- 20 years old
- Date of birth: Aug 24, 1950
- Date of passing: Apr 15, 1971
|Let the memory of ROBERT CHARLES be with us forever|
"Happy Birthday, Bob,
Thoughts of you are never far from me on a daily basis. After celebrating my own 64th birthday yesterday it is my privilege and honor to have known and served with you.
The following is a letter I wrote to you last December of 2013. This letter has helped me understand what a major impact you have had on my life.
The last day I saw you was April 14th, 1971. That was the day I thought I was leaving the bush as a grunt for good.
When I showed up on October the previous fall as 1 of 3 F.N.G.s, you took pity on me and put me under your wing. You were an “old guy” with 3 months in. You went through my ruck, showed me what to toss, what was important to keep dry and how to do that. You even showed me how to burn C-4 to cook with.
In 3 weeks when I was given my squad’s 60 to carry, you made sure I knew how to clean and carry it.
We became fast and close friends, talked about where to go on R&R, what we would do when we got back to the “World”. We were just 2 - 20 year olds trying to figure it all out.
The 14th of April was a resupply day. You and I had requested a transfer to aviation to be door gunners. We had asked “Top” for the transfer in January. He thought we were 2 idiots, but he said he would approve the transfer after I had 6 months in country.
We would see the door gunners on the birds whenever we got inserted into a new A.O. or on resupply days when they would kick out the C-rats, ammo and water. We saw they always had clean uniforms, we knew they got hot chow and they were sleeping on a cot in a dry hootch in the rear every night. Sure it was supposed to be more dangerous than carrying the 60 in the Bush as a grunt, but we thought it beat slogging up and down those fucking hills, being covered in either mud or dust. Sweating like a pig during the day, freezing your ass off
at night. Waiting to be ambushed. No talking as soon as it got dark. Pulling guard 1 hour on, 2 hours off.
I remember you telling me about the 1st of April that you would not be transferring. You thought you’d be able to give your 60 to one of the new guys as you’d been humping it for almost 9 months already. You’d take your R&R in early May. And with a little luck get a rear job in the company area in Phu Bai shortly after R&R. Then you were scheduled to go home in July.
At first I was pissed, but then I got it how it was best for you to stay. I decided I would still go to aviation. The L.T. asked me on the 13th if I still wanted the transfer. I said yes and he told me to be ready to leave on the 14th on the resupply bird. Everyone was giving me shit about leaving. Suddenly I was feeling weird about leaving all the guys that I had just spent the last 6 months with. I continued to feel strange as I popped the smoke grenade to guide the resupply bird in. Giving my 60 over to Jim Kelly, and taking his 16 just didn’t somehow feel right. As the bird lifted off and I was looking down at you and the guys I was thinking it might be a long time before I would see you guys again, if ever.
But things don’t always work as planned. The next day, the 15th, you guys were moving into an A.O. with known heavy NVA recent activity. 2nd PLT was walking point, it was almost dark, 6:15, when you walked into an ambush. By the time the firefight was over the next morning of the 16th we had 8 KIA, 13 WIA.
The morning of the 16th I was over at the aviation unit with my transfer papers. Their company clerk wasn't ready for me and told me to go get some chow.
At the chow hall I was sitting next to a table of pilots who were talking about a unit that had really gotten fucked up the night before. I knew you guys had gotten in contact but didn’t have any details. The pilots told me it was 2/501 Delta Co and they were going to insert Alpha Co to relieve you guys. I then took off for the company area. It took me almost 4 hours to get back across Phu Bai.
As I walked up to the helipad the last of the guys were coming in. I started looking for everyone. Somebody from 2nd PLT grabbed me and started to fill me in on what happened. It turned out 5 of the 8 KIA’s were from 2nd PLT. I looked across the pad and saw 6 body bags lined up. I started to go. I wanted to see you. I guess to say good bye or maybe to see if it was a mistake and you hadn’t been killed. They stopped me - said I didn’t want to see.
From that point on everything seemed to change. My transfer was canceled - too short handed they said. I asked if I could escort your body back to Sacramento - no, too short handed.
Four days later we were back in the bush with like 15 new guys, only 11 of us from the “old” 2nd PLT. Nothing seemed right. I decided I would do my job but no way was I going to get close to anyone. I felt I had let all of you down. I wasn’t there when I was needed the most. I convinced myself I could have made a difference in the fire fights outcome. I can’t remember much of the next 6 months. I went into my own shell. I isolated myself from as much of the day to day as possible.
You and I had made an agreement that if anything had happened to either one of us, the other would contact the family and give them the “real” story, not the Army’s version. I finally wrote your Mom in June, 2 months after you died. Catherine wrote back and said she would be grateful for any information I could provide.
I left Vietnam in October 1971, 12 months in country and I really had no idea how much I had changed. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t have much for plans. I thought I would somehow change back to the 19 year old kid that got drafted back in May of 1970. I had turned 21 while in Vietnam. I should have been full of life. I just felt old and tired.
I met with your family on my return trip from Vietnam. I spent 2 days with them in Sacramento. I told my story. We went through the photos you had sent them. I had some more photos of you to give them. We went to your grave site. I prayed and talked to you. I wanted to cry but I didn’t - that would take me another 10 years.
Your Mom was an extremely strong and incredible woman. She had already buried 2 husbands and now her only son. She was finding a way, her way, to move forward. She did that with compassion, care, forgiveness and a very high level of grace. She once told me that a parent’s greatest tragedy was to out live their child.
It has taken me more than 40 years but I feel that I am finally moving forward. Even though we only knew each other for 6 months, you had a huge affect on my life.
I have much to be thankful for. I have a wife of 36 years that has put up with my bullshit anger, confusion, lack of communication, being a workaholic, drinking and gambling. I have a daughter that loves me despite all my warts.
I left Vietnam with anger, confusion, the venom of war and even blood on my hands.
I left with the frustration, the futility and the incredible sadness of the results of war.
I also left Vietnam with the pride and privilege of serving with you and the others. I left with a very full understanding of the value of life. You gave me that. I have carried and will continue to carry that value with whatever amount of time I have left in my life.
As my life goes on and I experienced the successes and satisfactions life has given me, you should know that I share each of those with you.
For the longest time I believed I was a lessor and more troubled person because of Vietnam. I felt stuck and many days still do. However, I now see a certain strength, openness and honesty that I had, but did not allow myself to possess. I now feel that these are mine to have. For that, I thank you, Bobby.
I still have plenty of warts but I am wanting and trying to be a better man. Some days are better than others.
I recently saw a quote from Nelson Mandela (he’s another person you missed in your short life). Mandela said, “difficulties break some men but make others.”
Your grateful friend,
There are no words, I remain forever heartbroken.
Your loving Niece,
"Dear Sweet Brother Bob -- Today is your Birthday -- I was 15 years old when you were born -- I always felt like a second mother to you when you were a little boy -- helping "Our Mother" Catherine care for you -- and I still feel like your second mother even at your age of 64. I continue to miss you after all these years, thinking what might have been and should have been. I love you always, Ileane"
"SGT BOB HEIN Sacramento Ca
Brother Soldier, We All(Everyone In Our U.S.A) HIgHly RESPECTS Your Defense Of We AMERICANS!!
GOD BLESS US ALL"
"Again Our US ARMY, VETERANS Now Must
SURFACE TO SHOW US AMERICANS, THEIR LOSS, SO WE , ALive Americans now MUST DEMAND OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO STUDY TODAYS TOTAL WORLD SITUATION, TO END INVOLMENT WHICH CAUSES LOSSES TO ALL FUTURE AMERICAN MILITARY
INDIVIDUALS. CONGRESS ,WE CIVILIANS REQUEST YOU, TO STUDY
TODAYS WORLD SITUATIONS, AND KEEP U.S.A. SAFE, JUST DO IT!!"
"You are always in my heart and in my prayers, dear Brother Bob. You will never be forgotten. Love you and will forever miss you."
"My brother, Robert Charles Hein, was a hero to his Country, to his comrades in battle and to his family. That such a young life was given, and taken, by War is still raw in our hearts after all the years that have passed -- his mother and sisters, family and friends will never forget the young man we said good-bye to in July of 1970 -- we know he is watching over us from Heaven."
"It seems that since 1776, Amercian young men, stood up for Our Country, in so many ways, accepted the US INDUCTION SYSTEM, AND Took the Oath of Enlistment to become an American Soldier! Am sure each parent was the reason to have taught their children, Right and Wrong, so young Robert Charles Hein, knew what he had to do, and he did it well."
"Hello Sergeant Hein Your privileged MILITARY TOUR we
address you as SERGEANT.
Sgt Hein, was raised as a normal American Childw/2 loving sisters, a Mother Father, a very loving Family. The Sgt attend local schools in Rio Linda area, graduated R.L. H.S. 1968-1970 time-frame.Now a 6ft 2in ,Blue-eyed Blond Man, College was his choice!"
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