Robert Thoms (Cajun Bob)

Rank:

Sgt/Lt

MOS:

Year(s) in Nam:

Unit:

Delta 1/5

Contact Info Available?:

No

Status:

Status Unknown

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Tell me about the time you found out you're going to Vietnam up to the time you left for Vietnam.

I was a career Marine. Before going to Viet Nam, I proudly served in Okinawa, Japan, the Philippines, Cuba, Nigeria, Greece, and the Congo, as well as at Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune.

Tell me something about your time in Vietnam.


I volunteered for Viet Nam. When I arrived I was met by someone I had served under before. He asked me if I would participate in something called the "Phoenix Program." I did. After that I volunteered to be a platoon commander in a rifle company. I was assigned to Delta 1/5. Very shortly after we were engaged in the bloodiest battle of the war the Tet offensive of 1968 in operation Hue City. I saw heroism, and selfless devotion to duty, and to each other, by young Marines some of whom should have still been in high school.

I also saw self preservation and blatant acts of malfeasance by some who knew better. Those terrible selfish acts were further exacerbated after the battle when the medals were awarded. As most of us know, it is an understatement to say that there is an "official version" and then there is the truth. Some skated, while some of us were so much in harm’s way that we had suicide pacts with fellow warriors.

The first man I ever killed in the line of duty was on my 20th birthday, in a foreign country (not Vietnam) whose citizens were engaged in a civil war. I was assigned the duty of protecting American lives and property at an American embassy. I was given the choice of immediate execution, or giving a rebel the bag of classified material I was transporting to the embassy. I was in the back of an embassy vehicle with a driver. The driver had stopped in the road when this rebel pointed a pistol at him. I had a shoulder holster on and a riot gun on my lap. It was dusk, so the rebel saw only the shoulder rig and not the shotgun, loaded with 00 buckshot. I smiled at him he relaxed his body for a second and took his finger off the trigger of the .38 he was pointing at me from 3 feet away. He was stupid. I was lucky. His attention was diverted for a split second, and I fired the shotgun. He flew backward through the air 10 feet, decapitated. After a 24-hour inquiry I was given a meritorious promotion to E-5 and transferred to my next assignment in Greece. I guess I did the right thing.

Tell me about your first few days back in the USA

After more than enough purple hearts I was evacuated to Yokosuka Japan. Then a few months later I was sent to the states where I was commissioned and awarded my sixth purple heart along with a sack full of gook decorations which were flung at me across the desk of a non-combat reservist colonel.

My first 3 days back in the world were spent in the bar at the San Francisco airport, drinking Johnnie Walker Red label. I hooked up with the barmaid who was working double shifts.. She would take me home with her and bring me to work with her. Her brother had been a Marine, KIA in some shit-hole in Nam. Every few hours she would change my reservations for me (I didn't want to go home to Louisiana), and wouldn't take any money for my tab. It was the only time anyone did anything like that for me in 32 years.

After a time I became very disturbed and disillusioned. I resigned my commission in disgust after watching an awards ceremony where medals were presented to men who, in my opinion, should have been court-martialed for their actions (I was there and saw their performance under fire). I was ordered to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland for “observation.” I was diagnosed with "residual combat fatigue," now commonly known as PTSD. My resignation came through, and later I was offered medical retirement .

I went to work for the Sheriff's office in my hometown. After four and a half months on the job, my partner and I were ambushed by a violent radical group; my partner was killed by the first burst of gunfire. The next seven law enforcement officers who arrived were also killed. Again slightly wounded, commended (and lucky?), I resigned my second commission and went to another state that night.

The next day, in the student union of a college where I was attempting to enroll, I watched the national news coverage of the shoot-out.

I was informed that it was the middle of the semester, so I should return in the spring. I had no marketable skills, but since I did have a passport and a contact from the covert past, I signed a contract and led and fought in two more third-world cesspools.

After that I went to college. I didn't learn much that was useful, but I did find out that I could be of service to other combat veterans by counseling them and assisting them in obtaining the benefits they had paid for with their own blood.

Tell me about you today, and how Vietnam has influenced what you do and how you live today..

I wake up happy every day. It's easy if you have come as close to dying as many times as those of us from Delta Company have. I enjoy the simple things in life any Cajun man does: the love of a great woman, the respect of my peers, and the peace that only comes to men who know that they have done their best and found it sufficient unto the day.

I have been a single parent of—and full partner with—my son Ross, in his education and career goals. He is an outstanding young man of 28 .He earned two masters degrees before he was 25. He is now a Senior Manager of Global Development for Optical Networking, employed by a major technology company in Dallas, Texas.

One of my former college classmates is a wonderful Christian man and a member of the United States Congress. I served as his Vice Commander on a Veterans Task Force whose purpose was to pass legislation that would bring some justice to some situations that had long been unjust.

Give me a 1 or 2 liner about anything you want to say.

In November of 2000 I experienced one of the greatest joys of my life: I was reunited with my Delta 1/5 brothers from Viet Nam, who my son and I were privileged to honor and to be honored by their presence. To find SMAN, Lefty, Bobby Warren, Dez, José, Don, Mac, Leon, et al, is a thrill no chemical was ever able to produce in me.

And last but certainly first: Brother "Q," whose idea to create this website for the HEROES of Delta1/5 has had and continues to have the most incredible impact on the lives of all he is touching with this magnificent, labor of love.

"There is no greater love, than the man who will lay down his life for his brother." -Jesus of Nazareth

Semper Fi

Cajun Bob

January, 2001

 

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