Bob was the second member of my class to be lost in Vietnam, his loss occurring just short of 10 months after Joe Ledesma’s loss. One of the most popular individuals in our class, Bob was a teammate, classmate and friend who is greatly missed.
The information that I have is that Bob was a truck driver in a convoy that was attacked in Kontum province. I did receive some information from Bob’s brother concerning his loss, which is contained in the following email from a member of Bob’s unit:
Ever since our conversation I have been thinking about what and how I should present "our" subject, so bear with and here goes: I was on my way to a transportation company to teach weapons, security, and tactics. While awaiting transport to Qui Nhon we met, along with another guy (Vern Hazel), and they of all things were going to the same unit in Pleiku. This was just before Tet of 1968. We arrived at Qui Nhon and were to go to Pleiku. But the Tet Offensive started.
(Let me backtrack: Why we hit it off I will never know. Bob the surfer dude, Vern the smart aleck, and me the thinker. But whatever magic occurred we became fast friends and were often called the three musketeers. Bob itched to get into action, Vern was more respectful, and I had already had my fill.)
We were delayed in Qui Nhon (Charang Valley) for about two weeks and during that time where we were attacked a couple of times. Since we were unassigned we were grabbed by everyone for everything - so when it was decided to try a convoy north, we were grateful to leave. We rode the convoy unarmed (and this was during Tet!) and we made the trip with no incidents. We arrived at the 124 Trans and processed in. Of all things, they were assigned and I was attached to the same platoon. We took it as a sign. SSG Sanders was the platoon Sgt. and we got along great.
I went on to begin the training while Bob and Vern got their licenses and began to drive.
I worked with the gun truck crews and so the three of us were on convoys. This was still during Tet and we got bothered a few times but nothing all that bad. However, the situation was bad enough that we had to wash our clothes and ourselves in our helmet.
We three were together one night and Bob wanted to go on the gun trucks or jeeps because he thought it was cool. I tried to explain to him there was a lot more to it than just standing behind a machine gun, but he was really infatuated with the idea. Even Vern told him he should cool down.
About this time one of my teeth started to hurt but there was simply no time to take off. Tet was draining resources up north and so the convoys were going every day. By the time Tet was over I was chewing aspirin and just couldn't take much more.
They wanted me to work with the convoy control vehicles (jeeps or 3/4 ton trucks with M60 machine guns). It was nice change - only two people to teach, not five, and all I had to do was man the M60. Looking back it was also one of the more stupid things I did; they had no armor plating and so you stood in the rear unprotected except for the gun itself and it's stand. The first recommendation I made was to armor plate the entire vehicle.
A few weeks later word went out two KP's were needed to clean trays, pots, etc. for the cooks - I volunteered Bob and myself. Frankly, I needed a break and Bob seemed hyper. Boy, did he fume! All night long he ranted about being stuck doing what we were doing when he could be on the road. I tried to explain to him it was a way to take a break and we could also talk. Again I tried to explain combat odds; give the enemy enough tries at you and he will eventually hit something. But Bob wanted something just a bit more manly than driving a truck - even though it was a proven fact that combat truck drivers had worse odds than a grunt. A grunt can hide behind a tree or something but a driver could only drive through the enemy fire and hope.
Soon the tooth was so bad I just couldn't take it anymore. I told the 1SG and he tried to get me in at the hospital but they couldn't find the dentist. So the word went out a gunner was needed for the next day. Guess who volunteered? In the morning I reluctantly helped Bob load his ammo, checked his M60, and advised him to be aware of certain things on the trip.
As the convoy went out the gate to go north, I went out the gate to go south. I saw Bob, returned his wave and went to go get my tooth pulled.
When I returned four of the guys were at the front gate. I didn't think anything of it and when they came up and said Sgt. Sanders wanted me I had no idea what was going on. I assumed that if I was able I might be going out late.
When Sgt. Sanders saw me when I was escorted to my tent he stood up, told the guys to wait outside, and told me to sit down.
When he told me Bob was dead, I really don't know what I said but I do know I asked him what happened and here's what he told me:
The convoy was only ten or so miles out and it came under severe sniper fire. The first target was Bob. He was hit and died instantly.
I went nuts. Sanders tried to calm me down but I escaped him and the others, grabbed a couple boxes of ammo, an M60, and a vehicle. I guess you could say I went hunting. I could find nothing so eventually came back. Sanders was so mad at me he put me under tent arrest and I even got escorted to the latrine. A couple days later he told me he did not recommend I escort Bob home because of my condition. I eventually got my head together but by that time Vern literally wouldn't talk to me and I was due to return to my unit.
Because of what happened I became a soldier - no longer a "here for 365 days" guy. I did everything I could to become the best soldier I could be. I became known as a guy who had his s--- together and gained a rep for bringing his teams in and suffering the least casualties. I stayed a total of 47 months and by that time things were so bad I was willing to leave, even though the Vietnamese I was advising were great. So Bob's legacy is that I was transformed into a pro and as others have said because of this who knows how many guys went home, survivors, because of my cause. So be proud of Bob's legacy; I take no credit for it. His inspiration gave me meaning.
I hope this helps.
This was a second letter adding to the first:
I have been giving my last to you a lot of thought and feel I mis-represented the situation. The nice thing about being a mailman is you have time to think, and I would like to re-state and explain.
I have always thought Sgt. Sanders told me what happened with the idea of lessening the guilt I had.....and making sure I understood he didn't suffer. However, you must understand ambush techniques used against convoys. Usually, Charlie let the first few vehicles by before springing the ambush. They would then hit the main body of the convoy. (Less security vehicles....more damage done to contents of trucks and blocking of the road.) The rule was "if not in the kill zone--don't enter it....if in it drive like hell. If ambush happens behind you...drive like hell."
Based on this I'd like to tell you what I think happened:
The convoy lead vehicle (Bob) was ahead of the main body. The ambush was sprung hitting the main body of cargo vehicles. As security, it was Bob's job to return fire. (His vehicle commander was calling in support and coordinating return fire by all security vehicles.) The main body vehicles were the prime target but once fire was returned by the security vehicles fire was directed towards them. I believe Bob did return fire, helping suppress ambush casualties, and was hit. (I believe Sanders meant Bob was the first casualty.......not the first target, so I think it was only a confusion of wording.) This is the only way it could have happened based on convoy techniques. If Charlie wanted to block the road, disabling the lead vehicle by a mine or rocket. They would have hit a loaded truck, not a security vehicle.
Bob was a hero in the truest sense....so rest easy. Maybe my wording was wrong so I wanted to set the record straight.
Home of Record: Santa Clara, CA
Date of Birth: 06/17/1947
Service Branch: Army of the United States
Grade at Loss: E4
Rank: Specialist Four
MOS: 64B20: Heavy Vehicle Driver
Length Service: One year
Unit: 64th Trans Co, 124th Trans BN, 8th Trans Group, Army Spt Cmd Qui Nhon, 1st Log Cmd, USARV
Start Tour: 01/25/1968
Incident Date: 03/16/1968
Casualty Date: 03/16/1968
Age at Loss: 20
Location: Kontum Province, South Vietnam
Remains: Body Recovered
Casualty Type: Hostile, died outright
Casualty Reason: Ground Casualty
Casualty Detail: Gun or small arms fire
On the Wall: Panel 45E Line 2