, especially when it comes to fellow veterans, specifically the younger generation.
“We have intense concern for the youngest and latest generation of vets,” Epplin said. “…Sooner or later – especially if they’re combat vets – they’re gonna need help, and we want to be part of that, getting them the help that they need.”
Epplin found that help he needed here in Moffat County, and he’s hoping to pass along that feeling once again.
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On May 17, Moffat County High School acknowledges some of its best and brightest student-athletes for the Class of 2021 with the Lewis “Dude” Dent Memorial Award ceremony.