Three decades ago, Charlie Koehler and I served together on the Fontana City Council. I then served again for a brief time in about 1990 and again in 1999 while he served as city treasurer.
In 1990, when I left the Council for the second time, Dr. Koehler handed a manila envelope to me and asked me to safeguard its contents. I had no idea what he meant by that until he said the envelope contained the original medals earned by Ralph Broiles, the first Fontanan killed in World War II. Koehler said Broiles’ widow gave them to him to safeguard since he too was a veteran of WWII.
Since Koehler was now advancing in age and since I was an Army Vietnam-era vet, he asked me to assume the responsibility given to him so many years ago by Mrs. Broiles. I put the medals in a safe place in my home and spent two decades trying to find a proper home for these medallions of honor.
One day, in September 2018, while driving on Fontana Avenue, I saw the Ralph Broiles Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6563 meeting house. The doors were open so I ventured in, found Donna McGonigal, who ran the place and told her what I had. I offered to present these medals to their post in a formal ceremony, if that met with their approval. It did and on Veterans Day 2018, I had the honor of presenting a shadow box of the medals and the news articles of the complete story of U.S. Navy Sailor Benjamin Ralph Broiles’ death at sea on March 3, 1942. I also presented a pamphlet detailing the local and service biographies of the 13 Fontana men who died in Vietnam, five of whom were either my friends or classmates at Fontana High School, from where I graduated in 1968.
Fast forward to today. I have now completed the bulk of research detailing the lives and deaths of the Fontana men who were killed in WWII, the Korean War and War on Terror. And again, as it was two years ago, it is now my pleasure to present this information to the Fontana Herald News for publication starting Memorial Day weekend (with the first two articles here in the News section) and ending on Veterans Day in November. Copies will also be presented to Ralph Broiles VFW Post 6563.
(Bill Freeman can be reached at email@example.com.)