Veterans Portrait Session
On Nov. 16, 2017, I met Ron Contant at Newhall’s American Legion Hall during a portrait session donated to Santa Clarita Valley’s veterans by The Greatest Generations Foundation. TGGF’s founder Timothy Davis had invited his exceptional photographer, John Riedy, from San Diego for two days of portrait sessions. With my heavy backlog of SCV veterans, I was finally able to meet recently with Ron at Canyon Country’s Route 66 restaurant and a terrific conversation ensued.
Rock & Roll Clothes Presser
Ronald J. Contant was born June 29, 1942, in Buffalo, New York, where he grew up and attended Cleveland Hill High School, graduating June 17, 1960. As a youngster, Ron worked several newspaper routes and he recalls the difficulty of delivering the heavier Sunday paper and collecting monthly subscription fees from his customers. However, his work ethic education began developing at an early age. Following high school, Ron worked as a clothes presser for M. Wile Co., a long-established garment factory. About once a month, Ron pressed new suits for the famous television personality, Johnny Carson. During his years at M. Wile Co., Ron played a four-string Fender bass guitar in a number of bands. Thus, he was a clothes presser by day and a rock and roll musician in local bars and pubs by night. But all that ended in the spring of 1964.
You are Hereby Ordered
In April 1964 Ron received Uncle Sam’s dreaded “Greeting Letter” ordering him to report to Buffalo’s downtown induction station on May 1, 1964, for induction into the armed forces of the United States. AKA: U. S. Army. Ron, along with numerous other draftees, spent a grueling all-day session there taking physical and eye examinations, a myriad of intelligence tests and filling out God only knows how many forms. At dusk, they took a bus and then a train to Fort Dix, New Jersey. However, along the way Ron recalls part of that train was inadvertently uncoupled, delaying their arrival by six boring hours. With the problem corrected, Ron and his new pals arrived at Fort Dix at daybreak the next morning and man were those drill instructors all over those green recruits. The verbal harassment seemed unending as those boys could not move fast enough. Welcome to Uncle Sam’s U. S. Army.
Ron took 12 weeks of basic training at Fort Dix and was then sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for eight weeks of advanced individual training. Next, Ron was assigned to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where he received his military occupation specialty (MOS). Out of the clear blue, Ron instantly became a carpenter without possessing any training and despite having zero knowledge of carpentry or having any interest whatsoever. That’s the Army for you, folks. After carpentry training, Ron took a short leave of absence to visit his family in late 1964 and he was then sent to Fort Hamilton, New York. After a few days, Ron and approximately 50 fellow soldiers travelled to the Brooklyn docks and boarded the USS Darby, a World War II-era troop ship. Ron recalls that there were a number of civilians aboard but they were separated from the troops — hence, mingling couldn’t happen. Eight days later, they arrived in Germany and were immediately bused to a U. S. Army base at Orleans, France, joining Bravo Company with the 553rd Engineering Battalion.
1955 Pontiac Chieftain
Ron served the rest of his Army service as a carpenter at Orleans building bridges, tons of odd jobs and he spent time at a non-commissioned officer club where, after hours, he played his bass guitar in a rock and roll band. But the good news for Ron and a few pals was acquiring a 1955 Pontiac Chieftain from a soldier whose tour of duty had ended. Ron obtained an international driver’s license and they used that ’55 Pontiac during breaks to tour Switzerland, Spain and Paris. Ron said, “This was the highlight of my Army service.” Ron also acquired an old motorcycle from another departing soldier. One evening at a French pub, Ron heard the Beatles song, “Michelle” and he swore that if he ever had a daughter that would be her name. Ron’s worst duty was escorting a fellow soldier, a handcuffed first lieutenant who he knew and was guilty of drug possession, to a military stockade. Ron, armed with a .45 pistol, was told that if his prisoner escaped that he would serve that lieutenant’s sentence. Needless to say, Ron was not about to fall prey to that rogue officer.
Meeting Susie Wong
Finally, Ron returned to a New York City outplacement center where he received his honorable discharge on April 26, 1966, so he promptly returned to his parents’ home and back to his M. Wile Co. job thanks to the G. I. Bill. Blending back into civilian life, Ron also resumed his favorite hobby playing his bass guitar in band at local bars. During one such evening, his buddy Walter Jennings introduced him to his girlfriend’s friend Susie Wong. Ron was instantly attracted to her beauty and warm personality and Susie loved Ron’s music and was thus smitten with him. Ron wasted no time asking her out and by Feb. 4, 1967, they were married and on May 16, 1969, their beautiful daughter was born and, holding true to his pledge, she was named Michelle. Following their marriage, Sue began periodically singing in Ron’s band. Michelle grew up ultimately starting her own family, presenting Ron and Sue with two fine grandchildren. While talking with Ron on Sept. 11, 2018, with great emotion he told me that Michelle was on a business trip only two blocks from the Twin Towers during 9/11. Ron said, “Sue and I were terribly frightened for Michelle’s safety until we finally learned that she was OK. ”
Sunny Southern California
Ron worked for M. Wile Co. three years when Buffalo’s frigid weather drove them to relocate in a rental truck to sunny Southern California, where they rented an apartment in Van Nuys. The mistake they made was selling their vehicle. Due to Susie’s medical experience she promptly landed a position with Valley Medical Center. Ron soon began working at Topanga Plaza’s Montgomery Wards and they each bought motorcycles for transportation. Ron recalls that, every day on her way to work, Susie would strap Michelle in her baby seat to her motorcycle and off they’d go to nursery care, which would not be allowed by a long shot these days. After six years, Ron began working in sales for Mercury Plastics in the City of Industry, where he retired on June 30, 2017, after 30 years of service.
Proud American Patriot
Ron and Susie purchased their first home soon after the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake and after the 1994 Northridge earthquake they bought a house in Santa Clarita. It seems that their timing was spot-on. Ron has been a Patriots Guard member for years but he’s been recently sidelined due to pain associated to spinal stenosis as he eagerly awaits surgery at Holy Cross Hospital. Since retirement, Ron and Susie purchased a Class C motor home, in which they enjoy camping along California’s beaches and throughout wine country. Ron, Susie and daughter Michelle strongly support a variety of charity events including many held by Ron’s good friend George Thomas at his Route 66 restaurant. Ron routinely attends Santa Clarita’s annual Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies along with riding his fine patriotic Harley Davidson motorcycle around Santa Clarita. Ron, a proud American patriot, loves America and he said, “It’s really sad seeing wealthy NFL players kneel during our national anthem. It hurts.”