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Veteran/Wrestler pens a poignant memoir

Heaven, Iron and I: The Ron Martinelli Story, By Ron Zuccaro (Tribute House Publishing, Macomb County, Michigan, 2011, 145 pages.)

Book Review by Dennis Moore


December 13, 2011 (San Diego’s East County)--Ron Zuccaro, a highly decorated former Marine, has written a riveting and at times spiritual memoir of a tumultuous time in our country’s history, the Vietnam War--and how it steeled him to overcome a devastating personal tragedy after coming home.


Born and raised in Michigan to a family of Italian immigrants that had served in the armed forces for over 70 years, Zuccaro joined the Marines at age 17 and  served in the U.S. Army. Perhaps it is this military background that gave him the perseverance to overcome tremendous odds.


The author paints a vivid and indelible imprint in our minds of what he saw and experienced in Vietnam. His stories resonate with me from a personal standpoint, as I had a brother that died in the war there – and my father still suffers from painful memories of another war that he participated in.


Specifically, the author writes in Heaven, Iron and I: The Ron Martinelli Story: “As I look around I see bodies everywhere, bodies missing arms and legs. Downed helicopters. The smell of burnt flesh is unforgettable. Many of my friends are dead. One of my bunker buddies is dead, shot through the head. One of my best friends has the back of his head taken off from shrapnel. His eyes are spinning. Vomit all over him. I grab him up in my arms and cradle him trying to put the pieces of his skull back. Please no, not him. I’m balling like a baby begging God to help me make him okay. I have to get him well. I have to.”


Zuccaro speaks of the tremendous emotional and psychological toll this took on him-- only to come back home to America and find that his ordeal had just begun.  On the very day that he was to have a wrestling match for the heavyweight championship of the world with the current N.W.A. Champ, Zuccaro found himself himself pinned under a truck with life and limb in serious jeopardy.  He witnessed a truck racing out of control headed right at a woman holding a baby right in front of him. Zuccaro dropped the clothes that he had picked up from the cleaners and shoved the woman with the baby out of the way. Unfortunately, the truck landed on him.


The author writes of waking up from this accident in the Intensive Care Unit  in excruciating pain, with nurses and doctors around him. They gave him a shot of Demerol which took him to sleep. Intensive care would be his home for the next ten days. He wasn’t give much of a chance to ever walk again, but this is where the author’s book and story takes over, along with his faith.


A theme throughout the book is Zuccaro’s tremendous patriotism and love for his country, that at times borders on xenophobia; war can do that to you. He saw enough cruelty to his fellow soldiers that in his mind, justified a mistrust of Vietnamese. He does balance this emotion with his faith and professed love of God, along with his children.


Interspersed in the books are stories of the actress and Honorary Green Beret, Martha Ray, walking into Zuccaro’s Quonset hut and talking with him and the other soldiers – along with the author recounting instances in his civilian life in which he and a childhood friend would run an illegal casino in Detroit, and the author starting a construction business with his sons.


A compelling aspect of this book is the author’s technique of alternating chapters featuring flashback moments of his experiences in Vietnam with chapters of his hospital recovery from a serious accident – a recovery that would lead to his winning the world wrestling championship as Ron Martinelli, his professional wrestling name.


This book will definitely grab your attention, for a variety of reasons.


Dennis Moore is a member of the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild and the author of a book about Chicago politics; “The City That Works: Power, Politics and Corruption in Chicago.” He has also been a freelance contributor to the San Diego Union-Tribune Newspaper. Mr. Moore can be contacted at damien_brandy@yahoo.com or you can Heafollow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.


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