“I was a poor Texas farm boy – the Army was just an attraction as a damn good paying job,” said Jim Robinson, formerly of Texas, now living in Riverton.
“A new second lieutenant made $342 a month, and when you’ve been working for $1 an hour, putting yourself through college, it was like, ‘I can’t afford not to take this,’” he recalled. “I was young, and I was with other young fellows and we didn’t care – the country was having a war, what else do you do? You go ahead and go.”
Born in Comanche, Texas, Robinson attended a small college in his home state, and while there, joined the ROTC program.
“After four years in the program, I graduated and got commissioned,” he said.
ROTC programs in Texas “were pumping out lieutenants all over the place,” he added.
He arrived in Vietnam in November, 1968, and was placed in the position of firing unit commander. He served with the 6/32 Field Artillery, 8 inch and 175 mm, IFFV, II Corp, when he arrived. The unit was based near Phu Hiep.
“I went to the field artillery unit and was assigned to work with infantry units. I would adjust and fire artillery when we found people,” he explained. “I operated in the field with artillery units with a radio operator, and the unit would give us a fire team that we would use for moving around ... kind of a body guard kind of thing.
“I didn’t have a platoon or company – I was kind of an independent attachment to infantry units,” Robinson added.
Although located at Phu Hiep upon arrival, he traveled the country and served with various units, including the 47th Regiment 22nd ARVN Division with the US 173 Airborne 9th ROK White Horse, CIDG company-size operations and RF/PF road patrol operations in Phu Yen Province.
“I traveled from Anh Khe in the north to Duc Lap in the south ... You go where the infantry goes,” Robinson said.
“Contact (with the enemy) was small scale – squad to company size,” he added.
Those encounters, though “nameless,” were also “nasty events,” Robinson said.
No place to go
One vivid memory lingers with him.
“I remember having a distinct feeling when I got to Vietnam, I kept drifting down until I finally found myself at the very bottom, the very end. It was just me on the ground looking at the nape of the neck and the pack of an infantry man in front of me. ‘There’s no other place to go’ – I had that distinct impression – ‘there’s no place to go, this is it,’” Robinson said.
“But there was a place to go,” he continued. “After six to seven months, I worked in the battery as fire direction officer, then executive officer, handling all the fire artillery work on the battery.”
The battery is a collection of cannons used to attack enemy targets, which is attached to and supports infantry maneuver units, according to Robinson.
“The battery does all the calculations to make sure they don’t kill everybody – we used to call it ‘bet your bar.’ Anytime that you pulled the trigger on those Howitzers, we said, ‘yep, we’re betting our bar: if we kill the wrong people, we go to the pen.’ It was lieutenant humor.”
Robinson volunteered for an extended tour; he left Vietnam in June 1970. His brother was drafted but was able to serve his time in Germany since Robinson elected to remain in Vietnam.
Life After the War
After leaving the Army with three years of active duty, Robinson returned to college and received a master’s degree in English. He married, and he and his wife accepted teaching positions in Jeffrey City, Wyoming; they spent 13 years in that community.
“There’s great motorcycling, great hunting, great fishing – what is there not to like?” he said.
He remained in the education field, serving the communities of Green River, Thermopolis, Shoshoni and Riverton, including tenures in special education and school psychology. He and his wife celebrated 40 years of marriage in July 2016.
He discovered many lessons during his time of service, and one in particular that has served him in his vocation as well.
“Don’t get emotionally involved when things go to hell,” he said. “That is the heart of leadership – the worse things get, the calmer somebody’s got to get.”
In September 2015 he reconnected with others from his college who were also part of the ROTC program and were sent to Vietnam.
“That’s the first time I’ve seen any of those guys since that day, for almost 48 years,” Robinson said. “One is dead, we don’t know what happened to another one, but after all of that stuff, nine of us are still kicking.
“We enjoyed our get-together. After all that everybody did in Vietnam ... we thought it’s pretty amazing that most of us did all right.”
He said the men hope to reunite again this year.
Although America didn’t welcome the Vietnam veterans home warmly – and the country is now attempting to repair that hurtful damage – Robinson said he sees, for himself, the positive in serving and doing his civic duty.
“I didn’t much care (about the protests) – I was pretty naive,” he said. “This is Texas after all. There were odd things about that. My battalion had I think 28 officers, and of those 28, about 22 were from Texas. I’m very proud to have gotten the commission, and I’m still proud about it. I have no regrets about any of that time personally.”