July 2005

Gordon Robinson: Reconnaissance Unit, Vietnam

The following is taken from excerpts of an oral history taken by the town of Concord Oral History Program.

I went to Parris Island and from there I went to Camp Lejune and to Fort Benning, Georgia to jump school. I went around to different islands in the Carribean on some practice missions, and then came back to the states again. They were looking for guys to go to Okinawa, so I volunteered to go over there. I was assigned to a motor transport outfit, which I didn't care for very much because of my previous training, and that's when I volunteered to go into a reconnaissance outfit in 1965. I stayed over in Vietnam until 1966 or 1967.

A reconnaissance team was made up of 4 people usually, unless there was a real long patrol where they may take out 8 or 12 guys and there would be relay stations set up on the patrol. We would go so far out that you just couldn't communicate back to the main base, so you would set these relay stations up so you would have some kind of communication back to headquarters. We usually would go out for 6 days and then come back for 2, depending upon what the mission was.

Some of our patrols would actually go into North Vietnam, but a good percentage of them would be right along the border. We worked out of an area called Dong Ha and another area called Phu Bai and I was down in Da Nang for a short period of time, too. We worked in what was called the I corps area. We would run missions basically for any Marine infantry unit that was going to go in there on an operation. We would go in and find out what was actually the size of enemy forces in there. It wasn't our job to make contact with the enemy, which was a good part of the job, the infantry would go and actually fight the enemy. With four guys you didn't really want to get into much of a fight, but it was interesting and got a little hairy at times.

I was with recon group bravo, so we would have maybe 15 teams at the most when we were up at full strength. For 1 reason or another, there were always teams that just weren't up to full strength, so they'd have to keep swapping guys around all the time. But it was interesting, because you went out and did your job and the guys I was working with were highly trained and professionals and we didn't have any problems with drugs. Everybody in the outfit was strictly a volunteer, they wouldn't take you if you didn't volunteer for it. So it wasn't like some of the outfits you heard about in Vietnam where there were a lot of drug problems.

And the other thing I had going for me, I was over there in the very beginning of the Vietnam War, as far as American troop involvement, and I left there just as things really took off. When I did extend over there, I was wondering if I had made the right move because things were really getting bad. And when I got out of Vietnam, I came back to El Toro, California, where I was discharged and I just came home and went back to work for the light department.

Because you're in a reconnaissance team, you don't bring tents or anything of that nature. You had the clothes on your back and a pack. I was a radio operator, so I carried a radio, a spare battery for the radio, all the food and water and ammunition, and the hand grenades that I felt that I would need. You had to use a lot of discretion, too, because you were out there for six days, so you didn't want to run out of food or water. You didn't get resupplied. A reconnaissance team would go in and nobody ever came to see you again until it was time for you to leave. So you had to survive off the land and anything that was on your back.

When it rained, you just sat in it and you slept in it. We never believed in using ponchos or any kind of rain gear because first of all, they make noise and when you were supposedly trying to sleep at night, you never want anything over your head. You always wanted to be able to hear what's around you, so we just didn't take any in. We'd just lay on the ground and went to sleep. But you can't honestly say that you slept in 6 days, I mean you say you slept with 1 eye open, it was wide open. And in the jungle, it's real daring. I used to hate to see the night time come, hated it with a passion. You'd sit there and even if there's nobody out there, your imagination just does wonders, scares you half to death. If you'd just sit there long enough and look out into the darkness, it could really get to you after awhile.

If you talked, it would always be in a whisper in a reconnaissance team, and we used a lot of hand signals, especially if we were in areas where we felt or we knew we were in close contact with the enemy. Because a lot of our missions were right in enemy territory, or just outside VC villages, we even slept in VC villages and they didn't know we were there.

Later, we would go on what we called an overflight before we would go on an actual patrol, so the team leader would usually go out and then usually an officer would go with you that was from the intelligence division, and you would fly over the area looking for prominent terrain features, because when you get in the jungle, you can't see anything. A lot of times you have to climb trees 60, 70 feet in the air, just to try and find that bend in the river that is supposedly on the map. It was important that you knew where you were, too, because if you had to call in an artillery strike or call in for close air support, they've got to know where you are. So that was a big concern all the time to know your exact location.

View Gordon Robinson's full oral history at Concord's Free Public Library. For more information contact Dick Krug, director of Veteran Services for the town of Concord, located at 105 Everett Street, along with Council of Aging. He can be reached at 978-318-3038 or by email.