Yeap, I’ve known a few.
Like mean ol’ varmints that stink and lie and steal?
Dummards from the underside of humanity who are mostly concerned in this life with bodily functions and blood shed?
Yeap, several of that sort.
How ‘bout smart, brave people with big personalities, who have a deep sense of citizenship – proud to be called ‘merican?
Yeap, several of them too.
Well, how ‘bout someone’s smart, athletic, with flashing, mischievous eyes, a rambunctious Falstaff demeanor, and occasional bursts of enthusiasm that would be accompanied with wolfing guffaws or, in different situations, a punch in the nose. Hard drinking life of the party… who never left early.
Brave with a deep sense of brotherhood, who would die for his friends… Great sizzle to his steak… A man of a thousand different faces?
That’s quite a handle, but yeap, I’ve known one.
He started having stomach pains December 2009 and died six months later of pancreatic cancer (PC). It all got worst when I was out of the country. I called him from overseas and told him to hold on until I got back. But PC waits for no one; does its nasty, painful end-game business in a hurry.
12 July 2014, Larry Peterson and I visited Bob’s gravesite with his first wife – our friend – Linda. His ashes are laid to rest under his marker on a slight incline near the shade at the Willamette National Cemetery in Portland, Oregon.
It was on our bucket list, Pete’s and mine, to pay our respects for the great, great times we had had together. The fellowship, the deep trust that had begun to develop in Vietnam.
The bond Pete, Bob and I shared… is near the top of the most significant personal relationships I have ever had – they are among my most cherished friends, and I have known ten thousand people.
We stood there by his grave site for a long time that morning of the 12th. Linda finally left. Just Pete, I and Bob’s marker. Well maybe it wasn’t long, it was just solaced and calm. Time seemed to go fast.
We talked in half sentences, Pete and I, in that we knew what the other was saying so we shared experience with the barest amount of words and then went on to another story… like remembering the way Bob’d balance on one foot and shuffle back out a door on that foot, waving his hands back and forth over his knee. Laughing. Always laughing.
Pete and I met in the Army ’bout 50 years ago. He stood two down from me in formation at Officer Candidate School, and noticed that I had been selected out for special harassment by Tac officers. Of the 212 of us in that incoming 5/55 Company only 65 would graduate. I was among the 65, only because Pete was very good, seemed sure he’d make it and he drug my sorry ass through.
After receiving our Infantry commission, the two of us arrived in Fort Riley, Kansas for assignment to “A” Company, 1st/28th Battalion, 1st Division June 1965.
Bob Dunn and George McCoy came to Fort Riley ’bout the same time from ROTC… McCoy from the mid-west somewhere, Dunn from Oregon.
Dunn was assigned to “B” Company. McCoy in “C” Company.
There were maybe thirty 1st and 2nd Lieutenants in the battalion and I don’t know how the four of us became an after-hours team.
But we did.
Spent most every hour off duty together.
Dunn’s father had played football for the ol’ leather helmeted Green Bay Packers, and Bob had his father’s toughness. And although we had become familiar with Bob’s boisterous nature on day one, we didn’t know he also had the inclination to hit some stranger full in the mouth over just any slight. First time I remember this happening, the four of us were heading out to McCoy’s car in the parking lot of an Officer’s club annex at Ft Riley and apparently we were hogging the walkway, according to three young officers on the way from the parking lot to the club.
They made their way by us when the lead guy made some remark about making way and Bob, who was bringing up our rear, knocked him out. One blow, blam, the guy’s laid out half on, half off the walkway. His two buddies step up to take on Dunn and one was getting into a wrestler’s crouch when Bob hit him, about the time the other lunged. Me, I stepped in to do something and got clobbered, knocking me to my knees. Then someone came down on my head with a hammer blow and I toppled over the guy Bob had initially decked…. Obviously not as adapt at this as Dunn.
McCoy and Pete picked me up and we followed Bob to George’s car. Bob hadn’t been hit, but he had messed up his knuckles and he was waving his hands in the air. The three guys were still back on the walk way trying to put themselves back together.
I remember telling Dunn that it damn sure hurt having fun with him.
The battalion was soon ordered to Vietnam. In getting our affairs in order Bob flew home and married Linda Lowe, an ol’ college sweetheart.
But he was back in time to catch the troop train to Oakland and was with his platoon when we boarded the USNS Mann for our boat ride across the Pacific, to do what we had been told was a little ‘Policing Action” in Vietnam.
At night on board ship Dunn, Peterson, McCoy, and I often climbed to one of the uppermost decks to talk and joke. Dunn was the master of ceremonies. One night after dinner, he was late coming up. McCoy, probably the leader of the pack, suggested rigging coin tosses in the future, any two of the three of us against Dunn. The object would be to set up the odd man, in our case Bob Dunn. What McCoy suggested was that whichever two flipped against Bob would always have the same side showing. Bob might tie us, but he’d never win, and would soon be the odd man out. George said that if he was around, he’d make the call, telling Pete or me whether to make our coin heads or tails depending on whether George scratched his head or put his hand on his tail. That night shortly after Dunn joined us, we flipped coins to see who would go to the officers’ mess and get some sweet cakes. Dunn lost. Of course. In fact, using McCoy’s scheme, Bob served us sweet cakes all across the Pacific.
On Board the USNS Mann August 1965. Parker, Dunn, McCoy and Peterson
One night after the 1st Cav had gotten into the bloody firefight in the Ia Drang valley ahead of us in Vietnam – and we knew we weren’t going on any “Policing Action” anymore – McCoy just started talking during our upper deck session on the boat – to reassure us. He said, “War isn’t so difficult to deal with really when it comes down to the basics.” He reasoned. “You make the best of it day to day. Learn as you go. What can happen? One, the worst is you get killed. But hell, you get killed, you’re dead. It doesn’t hurt anymore. Somebody else has a problem with that, then it’s their problem. You’re dead. You’re at peace. And the next worst, what’s that, you get wounded and you get sent back home. Not too bad there, getting sent back home. Hell, you can get on with your life. What does that leave? You don’t get wounded or killed. You finish your tour, you go home. It’s that simple. One, you die, but dead you’re in no pain. Two, you get wounded, you go home. Or three you don’t get wounded. But no matter what happens, it’s OK.”
Dunn was the first wounded in Vietnam, but he was back with his platoon in a day or so.
Then Pete and I were wounded on the same day. Pete’s platoon was patrolling in front of the Battalion as we moved into a new area of the Iron Triangle. Taken under fire by a large group of VC, Pete was hit in his right shoulder, spinning him backwards towards the ground. On the way he got shot in the same shoulder by a smaller caliber enemy rifle.
I was shot by a sniper when I was trying to get my unit on the move to bail Pete out.
Pete’s wounds were serious and he was evacuated to the states. My wound was less serious and I did some convalescing in a field hospital before I just up and left to return to my platoon.
George was killed. Bob heard first and sought me out to break the news.
In fact, within 6 months most all the line platoon leaders in the 1st/28th had been wounded and killed. Lt. Col. Haldane, the battalion commander asked Bob, then me, to come to battalion Hqs for work as his “liaison” officers, or more correctly radio operators, report writers and goffers.
Bob’s call sign was 241. I was 242.
On the one hand this new job was not so out-front in harm’s way anymore as much as it was socially awkward, living with Dunn that near the seat of authority in our world, Lt. Col. Robert Haldane; who had a sense of humor but no tolerance really with sophomoric 2nd Lts answering his radio, handling his maps and doing his fetching.
But the thing was, Bob Dunn’s humor was irrepressible. Not only that but Spc 4 “Crash” Burke, the guy who actually carried the Colonel’s radio, was the smartest guy in Battalion Hqs. He was like Radar in M.A.S.H., only more sarcastic and controlling. It was like Dunn and I worked for Crash who worked for the Colonel.
Once Crash and Dunn got me to do this soft shoe, chorus line, shuffle step, at a time I was supposed to be monitoring the radios in the Hqs van, and I was in full drag, flinging my arms, giving myself a big “Ta Da” as I took a knee…. when the Colonel came in. Bob and Crash sneaked out and in the distance, laughed and laughed.
The Colonel was pissed at me… not Dunn and Burke who taken advantage of my lesser capabilities. Thereafter I could not walk between the Colonel and Dunn that he didn’t threaten to push me into our commander. He never did, but Jesus.
In the jungle on operations we slept under a pancho or in narrow trenches we dug, Bob and I, near the Colonel and often at night when things went BOOOM in the distance, we’d wake up, looking each other in the eye a foot apart. Yea, waiting on another BOOOOM, but more waiting to hear if the Colonel had anything for us to do. I don’t remember Haldane ever addressing us by name. We were usually together, so to him we became “someone”… as in “Will someone pls call “A” Company and find out what’s goin’ on!!!”
Bob Dunn was the last thing I saw at night in that combat zone for about six months, and he was the first thing I saw in the morning. And here’s something… just going to sleep at night out in the jungle you surrendered trust to your foxhole mate, that he’ll help you pass the night safely… that he’s there. Every morning with Dunn my faith was rewarded.
Every day a bond thickens among men on the battlefield. Everything adds, gives depth.
Sharing coffee in a canteen cup as misty morning broke in the jungle, shaving using the same broken mirror, eating each other’s C-rations hunching under one or the other’s pancho during afternoon drizzles, finding the battalion’s way on maps, reading aloud to each other passages in letters from home… just talking out loud about anything that came to mind after our chores, as we spent the twilight hours waiting to sleep.
Bob and I grew close.
And there were the particulars we shared of living in a combat zone. For example, the following taken from my The Vietnam War Its Ownself:
As Haldane’s “liaison officers” we were the ones who coordinated the med-evac of men in the battalion wounded in the catastrophic way men are wounded in war. We were the ones on the radio bringing the helicopters in to clearings and then actually getting the men up and into the helicopter where the pilots wanted them…. often under fire from the enemy… often making fleeting eye contact with very grateful or dying American men on their make-shift stretchers… often getting their blood on our uniforms that would stay there for days and days.
And then this:
“The Vietnamese prisoner had one arm blown off above the elbow. His right leg was cantilevered at a crazy angle, and his left leg was torn open at the thigh, with a jagged piece of bone sticking out. His olive-green uniform was matted with blood, dirt, and slime, and the jacket had several bullet holes in it. Half of his face had been blown away. Some of his teeth and lower jawbone were exposed. Most of his left cheekbone was missing, and his left eye was dangling by a few strands of muscle and tissue.
But he was breathing — deep heavy breaths. His good eye was moving and making contact with us as we looked down at him.
How could he be alive? Blood was oozing out of him everywhere; with each breath, he gargled blood.
Haldane told the interpreter to ask the man what unit he was from. Jose leaned close to the man’s ear and said a long sentence in Vietnamese. The prisoner’s one dancing eye continued to scan us. Jose raised his voice and repeated the sentence. The prisoner turned his head and looked at Jose. As the prisoner tried to talk, he spit blood on Jose and on Haldane’s hand, but he managed to say something in Vietnamese. Jose leaned forward quickly as he listened. He said something in Vietnamese. The prisoner responded with a few fractured words.
“What did he say? What did he say?” Haldane asked. “What’s his unit?”
The man on the table continued to mumble.
“Don’t know,” Jose said shaking his head. “He calls his mother, father. He says Vietnamese names.”
“Ask him, please, what is his unit?” Haldane, a good and moral man, was having trouble keeping his focus on the job at hand without lapsing into pity for this mangled boy, still alive, calling out the names of loved ones.
Jose repeated his question, but the prisoner was losing ground. His eye stopped roaming and he looked straight up at the top of the tent. I noticed that blood had stopped seeping from the wound on his leg. His breathing became weaker.
One of the medics came in hurriedly and broke through the crowd of men around the table. He looked with some disgust at us because no one appeared to be helping the man. The medic had been opening a bandage package as he moved, but when he looked down at the mess lying on the table, his hands dropped to his sides. He said, “Ah, shit.”
Dunn, finished with medevac’ing the wounded soldiers from Bravo Company outside, came in and stood beside me. Two more medics walked in.
The man on the table was barely breathing. Then, he gathered some energy from somewhere and started to babble. He blinked his good eye. His raised his arm slightly. Jose repeated his sentence. A medic reached down and put the man’s whole arm on his stomach and wiped his forehead. His breathing became slower again, irregular.
One of the medics said, “The man is dead, he just doesn’t know it yet. His whole body’s in shock. He can’t think. He doesn’t know who he is.”
I remembered when Goss died. It wasn’t sudden. Most of him was dead while his heart was still beating.
But this boy — any one of his wounds should have killed him. Tough son of a bitch, I thought, but give it up. Go on. Give it up. You’re blown apart. You’ll never be whole again. There is no hope.
Most of the men around the table began to slip away. Dunn and I remained at the end of the table. Bob’s platoon had suffered as many casualties as had mine. We hated the VC for causing so much pain, for killing so many good men. This one, in fact, might have killed Castro and Ayers, and here he lay. The enemy.
George’s death had been avenged. This enemy was dying in front of us.
But I kept saying to myself, give up, please give up. You must hurt. Die and it will all end. That’s what George had said. You’ll be OK. Your mother will be sad and those other people you called out to. Your father, if he knew, would be proud. You are so strong. You must have stayed to fight when the others pulled back, and now you still won’t give up. Give up and there’s peace.
Then we heard a loud gasp. The prisoner suddenly bent forward at the waist and sat up straight, reaching out his arm toward us. He looked at Bob and I with his good eye, his other eye bobbling around like a bloody ball on a string. His mouth was open. He was gargling, and blood splattered over us, but his eye remained focused on us, on both of us at once. Then, Mother of Jesus, one leg moved off of the operating table. He garbled again, louder. His weight followed the leg that was draped over the side of the table. His whole arm moved across the front of us when he turned–as though he wanted to get off the table.
His body twisted around, and he fell to the floor. There, thankfully, he died.
Dunn and I had jumped back to the far side of the tent. We were holding each other’s arms, our eyes and mouths wide open. Maybe we yelled. One of the medics came running in and around the table to the man on the floor. Bob and I walked out.
“Goddamnit, that was a tough son of a bitch,” I said.
“I think I poop-pooped in my pants,” Bob said.
And then this, also reported in The Vietnam War Its Ownself:
In the late summer of 1966, Bob and I accompanied Lt. Col. Haldane to Division to get read in on our next field operation. It was to be an ambush of an ambush on the road to Minh Thanh… A counter-ambush in which a resupply truck convoy was been filled with supplies at a depot at one end of the Minh Thanh road for delivery to a US unit at the other end. Part of this road ran close to Cambodia and the thinking was that if we brought in the South Vietnamese Army on the timing for the convoy that word would get passed to the VC assigned across the border, who may choose to launch an ambush. And we’d re-ambush the ambushers.
That’s where the planning was when we arrived for the briefing with the Colonel.
Surprisingly, the lead unit in the bait convoy was from the US 4th Cav, and it was commanded by an NCO Dunn and I had met previously; call sign Slippery Clunker Six. His part was to lend credibility to the plan… and if/when there was an ambush he was to button up and wait the storm out that’d be waging outside.
Because if the VC hit this convoy, two brigades of soldiers from the 1st Division, and a gazillion artillery pieces and fast movers would be standing by waiting…. to punch back. The first “punch back” would come from the 4th cav units in the convoy, before they buttoned up, the next would be artillery hitting on both side of the road where the convoy was stopped and the third would be the USAF fast movers, most with napalm hitting the escape routes back to Cambodia. The 1st/28th would be the first group of soldiers brought in to sweep the Cambodian side of the road.
To mop up.
That was it. Took a lot of coordination. But on D-Day, ol’ Slippery Clunker Six, our friend, whistled everyone in line at the supply depot and told them to follow him…
And a short distance from where the road came the closest to Cambodia, our battalion waited by helicopters ready to be inserted to make the sweep.
We’re talking, I forgot, about 15 minutes or so from the time the convoy is hit until the time we were supposed to be landing near the ambush site for the sweep.
We all waited the early morning hours. Tense. Listening to Slippery Clunker Six reports.
I think Major Patton, the battalion s-3 was on the radio when Slipper Clunker Six tank hit the mine.
And that was followed by a clash of titans… first the VC ambush, and then our response.
In 15 minutes more or less the first helicopter with 1st of the 28th soldiers hit the LZ just north of the ambush site.
In the 15 minutes, hell fire and eternal damnation had been visited on both sides of that road. A gazillion artillery rounds had landed and the USAF jets had put napalm everywhere, on top of the artillery, and east toward Cambodia.
I looked out the helicopter as Bob and I rode in with Lt. Col. Haldane and it was like a forest fire there to our front… the jets were dropping ordnance, one plane right after the other and artillery was still breaking up the jungle as their rounds landed one on top of the other.
The plan had been more successful than had ever been imagined at 1st Division headquarters, because the VC had sent in hundreds of porters with the VC attack unit, whose job it was going to be to take the materials off the truck and back into Cambodia.
All that artillery, all the Air Force stuff landed directly on top of their unprotected heads.
We got out of our helicopter and into the burning wood line as fast as we could, and entered a scene of unbelievable destruction.
Dead and dying VC were everywhere, fires were burning here and there in something like out of a Hollywood movie of hell. The smell of the spent napalm and the burning trees, and human flesh, gave off a gut wrenching stench.
Everything in that forest was hot and catastrophically warped with violent… everything living it seem was destroyed and in the process of dying. Stacks of burnt bodies.
We waded through the carnage, Bob and I steps behind the Colonel.
Maybe an hour into the sweep, I guided a litter with a young soldier who had been gut shot towards the road on our distant left, having no idea if it was safe there or not, making my way through that enormous mess, dodging VC dragging wounded towards Cambodia, to finally reach the road – treading a jungle floor landscape littered with dead VC – and in short order got my charge on a medevac helicopter and gone.
Slippery Clunker Six was dead, laying in a body bag near his lead tank.
Late that day the command group of the battalion came back my way.
The next day we were lifted out of the same LZ we had come into.
Here and on other exfils Bob and my job was to make sure no soldier was left behind, so sometimes with Crash, but mostly just Bob and I, would stay on a PRC 25 radio, getting in all the stragglers and those on guard, getting them on helicopters, as our protective perimeter would get smaller and smaller. Bob and I always the last out.
That was the case on this day. Most of the Battalion was lifted out quickly to continue in the pursuit of the few VC who had gotten away, and then with maybe 25 or 30 remaining battalion soldiers it was up to us to stay on the helicopter freq and get in transport Hueys to take these last men out by twos and threes.
Three partially filled helicopters came in about thirty minutes later and we began moving out the last of the men. Two loaded and left. As the last helicopter was loading Bob and I were standing by our radio.
We indicated to the helicopter pilots that we were the last two by holding up two fingers and pointing to one another. The kicker shook his head and waved the palm of his hand back and forth to say, “No more.”
I picked up the radio and talked with the pilot, “We’re the last two people here,” I said.
“Sorry,” he said, his voice shaking from the vibration of the helicopter. “Maxed out. Other helicopters in the area. We’ll get you soon.”
“Shit,” I said to Dunn and turned back to look into the woods. I tried to focus on the shadows inside but, for some reason, the noise of the helicopter behind me made it more difficult. I told Dunn that it was coming down to this. I had made my way through this ghoulish “Enchanted Forest” once before and here we were again.
Probably dead zombies would be attacking us soon.
Dunn didn’t respond. I continued to squint into the woods.
When I gradually turned my head in Dunn’s direction, he wasn’t there. He was tippy-toeing toward the helicopter in a greatly exaggerated effort to move quietly. He had an enormous grin on his face. In front of him the kicker was holding up one finger, as if they could take one more.
“Jesus Christ,” I said. I picked up the PRC-25, sprinted by Dunn, and dove onto the helicopter. He was laughing so hard that he couldn’t keep up. When he got to the helicopter, he climbed aboard, even though the kicker was telling him that he couldn’t get on. Sitting on the floor beside me, he was still laughing as we took off.
As time went on we didn’t make many new friends in the battalion. Mostly it was Bob and I, Duckett later on, and the recon guy Bradley. But Bob was still master of ceremonies at the roughhewed O club the few times we were back at the base camp. He started something with the new officer replacements. He was never friendly with them, and then some night at our plank barrel bar, he’d invite one or two new 2nd Lt replacements to the front to toast their arrival. He’d take fresh glasses, and pour in some champagne, usually hot, to toast the President of the US, then he’d recharge glasses and raise a toast to the 1st Division Commander, then with another champagne bottle filled with vodka, he’d recharge the new guys’ glasses for a toast of the Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Haldane, and they’d throw back a full gullet of vodka – expecting champagne – and their eyes would pop out as they gagged. Bob would howl and not even look at ‘um, just come over where we sat usually mumbling something about “stupid frigging replacements.”
Don’t remember any particular poignant moments when we parted company in Vietnam at the end of our tour. Bob and I. We both knew that we were going to serve together at Fort Ord, so it wasn’t good-bye, as much as it was, see you later, Jack.
We never got blubbering drunk together in Vietnam and troubled deaf heaven with our angst over war. We had our moments of remorse, but there was never any catharsis. There towards the end, though it was hard to pin point where Bob Dunn ended and Jimmy Parker began, in our thoughts and conversation.
Like with Pete later at Bob’s gravesite. We had been to hell together and it was a place and a situation we understood, but just didn’t vocalize. But the bond was there. Bob and I. Pete and I. Bob, Pete and I. George.
And we are not unique in that. Find any two men who served together in combat, and they’ll tell you the same thing. I promise. That they share a fellowship only those who have been to war know.
Bob and Pete and I did a year together at Fort Ord, California. Joined now by Linda, Bob’s wife. We used to play bridge together, the four of us, in Bob and Linda’s apartment. Didn’t cost a dime, well maybe something for the wine, but we sure had a lot of fun. No way we could say anything to piss the others off. I could tell Bob Dunn he was a drunk, stupid, nincompoop who would never, ever amount to anything because he’d nincompoop it up. And he’d put on a long sad face, and then laugh and say to Pete, “…did you see the way Parker tried to hit a 1 iron yesterday? Like a spastic trying to hula hoop. And he’s giving me advice?”
Bob went on to be a stock broker after the Army, then a private businessman in Hawaii and ended up in commercial real estate in Portland, Oregon. Partied with a fast crowd. Private jets, boats, skiing excursions, Fine dining. Drank more than his share. And laughed and laughed.
Once he had a party for some clients to whom he had just rented out a vacant floor of a downtown Portland office building. He was as usual the life of the party, and then he had to take a piss, so he went down to the bathroom on the next floor, and since this was after hours was surprised to find a couple of guys taking fairly new computers off desks and loaded them on a dolly… so Bob asked them for some ID, thinking for sure he had caught them stealing office equipment. One of the men, unfortunately, told Bob to fuck off. And of course Bob hit him in the nose, when the other guy joined in and they started to hit each other, full in the face. Bob would hit this guy and this guy would hit Bob, they kept staggering each other back until they reached the emergency stairwell and were fighting their way down it… when the police arrived… and arrested Bob for what they said was an unprovoked attack on these two IT men who were doing some quarterly maintenance on their equipment. Bob’s insurance had to pay the hospital bill for both men.
And then there was the time this guy nipped the bumper of Bob’s car as he was moving out to pass him on Route 5. Bob called 911 and took off in pursuit, over mediums, in and out of bumper to bumper traffic, over a hundred miles an hour at times… to finally corner the guy off Interstate 5 in a fenced compound. The guy came out of his car with a big machete, which Bob must have seen, but he charged the guy anyway…
Fortunately to be tackled by highway patrol who had joined the crazy chase downstate Washington.
Bob has just grabbed my ass. In our Las Vegas home 'bout '06
There is much video of Bob Dunn taken by party goers in the Portland area… if you have a chance, watch it. Listen to that laugh. Hear him sing. Watch the half dozen faces he’ll make.
In the cemetery on the 12th, Pete and I just finally clucked our tongues, shrugged our shoulders and left the gravesite. Better for the experience. Got some closure. And it’s the only item Pete and I have on our bucket list. Well no, we’re goin’ to George’s gravesite next year.
Bob’s missed by many…We could never hit life’s high notes like he could… and for Pete and I, we shared the ‘hellarifics’ of war with the guy. We shared powerful, soulful emotional experiences. And now he’s gone, leaving only the memories… they are among my most valuable possessions… my life – Pete’s – was made better, richer by our association.
Like George, he’s gone on ahead.
God speed 241.
BSM: Bronze Star Medal PH: Purple Heart AM: Air Medal
Life, Love & Laughter