WASHINGTON -- Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II, a former 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) medic, was weeks away from receiving the Medal of Honor for his actions in Afghanistan on April 6, 2008, when he sat down to share his story for the first time in 12 years.
As a member of Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, Ron put his life on the line to save four Special Forces Soldiers and 10 Afghan commandos. He tended to the injured for more than six hours as the sole medic during that mission, while the team fought back against an aggressive force.
"This award is not mine," he said during his 2018 interview. "This award wouldn't exist without the team. If they weren't doing their job, I wouldn't have been able to do my job."
It was his values of service, honor, and duty that led him up the mountain that day. The same beliefs that he committed himself to until he passed away on May 14, after a hard-fought battle against lung cancer, said Miranda Shurer, his wife.
Ron never wanted to be defined by his cancer and chose to live "between the scans" -- the 12-week periods between each cancer screening, Miranda said.
And it was between each treatment, test, and medical evaluation that Ron and his family chose to thrive, giving back to various military and veteran causes around the U.S.
It took some time for things to sink in after Ron received the medal on Oct. 1, 2018, Miranda said.
At first, Ron considered locking the Medal of Honor away in his closet, worried that it would be too much for him to handle, he said previously. The Medal of Honor is emblematic of some of the hardest fought battles throughout military history, and it deserved the utmost respect.
"He later learned that he could tell his story to represent the Special Operations community," to draw attention to all the service members still out there fighting today, Miranda said.
Determined, Ron prioritized opportunities to support the military and families, both past and present. And for the year after receiving the medal, he participated in events led by the United Services Organization, or USO, Green Beret Foundation, Medal of Honor Society, and Special Operations Warrior Fund, to name a few.
He also relied on social media to document his many engagements, while simultaneously spreading awareness for each cause, Miranda said.
"Having the opportunity to help others gave him an additional purpose," Miranda said. "If he could make a difference, Ron was going to try.”
Ron also had several opportunities to show his military support at various sporting events. One trip included a visit to New York during Veterans Day weekend with his good friend and Medal of Honor recipient now-Sgt. Maj. Matthew Williams.
As a former weapons sergeant with ODA 3336, Williams was the second member of his detachment to receive the Medal of Honor for the same operation.
"Ron felt more at ease," after Williams received his medal, Miranda said. "It put the focus back on the team. And I think the fact that they were good friends made it more fun."
Returning to his roots
Although Ron scheduled many opportunities to support his causes, he always tried to find ways to incorporate Miranda and their two boys, Cameron and Tyler.
"With Ron's cancer, we weren't living in denial -- we were just taking it one step at a time," Miranda said. "He was determined to make as many family memories as possible. We just worked to enjoy each day without a sense of doom hanging over us, and just live in the moment."
Miranda recalled one trip in particular -- a visit to Puyallup, Washington, to see where Ron grew up. School board officials reached out, asking Ron to speak at his former high school as they unveiled a monument in his honor, Miranda said.
"If there was a vote for most likely to grow up, join the military, and eventually receive the Medal of Honor, I promise you -- I would not have won," Ron said during his address at Rogers High School in December 2019.
Throughout high school, Ron described himself as a quiet, skinny teenager that wore glasses. Only a few people knew him, while most considered him to be a "nerdy" guy that was "way too into cycling," he said during his speech.
All day, Cameron and Tyler watched their father as groups of high school students rotated in and out of the room to listen, Miranda said.
However, it was the events of 9/11 that led Ron to join the military and later Special Forces. And on that day, six years later in Afghanistan, Ron only cared about one thing -- helping his teammates and bringing everyone home, he said.
"The idea of there being a monument to me at this school is a bit difficult for me to wrap my head around," Ron said. "Hopefully … it can serve as a reminder that there is the potential in every one of you to contribute.
"You never know what will be asked of you in life. But if you always put other people first -- no matter where life takes you -- I truly believe you will find a life of value," Ron added. "You don't have to know ... exactly how you want to contribute to the world -- but know that you are building who you will become," later in life.
At the end of his speech, Ron thanked his high school and hometown for shaping him into the person he is today.
"I am glad that we were able to have that experience with Ron," Miranda added. "It was a huge honor for him to go back. The kids loved it."
The first indication that something was wrong started back in 2016, when Ron began to complain about the increased discomfort in his hip and lower back, Miranda said.
He started with the lowest form of treatment by taking Tylenol or Aleve, but nothing seemed to help. Eventually, he visited a chiropractor for additional treatment.
"At the same time, Ron's runtimes started getting worse," Miranda said. "Having been in good physical condition his entire life … he thought he wasn't getting enough cardio training," because of his back and hip injury.
A few weeks went by, and Ron's health got worse. It took an MRI on his hip for doctors to discover an underlying medical issue, Miranda said. A subsequent CT scan of his chest and abdomen in 2017 provided a proper diagnosis: stage four lung cancer.
In addition to having a fractured pelvis for almost a year, "Ron had a lot of growth in his lungs, to include one tumor that was the size of a softball," Miranda said. "He was in such good shape that his cancer progressed without us knowing."
Both Miranda and Ron acted quickly and started looking into options for treatment.
"We considered a move to Texas or New York," to find Ron the best treatment possible, she said. "Serendipitously, one of the best cancer doctors in the country moved" to Washington, D.C., as the director of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center at Sibley Memorial Hospital.
Ron and his family took it one step at a time. For nearly three years, he bounced between different treatments, medications, and exams, she said.
Eliminating his cancer would be nearly impossible, but doctors hoped to shrink his existing condition and slow future growth.
"Our goal was to get the most out of each drug in hopes that a better drug [or trial] would become available down the line," Miranda said.
Ron's ability to push past the pain and discomfort proved to be one of his greatest strengths – skills he honed while serving with the Special Forces, Miranda added. However, each medication came with a wide range of side effects.
"Cancer is not this fun montage of taking pills and getting better," she said. "Ron got almost every single side effect that you could expect from a medication. We [jokingly] called it 'side effects whack-a-mole.'"
As Ron and his family continued to live between the scans, the family took what would be their last family vacation in January. The four of them flew down to Miami, Florida, where they picked up a convertible and drove down to Key Largo.
"It was peaceful. We didn't plan any adventures -- we just hung out," she said. "It was one of the best family trips we have ever had, and I am so glad that we had that last family memory."
Then on Feb. 19, Ron posted on social media, "1,091 days since we found out I had cancer. 1091 days without being admitted to the hospital -- just a few days shy of the three-year mark! Oh well. I'll break out of here in the next day … and start a new streak."
Ron would spend his remaining months in and out of the hospital. He proceeded to document his visits, maintaining a sense of optimism with each post.
He also remained committed to his cause as he continued to promote charitable organizations. And when former Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins, another Medal of Honor recipient, passed on April 17, Ron took the time to share his story.
Then, on May 13, Ron posted for the last time.
Sharing a photo of himself intubated next to his wife, Ron wrote: "very upset to write this … been unconscious for a week. They are going to try and take [the intubation tube] out in a couple of hours, and they can't tell me if it will work. All my love Miranda, Cameron, Tyler,”
Ron knew everything that would happen after that day, Miranda shared. Then, at 11:20 a.m. on May 14, he was gone.
"The last couple of days were hard because I was so focused on supporting him," she said sadly. "Obviously, losing Ron has been hard … and processing everything afterward has been difficult."
Ron is slated for burial in the Arlington National Cemetery in October.
"There is one thing I want everybody to know about Ron. He had this sense of life, love, and commitment toward others … that is what made him so amazing," Miranda said.
"What he did on that mountain was not a one-time thing. That is the type of person I got to be married to, every day. That is who our boys had as their father," she added. "And all the support that the kids and I are receiving right now, I see an extension of Ron -- he truly cared for other people."