|From: ? 05/02/09:
My brother Robert was known as Hippie to his fellow Marines & served with Father Vincent Capodanno, who was KIA 04 Sep 67. As a matter of fact, Father Capodanno was from Staten Island where Fort Wadswoth is & there is a large bronze statue in front of the base chapel of Father Capodanno giving last rites to a Marine he is cradling in his arms. Robert & some of his fellow Nam buddies he worked with built the base the statue rests on. Robert s picture was also on the front page of LIFE magazine, the 27 Oct 67 issue. I was able to find it on the internet & bought a copy. Robert served in Vietnam 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969. He also served in India Company, 3/1 & Hotel Company, 2/5. He was with III MAF, 1st, 3rd & 5th Marines. He was at Hue in 1968. Some other places he was at are Dong Ha, Tam Ky, Da Nang, Khe Sahn, Dong Son, Thang Binh, Cam Lo, Quang Nam, Phu Bai, Chu Lai, An Hoa, Phu Loc, Hoi An, Quang Ngai. Please keep in mind that all of this I have pieced together from papers I have come across. Some of the spellings may not be correct.
Don t remember what I wrote you last but Robert passed away on 12 Mar 08 from lung cancer attributed to his exposure to Agent Orange. I went to New York (I live in VA) to take care of him for four months & tried to nurse him back to health, but the cancer was already too advanced.
Robert was a very stubborn &, at times, difficult individual. Needless to say, he had a very colorful knowledge of the English language & did not hesitate to express his opinions! Above all, he valued his privacy very much. He lived with a lot of demons from Vietnam. But underneath Robert s rough surface & gruff manor there was actually a very soft, sensitive man with a big heart. If you were lucky enough to be included in his private world you knew you had a true friend who, if need be, would give you the shirt off his back & do anything he could for you.
He was wounded three times but only received 10% VA disability for his PTSD, wounds, malaria effects, jungle rot on feet, nervousness, etc. In one of his battles, Robert was the only one of 97 men who survived. They were crossing a rice paddy. The VC opened up. Robert was hit & knocked back into the paddy, where he lay until a search party found him, along with the rest of the men the next day. Those that were still alive went to Da Nang & then back to the States. Four others, besides Robert, were alive. Robert was the only one to pull thru. The doctors said his C-Ration can (which I have in my china cabinet, along with the bullet) & the cold water from the rice paddy saved his life. The bullet had ricocheted around the rim of the can & tore it open. Lucky for him he was carrying the can at just the right angle on his backpack & it slowed down the bullet s path. The bullet went up into his arm & crossed his chest & just missed his heart. He had a large scar across his chest, plus a large hole where the bullet entered on his side when it exited his arm. He was sent to St. Albans Hospital in Queens, NY & then rehab. He found out he was the only survivor & requested to go back to Nam. He was again injured when a grenade went off & he was hit by shrapnel on the front of his chest, legs, arms. He also got a fractured arm & three broken ribs. His third time the base camp he was at was attacked in the middle of the night, the bunker he was in was hit & Robert lost his right pinky finger. He just had a very small stub as a remembrance. He got malaria two times while in the jungle, along with jungle rot on his feet. Both of these maladies continued to bother him throughout his short life.
So many times I tried to get him to upgrade his disability but he wouldn t do it. I went so far as to fill out all the papers for him & all he needed to do was sign & mail. I found all the paperwork when I was going thru his belongings (he never married & had no children) after he died. He was only 59. I got him to sign the papers while I was there & sent them to the VA in New York. Ironically, one week after he passed, he was scheduled for a physical at the VA Hospital in Fort Hamilton.
I am very thankful that I was given the chance to be with Robert at the end of his life & to spend those precious last weeks with him. It gave us both the opportunity to become connected again & drew us even closer together. We spent time talking about everything & reminiscing about our lives growing up & how we came to be where we are today. During his illness, he relived a lot of what he went thru in Nam. He talked a lot about what he did, what he saw, the experiences he had, the horrors & memories.
Towards the end he was in & out due to the morphine. He would yell out they are coming, be quite, we have to get them, I see them, etc. etc. & call out the names of his Marine buddies.
Not until I was going thru his belongings after he died did I realize the toll the horrors he endured & experienced in Vietnam took on him, his life & his memory. He constantly lived with his demons & I (& others) were so unaware of the immense pain he was carrying around inside him. While going thru his papers, I found where he had gone on the internet & looked up & printed out information about the various battles he had been in (Operation Swift, Operation Prairie, Operation Badger Catch, Operation Cochise, Operation Pegasus, Operation De Soto, the siege of Fire Base Gloria, Operation Hastings, Hill 861, 881N, 881S, 512, 110, 65, Operation Union, Dodge City, Operation Scotland, Landing Zone Stud, Operation Allen Brooke, Operation Meade River, Operation Dewey Canyon) & the different Marine sites & the names of some of his buddies. He also looked up NVA Divisions/Battalions 305, 324, 325, 326, 341. One name that kept coming up was a Captain Herrington (spelling?) who was with Delta 1/5. He had the dates of Jan 68-Feb 68 next to his name. Other names I found were Fritch, Little, Renner. He also had a number of pictures from Vietnam of captured prisoners, weapons, country, dead bodies, etc. The pain I experienced is nothing compared to what he was dealing with on a daily basis. I also found a number of beautiful but sad poems Robert had written about his Marine buddies, his battles, his life, his experiences in Vietnam.
Robert worked for the National park Service at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, New York. He lived on Fort Wadsworth in military housing, walked to work 5 minutes from his house, came home & spent all night on his computer researching, haunted by the memories of Vietnam. One of his co-workers (who was also a Nam vet & was being treated for prostrate cancer from Agent Orange) told me he sometimes would join Robert after work & they spent hours looking up information. His co-workers told me he was like a hermit, never attending any of his co-worker s functions or the work functions. He just kept to himself, rarely talked about his Nam experiences or personal life & just wanted to be left alone. I guess that is why I was totally blown away by the number of people who showed up at his wake & the reception I had afterwards. There were over 250 people of all ages & walks of life. Even his doctors came. Unbeknownst to Robert, he somehow had touched so very many people in one way or another. Nobody had anything bad to say. Everyone laughed, reminisced, shared memories & shed many a tear.
Unfortunately, as much as he tried, he was just not strong enough to beat the cancer & it is one battle my beloved Robert lost. He had a 6 tumor on one of his lungs & a 4 tumor on the other. The cancer had spread to his bones, liver, brain, stomach. His ribs were cracked from the pressure of the tumors growing & his brittle bones. He was in bad shape, but he kept telling me he was going to beat it, not to worry. I was alone with him & holding his hand, stroking him, talking to him when he took his last breath. He squeezed my hand, told me he loved me & then went to join his buddies. My heart is aching & I continue to cry for him. My family & I miss him terribly. But, I know he is now finally at peace & is no longer suffering with the memories of Nam or the terrible pain & discomfort of the lung cancer, which towards the end had completely taken over. Vietnam took Robert s youth & soul .the cancer took his body. His heart will live on with me forever. In true Marine spirit, Robert has served his time in hell and, without a doubt in my mind, he was proudly welcomed past those Pearly Gates by Father Capodanno & given a loud click of the heels, a sharp Marine salue & a pat on the back for a job well done! He is now home with his buddies! God Bless Them All!! Semper Fi Marines!