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My thoughts often go back to that day at the end of August, 1969. My 30 day leave was ending and I was headed for St. Louis to catch a plane for Ft. Lewis, and then on to Vietnam.  It was late afternoon and raining. My brother, my best friend and my fiancée were going to see me off. The 70 mile trip seemed to only take a few minutes, rather than a couple hours.  We waited and talked at the departure gate until the voice came over the intercom and advised that my plane was now ready for boarding.  A  huge lump suddenly developed in my throat , it was really time to say goodbye!  Although I managed to hold my tears back, my fiancée could not.  After a few more handshakes and embraces I just turned away and  boarded the plane.
Late that evening we had arrived at the Seattle-Tacoma airport.   Missing the last bus leaving for Ft. Lewis, I found myself hanging around the USO, where I spent the rest of the night.  It was a long, emotional filled night. My thoughts were of my family, my recent engagement to my high school sweetheart, and about the horror stories I had heard about Vietnam. Early the next morning the Army bus was soon filled with other soldiers just like myself. We arrived at Ft. Lewis and within a few days we were processed and ready for departure.  We would have a couple formations a day where they would call out names for the flights, if your name wasn't on that flight manifest they would announce when the next formation would be.
I was only 19 when the Flying Tigers passenger plane I was on landed at Cam Ranh Bay. It was the first week of September 1969. The flight was long but we were finally in Vietnam. Everyone on that jet, especially those of us with an 11B20 MOS, expected that we would be here sooner or later. We all received helpful hints on what to expect once we landed, but much to our surprise we exited the aircraft without being ambushed or shot at by any snipers.
During the next week I processed and attended briefings. I did notice how old most of the soldiers looked to me that were there for out processing. They had finished their tour and were going home. I did not have to ask them many questions as their faces told the story. I could only imagine what they had been through the last year.  I knew that this was going to be a difficult and challenging year in my life. I also had serious doubts about ever returning home the same way that I left. After sleeping in a open ended building for several days I had finally been cleared to report to my unit, the 1/20th.
A guy by the name of Jack Rogers Jack Rogers and I became very good friends during AIT at Ft. Ord., CA. We were still together as he had also been assigned to the1/20th. Shortly after arriving at the CQ the men we came in with were being shipped out to their units. The majority of them were going to line companies despite the request for 2 volunteers for assignment to Echo Company. Considering what a guy had said to us earlier, " go to Recon", Jack and I gave each other a brief stare and both nodded as to say Recon couldn't be that bad, the guy was carrying a case of beer!
We got our first ride on a chopper that was going to Lz Liz, arriving late that afternoon. Recon was out on patrol at the time so we had a few hours to reflect on what was going on and to look around. Shortly after dark the unit came back in. Jack and I would go on our first mission with Recon at 0400. I was assigned to a Sgt. Henslays squad and Jack to another squad. Sgt. Henslay handed me a radio (Army called it a Prc 25) and told me I was his new RTO. As our squad started moving out I thought to myself, this is the real thing.  It was the middle of the night, I was with a bunch of strangers, carrying a loaded weapon and carrying a radio that I knew absolutely nothing about. We walked several clicks in the early morning darkness before arriving at a small hamlet just as the sun was rising. I can still see the haze hanging over the village and the dew on the ground. As I recall, the village was almost abandoned, except for a few older inhabitants. We searched the huts and surrounding area but due to my lack of experience, I wasn't real sure if we had even located any signs of the enemy. When we left the hamlet we were told to burn everything, SO WE DID!  I  just completed my first mission with Recon.
Over the next couple of weeks I became very familiar with the Prc 25. Eventually I would end up carrying the radio for the platoon leader. Tom Waterbury  My call sign was now "Robin Junior".  After the initial adjustment of being in unfriendly surroundings wore off I settled in for a cycle of events that would provide me with memories of a lifetime, some good and some bad.  Recon was small in numbers compared to the line companies and everyone became like family. I think that is what made the unit so effective.
Just as I had remembered the day I arrived on Lz Liz, I can remember the day I left.  Although I had mixed emotions about leaving, I was also very excited about going home; I HAD SURVIVED NAM. Knowing that I probably would never see most of the guys again dispirited me as it was like leaving family behind.
There was a loud cheer as the aircraft's wheels lifted off the runway. We made a short stop in Anchorage and then we touched down on American soil around 0200 hours, we had made it back to America. I remember going through a customs check and brief orientation, offered a meal and a shower while waiting  on my dress uniform. Transportation was provided to the airport and by mid morning I found myself on a flight to St. Louis. I bought a bus ticket from St. Louis and in a couple more hours I would be home.  I remember it was a Wednesday evening because my parents were in church. It was great to be home but everything seemed to have changed. I was very restless for a few days and couldn't sleep.
The world seemed to be in slow motion compared to what I was used to. I still recall how awkward I felt not  carrying the M-16 everywhere I went. I had received a Dear John letter from my fiancée (with only 2 months left in Nam) so all my thoughts and ideas of a future with her would not become a reality. I did visit her once, a few days after I was home.  We both had changed since that emotional farewell a year ago. 
My first encounter with a war protestor was at a high school homecoming parade. I remember my brother talking me into wearing my uniform and someone made the remark "It is not Halloween yet, take that costume off".  I wanted to adjust his attitude right then and there but my brother talked me out of it.  I still run into this person today. Although I still would like to adjust his attitude, I have realized over the years that these people had nothing better to do with their lives and could care less about those of us who had sacrificed so much for them, so why waste time or energy on them.
The contents on this web site fills in some of the gaps during my tour of duty in Vietnam. Although pictures can not express true emotions, they do provide a visual reference for refreshing my memory. They do not tell the whole story or show the loneliness and grief that was present every day in the lives of us who were there. I explain it by saying "you would of had to have been there".  The grace of our Lord guided me and helped me through those days.
I  have recently been in contact with some of my fellow Recon members. It has been great communicating with people who understand and share some of the worse and best times in my life. My hope is that this web site will attract, inspire and encourage others to make an effort to find the friends they left behind in the land of blood, sweat and tears so many years ago.              Mike Robinson                                  (click on photos within the story)

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Last modified: April 08, 2014