He was drafted to fight in Vietnam only months after graduating from college with a degree to teach physical education.
Less than two years later, his life ended in war.
Almost 50 years later, a scholarship has been established in his name at the University of Dubuque.
Ron Sagers, a popular student and a standout athlete in the early 1960s at Maquoketa High School, was killed in action on May 22, 1970, while serving in the Fishhook area of Cambodia during the Vietnam Conflict. He was barely 25 years old, married, and a staff sergeant in the First Air Calvary Division, with a specialty in the light weapons infantry.
Sagers was among the first U.S. troops to enter Cambodia and was scheduled for R&R (rest and recreation) in June of that year, with his discharge set for October.
His cause of death reported that he “died through hostile action, multiple fragmentation wounds.”
His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hugo Sagers, received many commendations after his death, including the Silver Star, the third highest combat decoration that can be awarded to a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. He also received a Purple Heart and other awards and honors.
According to the citation, Sagers was wounded when a large number of enemy snipers attacked his unit. He began treating and evacuating the wounded and placing his men in a defensive perimeter before moving to a position to control and encourage his comrades. The action met the highest traditions of military service.
News of his death quickly spread in Maquoketa. Within weeks plans were set to award a scholarship in his honor to a MHS graduate. Sagers had graduated from there in 1964.
He was drafted in October 1968, months after graduating from the University of Dubuque with a physical education degree.
Sagers was married barely a year to Lynne Buell Sagers.
Aside from being an outstanding three-sport athlete, Sagers was a class officer, a member of the student council, and active in vocal music.
Wrestling was his best sport. With the name of Sagers and coming from Iron Hill, Ron was expected to wrestle. Others with the same last name, Jeff, Larrie and Wes, no doubt relatives living in the same area, were earlier successes in the Cardinals’ wrestling program.
Sagers lived up to his name. He was a four-year varsity regular. During his final three seasons he was unbeaten in 32 consecutive dual meets and a member of a Maquoketa team that won 29 straight dual meets, which was recognized as the longest active winning streak in the state at the time.
Sagers won the conference championship three consecutive years, all at 127 pounds. He qualified for the state tournament three times as the Cardinals were champions of the WaMaC tournament each season.
Sagers was a two-year starter at wing-back on the football team. Gary Starr and Joe Bullock were the leading ground gainers. Only once did Ron carry the ball more than five times in a game.
Maquoketa didn’t pass often. The 5’8” Sagers was a prominent target. As a senior he led the team with 26 receptions for 489 yards, both well over half of the team totals for the season.
In his final high school game, against WaMaC champion Monticello, Sagers caught nine passes (of 10 completions) for 139 yards.
“We didn’t have anyone to keep up with Sagers,” Panther Coach Dean Nelson said after the game.
He set school records for single-game receptions and receiving yards. They stood until 1980, broken by Brian Clark at a time when passing wasn’t as prominent as it is today.
Sagers was quick, not exceptionally fast, but was a member of a shuttle hurdle relay team that set school records. It helped to have Ron Owen and Rich O’Hara, both state hurdle qualifiers, serving as leadoff and anchor, with Starr running third.
That was well before the shuttle hurdle relay was a state meet event, run only in invitational meets, and later seldom at all. The team ran 58.2 seconds in 1963, a mark no Maquoketa team has ever matched. When a recent team was noted for setting a school record, Gary Starr questioned their claim. Research on the record found the hurdle height is now 3 inches higher than it was in 1963.
Sagers attended the University of Dubuque and concentrated on wrestling as an athlete. He had a brief experience in cross country. Sagers became an Iowa Conference champion for the Spartans.
Sagers also was president of the Athenaen Fraternity his junior year
After hearing of Sagers’ fate, his high school football and track coach Jim Dahlberg commented, “The community and the world lost a fine young man. If there was an example of true Cardinal spirit, Ron Sagers has to be labeled as a true Cardinal.”
The people at the University of Dubuque were equally impressed.
Royce Farmer of Des Moines, a former classmate, fraternity brother, and wrestling teammate who also served in the Army with Sagers, came back for homecoming and met with Sagers’ widow, Lynne. She told him “I am afraid that someday Ron will be forgotten,” according to a promotional pamphlet from the university.
With the 50th anniversary of Sagers’ death coming in May, plans have been made to present a Ron Sagers Memorial Scholarship to a UD student in his name.
Contributions to the fund are now being accepted. Interested persons can contact: Veteran Center, University of Dubuque, Office of Advancement, Ronald R. Sagers Memorial Scholarship, 2000 University Ave, Dubuque, Iowa, 52001-5099, phone 1-800-483-2586, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.