By Tom Murt
On Oct. 5th, our community will gather to recognize the sixth of seven men from Hatboro who gave their lives in the Vietnam War. At 9:30 a.m. on that day, I will dedicate Byberry Road, between York and Warminster roads in honor of SP4 Robert P. Ruttle Jr.
Rob, as he was known to family and friends, was killed on June 5, 1969 in Quang Tin, South Vietnam.
Hatboro is like many communities across America in how we have failed to honor our Vietnam veterans. Our nation permitted the men and women who served in Vietnam to return home to an openly contemptuous and hostile country.
The brightest minds in Washington could not explain to the American people why we needed to be in Vietnam, nor why men like Rob Ruttle had to leave their jobs, their families, and their homes to fight and die in that unpopular war.
President Lyndon Johnson himself lamented sending young Americans to fight in Vietnam calling them “the flower of our youth.”
The draft itself was yet another example of great injustice where some young men were afforded deferments from military service, while others like Rob Ruttle and men from working class and minority families, had to go to Vietnam where they died in disproportionate numbers.
Many communities to this day have never even recognized their very own sons and daughters who gave their lives in the Vietnam War, thus denying closure and respect to the grieving families. How could we have ever let this happen?
Regardless of how anyone felt about the Vietnam War, some of America’s finest young men and women served in Vietnam, and earned both our gratitude and respect. Many of these men and women never returned home, yet have never received so much as an acknowledgment in their hometown of their sacrifice. This will be changed for SP4 Robert P. Ruttle Jr. on Oct. 5.
Ruttle, a 1963 Hatboro-Horsham High School graduate, was born on Aug. 11, 1945. He grew up in Hatboro on James Road and then on Sherwood Lane. He was the oldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert P. Ruttle, Sr. and had two brothers, Wes and Don, and one sister, Deborah.
While in high school, he played left guard on the football team. In addition to football, Ruttle had an interest in science, sports cars, reading, folk music, and theatre.
One of his classmates told me that Ruttle was extremely well-read, was very erudite and that he was quite knowledgeable about current affairs and world events. After high school, he attended the University of Louisville and majored in Business Administration.
When he returned to Hatboro, Ruttle continued studying Accounting and Business Administration at LaSalle College in Philadelphia. He was also working at Urban Engineers in Philadelphia.
In 1965, he married the love of his life, Joanne Smith, who was also from Hatboro. Joanne and Rob were living on Byberry Road in Hatboro when he was killed in Vietnam.
Ruttle’s death brought the heartbreaking tragedy of the Vietnam War to everyone’s doorsteps in Hatboro. He was well-loved and admired by his family, friends, and neighbors making his death extremely hard with which to deal.
It was reported that Ruttle was killed by an explosive device that was rigged to the body of an American soldier whom Ruttle was trying to recover off the battlefield. The soldier’s body had been booby-trapped and Ruttle was killed in the explosion.
Ruttle had many friends and is still remembered with great affection by his classmates who live in the Hatboro area. They described him as handsome, athletic, clean-cut, well-liked, having lots of friends, and never speaking ill of anyone.
His classmates recall him having an infectious laugh. Ruttle had a great personality and was easy to like. He loved his family very much, and was known to be a loving, caring, and devoted son, brother, and husband.
A classmate told me that one evening shortly after he died in 1969, 50 or so of Ruttle’s friends gathered and were so overcome with grief and a sense of loss that literally, no one was able to speak. Ruttle’s loss was beyond painful for those who knew and loved him and it hit them hard. His death in the Vietnam War was devastating.
The public is cordially invited to attend this overdue dedication and honor for SP4 Robert P. Ruttle Jr. The ceremony will be held at the Enterprise Fire Company, 36 Byberry Avenue in Hatboro. Some of Ruttle’s surviving family members will be attending, as will many of his classmates from Hatboro-Horsham High School. Parking will be in the municipal lot behind Gamburg’s Furniture.
Rob Ruttle’s memory will be made permanent on Oct. 5. People using Byberry Road will be reminded that a brave young man named SP4 Robert P. Ruttle Jr. lived nearby, bravely served in Vietnam, and gave his life in the defense of freedom. Anyone who knew him is encouraged to add comments and memories to his page on the Vietnam Wall Web site.
Rep. Thomas P. Murt serves the 152nd Legislative District. He is a combat veteran of the war in Iraq having served with the 4th Infantry Division. The 152nd Legislative District includes the townships of Lower Moreland, Upper Moreland, as well as the boroughs of Hatboro and Bryn Athyn. The district also includes portions of Upper Dublin Township, and the Philmont Heights section of Northeast Philadelphia.