Robin Bartlett takes us back 50 years to a "boots on the ground" account of his extraordinary combat experiences as a 22-year-old 1st Lieutenant with the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam.

As a combat infantry platoon leader, he deployed a 32-man platoon on search and destroy missions and helicopter assaults into hot landing zones at the height of the Vietnam War.

Today we’ll hear about the horror, fear, anguish, and sometimes illogical humor of that war. Robin talks about the long-term impact, both positive and negative, on his home life and business career...with insights about leadership, courage, PTSD, and life lessons learned.

Promoted to 1st Lieutenant after only one year, Bartlett at 22 assumed the leadership of the 1st Platoon, A Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). Over the next seven months, he led a platoon on more than 60 helicopter combat assaults and search and destroy missions.

Bartlett grew up in a military family. His grandfather, father and brother all attended West Point, and in college, as the Vietnam War escalated and eighteen-year-olds were drafted daily, Bartlett joined his college’s ROTC program. As a Distinguished Military Graduate, he volunteered for Infantry, Airborne, and Ranger training, and assignment to the 82d Airborne Division. He got everything he asked for…and more.

Bartlett holds a BA degree in Comparative Literature from Claremont McKenna College in California and a master’s degree in Media from Pace University in NYC. He has written numerous business publications and a professional book published by Dun & Bradstreet.

He is the President of the NY/NJ Chapter of the 1st Cavalry Division Association, and a proud member of the 82d Airborne Division Association. He and his wife live in Norwood, New Jersey, and have three sons, none of whom have pursued military careers.

Some questions we asked Robin:

Q. We’re now celebrating the 50th anniversary of the treaty ending the Vietnam War. Tell us about your experience as a young lieutenant who was given life-and-death responsibility over young men, some barely old enough to buy a beer.

Q. Give us your perspective of the war from a “boots on the ground” point of view.Q. How did you manage having misgivings about the mission while being required to follow orders and meet your responsibilities as a platoon leader?

Q. What did you learn about leadership, decision making, courage and fear?Q. How did your experience in Vietnam as a 22-year-old platoon leader affect your post-war professional life? What have you been doing since then?

Q. Describe what it was like to participate in a helicopter combat assault.Q. When did you come face-to-face with the enemy?

Q. You just completed a new video, “Firefights and Courage,” in which you describe an assault and its aftermath. Fill us in on that.

Q. Why are the words “Welcome Home” such an important greeting for Vietnam vets?

Q. Tell us about your book, “Vietnam Combat: Firefights and Writing History.” What did you learn from writing it?

Q. Where can people find it?

Show Notes

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Show Transcript

[00:02:25] Robin Bartlett: Thank you. It's pleasure to lean to the left with you today, . 

[00:02:29] Bob Gatty: Oh let's see here. Let me do this. . My wife does that all the time. When I have my lean on the left shirt on at lunch, she's, she leans to the left and goes, how long do I have to do this? . Oh well,

[00:02:42] Robin Bartlett: lemme correct two little errors. I, had a platoon of 32 man in Vietnam, but rarely did I have that many. The number usually was down around 25, 26 due to casualties or people going on r and r, et cetera. And I made approximately 50 helicopter combat assaults in Vietnam, sometimes twice a day. But I would, I wasn't always leading the assault.

[00:03:14] Bob Gatty: Yeah. Okay. All right. Thank you very much for that clarification. 

[00:03:19] Robin Bartlett: Some veterans may be very sensitive about that. 

[00:03:22] Bob Gatty: Okay. We wanna make sure that we don't don't cause any issues for anybody. So thanks for clarifying all of that. And now we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of the treaty that ended the Vietnam War.

[00:03:36] Tell us about your experience as a young lieutenant who was given life and death responsibility over young men, some of them barely old enough to buy a beer. 

[00:03:46] Robin Bartlett: Yes. And, to vote in many cases too. Yeah. Yeah. Sure. And, actually, March the 29th is is the 50th anniversary of the official departure of the last American troops from Vietnam and all Vietnam vet it. It's actually the National Vietnam Veterans Day. The nationally recognized day for Vietnam veterans and all Vietnam era veterans are eligible to receive a special 50th anniversary commemorative lapel pin recognizing their service. 

[00:04:28] Bob Gatty: So how do they get it? 

[00:04:31] Robin Bartlett: There are a lot of organizations like VFW and all have memberships and have received pins.

[00:04:41] My group, the New York, New Jersey chapter of the first Cav division has been given pins and so they have to contact one of the veteran organizations to receive a free pin. Okay. And they certify that they are a Vietnam era veteran. 

[00:05:00] Bob Gatty: Okay. Okay. Let's talk a little bit about your experiences leading this platoon.

[00:05:07] Robin Bartlett: Sure. It, was a very challenging thing for a, brand new officer. I had been in the 82nd Airborne Division and my training Primarily airborne training and Ranger school prepared me. Actually Ranger school was the very best training that I could ever have had to prepare me for a combat infantry platoon leaders assignment.

[00:05:35] And as a first lieutenant I got just as dirty. I had the same food. I had the same situation as my men. We, were typically called grunts, and I was a grunt, no question about it. We, got we went out to the field on four to six week missions. We might have a change of clothes during that period of time.

[00:06:07] For the most part, we ate c rations on a daily basis. occasionally if we were in a safe or secure area. And I do mean occasionally they would fly cooks out to us and we could have a hot meal that might be breakfast for dinner or dinner for breakfast. But it was always appreciated. We did get daily helicopter support resupply.

[00:06:36] They bring in extra water and ammunition and mortar rounds. A and as long as they could bring a helicopter in and sometimes they couldn't, sometimes we were in such dense jungle. All they could do is kick it out. They'd hover overhead and drop it from 20, 30 feet up. We w we had cut, we would cut down trees.

[00:06:59] We would cut down as much as we could to create a perimeter so that the helicopter could come in, but often they couldn't land, so they'd just throw it out from 20 to 30 feet. Wow. We couldn't drink the water. Yeah. We were not allowed to drink local stream water, Uhhuh, . And part of that was because of Agent Orange infiltration and, poisoning.

[00:07:23] They were very concerned about the water, so we had to be resupplied with water on almost pretty much a daily basis. And because it was hot, The average temperature was 105 to 115 degrees daily. Oh God. It went through a gallon of water very, quickly. Sure. So that kind of gives you a quick overview of what it was like.

[00:07:48] The longest mission I had was six weeks and we got a change of clothes once during that period of time. 

[00:07:58] Bob Gatty: What? 

[00:07:59] Robin Bartlett: Yes. One time change of clothes. Otherwise, we wore the same clothes every day for six weeks. , it was, oh my God, the smell after two or three days. 

[00:08:09] Bob Gatty: Oh my God. I have to tell you the other day my wife and I had to go to, sadly we had to go to a funeral in Atlanta, Georgia, for a friend and, I live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. So it's about a six hour drive down to Atlanta. And when we got there and we unpacked, I discovered that both my wife and I had forgotten to bring socks. . So we got to wear the same pair of socks each of us for three days. Now, after the third day they felt a little grungy.

[00:08:48] I cannot imagine what you just told me, not being able to change clothes for six weeks and, you're out there in, in the heat, in the humidity and the nastiness. 

[00:09:02] Yep. Oh my God, that must have been 

[00:09:05] Robin Bartlett: I wore a t-shirt, I, my, my fatigue shirt. I kept wrapped up and I'd only wear that at night. Buttoned up against the mosquitoes.

[00:09:13] Bob Gatty: Uhhuh . 

[00:09:14] Robin Bartlett: So my daily shirt was a t-shirt and a towel wrapped around my neck. And if we came to a stream, I would wet the towel down and then wash myself off with it. We couldn't drink from the stream, but my, my, one of my stories, one of my favorite stories, and it's in my book, my new book that's just recently been published.

[00:09:36] Bob Gatty: Yeah. And by the name, what's the name of your book? Let's get that right now. 

[00:09:38] Robin Bartlett: Right, the book is Vietnam Combat Firefights and Writing History. Okay. and I got to the new clothes pile, the clean clothes pile late and all that was left was a pair of small pants. I wore mediums Okay. And I had to put on the smalls, so Okay.

[00:10:02] They fit okay. Up until the point when I walked over and stepped over a, tree. Yeah. And split the crotch . So we did not wear any underwear . It was too hot to wear underwear. Okay. My medic gave me two safety pins, okay? And I pinned the crotch together. That held for about a day, . And so I walked around with an open crotch for a better part of a week, and then finally my platoon was designated to come in and secure the perimeter for an artillery battery up on the top of a mountain.

[00:10:39] Yeah, so we flew in, secured the perimeter, and I went to report to the battalion commander in his bunker, and holding my legs together because everything was hanging out . And he said to me, son, looks like you need a new pair of pants, . And I said, yes, sir, I do. He gave me a, brand new clean pair of pants and a shirt and a t-shirt and I, walked outside his bunker, threw my clothes in the trash bin, and put on the new clothes right there on the spot. The title of that chapter in my book is Letting It All Hang Out.

[00:11:17] Bob Gatty: Oh. Oh, that's really rich . Oh, well, listen, , my next question. I don't know. Just . From a boots on the ground perspective, and you've just been talking about that give us your overall perspective of the Vietnam War from your standpoint. 

[00:11:42] Robin Bartlett: Yeah, I would say a regular Army officer. came from a military family.

[00:11:48] Yeah. Really? In my family, we answered the phone. Colonel Bartlett's quarters, may I help you, sir? Uhhuh as a child or a young, adult. That's how I answered the phone. Okay. And we were in service. My family was in service to our country. All since grandfather, my father, my brother, . Yeah. And we took it very seriously.

[00:12:09] And of course I had to serve it as an officer. And, probably Army, although my father did transfer to the Air Force at the end of World War ii. So it was a very natural thing for me to pursue a military career. It came very naturally to me and that took me all the way through until about halfway through my tour in Vietnam.

[00:12:35] Okay. And, it was at that point in time, having lost a lot of men. Having put, unfortunately wrapping, them men, the officer's responsibility for a KIA, someone, one of the men who had been killed in action was to wrap the body in a poncho. We didn't have body bags. We wrapped them in their poncho, filled out a death card, three by five card with the coordinates where the soldier had been.

[00:13:03] Put the card on the man's boot along with the dog tag and send him a home, send him on his long journey home. So that was tough for a 22 year old. And it happened to me, unfortunately, a lot of times. 

[00:13:21] Bob Gatty: It sounds to me like it's tough you to even think about it right now. 

[00:13:26] Robin Bartlett: It is, it comes back to me.

[00:13:28] You can't ever forget those kinds of experiences. Oh my. And you had to search the body. My men would, bring the body to me, but they would not, wrap the body in the poncho. That was my job. And it was my job to fill out the death card. Okay. And they, I guess maybe they felt like they didn't maybe it was superstition, I don't know.

[00:13:49] But they didn't want to touch the body. Uhhuh . . Cuz they thought, maybe that'll be me next time. Yeah, but that was tough. That was really, very hard. Oh God. What I came to also realize was that many of the orders that I was given on these various different combat assaults or search and destroy missions they're nonsensical.

[00:14:20] They were foolish. the daily patrols, the daily night ambushes. Just some, many of 'em just didn't make sense. And, they were my orders and I had to execute 'em and carry out. Now, there were times when I decided to vary from those orders because I didn't want to put my men at unnecessary risk.

[00:14:47] So there was a lot of individual decision making that went into my day-to-day types of activities. And it was not uncommon to I, I didn't disobey any orders, but I didn't carry them out perhaps as explicitly as what I was given. Okay. And you couldn't be overly concerned about spit and polish in in, in, those situations.

[00:15:22] I had to be concerned about the, these 18 and 19. My, my platoon sergeant, who was supposed to be the most experienced man in the unit Yeah. Was what they called an instant NCO. He had gone through, a special training course at Fort Benning, Georgia. And, he came out of that course as a platoon sergeant an E6.. He had his 18th birthday in Vietnam. He and I had the same, literally the same amount of experience right in, in leading that unit. It was a good man, but it wasn't like inheriting a platoon sergeant who had 15 or 20 years of service. So I had to be really concerned about the welfare of my men, their morale, constantly checking on them.

[00:16:14] And I think there's a lot of applications to that kind of training and that kind of decision making to business life as well. To business and life. 

[00:16:24] Bob Gatty: Yeah. Yeah. I wanted to ask you did you have your own misgivings about the war itself? 

[00:16:33] Robin Bartlett: I, came to have a lot of misgivings, primarily in the second half of my tour.

[00:16:40] An officer only served six to seven months in the field and then was transferred to a staff assignment versus the soldiers who spent 11 or 12 months in the field. They, would take an r and r for two weeks , but they were there, for the full year. An officer had a staff assignment if , he made it to the staff assignment.

[00:17:04] Because platoon leaders had a very short life expectancy. 

[00:17:10] Bob Gatty: Oh, wow. 

[00:17:10] Robin Bartlett: And for example, on the day that I was introduced to my battalion commander, there were four officers that went into his bunker. And we went in alphabetical order. and this man was absolutely exhausted. It was about eight o'clock at night.

[00:17:29] He gave us a two minute speech and he said we'll just do it. You Bartlett, you're an A company. The next got, next two went to B Company. They needed two officers, and the third and the fourth officer went to C Company. I was the only one that completed his tour. The other officers didn't make it.

[00:17:50] Bob Gatty: Oh, wow. 

[00:17:51] Robin Bartlett: So platoon leaders had a short life expectancy. One of the reasons why the radio operator always walked right behind the platoon leader. So he had his antenna sticking up and a radio on his back. So he really became a target. Ah, I often had my radio operator walk in front of me . 

[00:18:11] Bob Gatty: That wasn't nice.

[00:18:14] Robin Bartlett: Hey we, understood the situation, , but in the second half of my tour, after seven months in the. . I, my secondary specialty was as the personnel officer of a battalion. They call that the S-1, the personnel officer or adjuvant. And I was understudying. I came out of the field and I was understudying the current S-1, he was going back home. He was set to go and all of a sudden I got orders from division headquarters. Unexpected, totally unexpected. Telling me to go to division headquarters for an interview with the 14th M H D and the current S-1 said, did you apply for a job with at Division Headquarters?

[00:19:02] And I said, no. And he said what is this 14th M H D? I said, I have no clue. I don't even know what they'll stand for. And he said, go for the interview. You're, ordered to go. So I flew to division headquarters and I started asking people, where is the 14th MH D? And I finally found a soldier who said it's down that road about a mile.

[00:19:31] So I walked down the road and I finally came to a tent with a sign out front that said, 14th military history detachment. Motto was, you fight it, we write it. Okay. and they interviewed me and the, captain who was in charge of this unit had gone through every personnel file in the division and came up with three lieutenants who had either literature backgrounds, or journalism backgrounds, and he'd interviewed two out of the three, and they both turned the job down.

[00:20:05] Okay. . I looked around his tent and I saw a refrigerator. I saw cold beer. I saw Coca-Cola, Uhhuh, . I saw fans. I said, This might be a good place for me. I, in , I took the job. 

[00:20:21] Bob Gatty: You took the job. . 

[00:20:23] Robin Bartlett: But that's when my, that's the work that I did there is when I really started to change my overall impression of the war.

[00:20:32] Yeah. What we were doing and the progress we were making. 

[00:20:37] Bob Gatty: And, turned into what? 

[00:20:40] Robin Bartlett: Part of the responsibility was to go out after a major battle Yeah. And interview the, combatants who were still alive. And if they were summon at the battalion aid station, we'd talk to, to wounded soldiers.

[00:20:57] And we would try to piece the battle back together again and often Our report that came back after, now we only did major engagements, but often our reports was the first time that anybody had a really clear idea of what was going on. Okay. But I found that the senior officers involved in that fight would refuse to talk to me.

[00:21:25] The operations officer wouldn't talk to me. The battalion commander wouldn't talk to me. And now of course I was ordered to go out by the division S3, the division operations officer. Who was a full colonel. And so I ended up talking to the company commander and I, we, and I brought along a sergeant who was a combat artist and a photographer.

[00:21:46] We, we took pictures, we drew maps, and we pieced the battle back together again, and then come back and write it up. Okay. battles were evaluated on body count. That's how success was determined. Body count. And in several of these major engagements, the North Vietnamese soldiers took their dead with them.

[00:22:11] Okay? There would be blood trails and there might be body parts. Okay? But often there was no body count. That was unacceptable , especially when we had incurred significant casualties. Okay, so my report, even though it read the initial draft, would say the enemy took their bodies they're, dead and wounded with them.

[00:22:36] That was unacceptable and numbers were assigned to the body count. Fictitious numbers. 

[00:22:45] Bob Gatty: I'm sitting here with my mouth agape.. You're, 

[00:22:49] serious. 

[00:22:50] Robin Bartlett: Absolutely. 

[00:22:52] Bob Gatty: So you just made up the numbers. 

[00:22:54] Robin Bartlett: I was ordered to rewrite the report and to put in that we killed 465 enemy as a result of this battle. And I said, wh where did that number come from?

[00:23:08] And the division. , the Division G-3, a full colonel, just said, put that number in. Oh my. And that unfortunately happened several times. Okay. Now these were major engagements over two to three days. And in one particular case, we lost we lost almost an entire company. There were 80 men killed out of a company of about 120.

[00:23:32] Killed or wounded. Out of a company out of a hundred and twenty.. and it was a major engagement and a, major loss for us. And the Division G-3 just wouldn't accept the responsibility for he was in a, command and control helicopter flying over the battle. Ah-huh. . So he directed the battle.

[00:23:54] Wow. And it was a night fight, which is, which was always the worst, always. Night fights were always the, most difficult, couldn't tell what was going on. Sure, The NVA and the VC owned the night. They were always, that's when they would attack. They were always more successful at night than during the day.

[00:24:19] Bob Gatty: That must have been scary as hell. Oh my God. 

[00:24:23] Robin Bartlett: It was. No question. 

[00:24:25] Bob Gatty: And you know what I know you were a trained soldier, but you were still only 22 years old and you had this responsibility of 30 plus other young men, some of whom you knew we're not going to make it.. That must have, I just can't imagine how you dealt with that.

[00:24:51] You talk about leadership and accepting responsibility. That's just almost impossible to comprehend for someone like me who's not been in that kind of a situation. 

[00:25:06] Robin Bartlett: I will say that leadership, that ranger school was the best training that I could have had to prepare me for that experience.

[00:25:17] And there was never once in Vietnam that I felt as if I was scared to death, no question about it. Oh, sure. I was scared to death, but there was never once where I felt I was not in control. Okay. Because of that. And I'll quote our dear friend, the Duke , John Wayne, who said it best.

[00:25:41] Yeah. Yeah. And he said he's famous for saying courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway. Yeah. And, that's what you had to do sometimes you just had to gut it out. Reach down, deep down inside, try and find some courage. Try to direct your men and hopefully with unnecessary risk, as much unnecessary risk as the situation.

[00:26:11] But if you were being ambushed, you had to make decisions. You could not just stay put you, you had to attack the enemy. You had to find an opening. And sometimes that cost that cost lives or it, cost wounded men. 

[00:26:27] Bob Gatty: What was it like to participate in one of these helicopter assaults? 

[00:26:31] Robin Bartlett: The good side of a helicopter assault was for the, 20 or 30 minute flight you finally cooled off.

[00:26:40] It was the only time when you were in the field when you enjoyed some cool air. That was the good part. 

[00:26:49] Bob Gatty: And the cool air came from 

[00:26:51] Robin Bartlett: you were up in the air. You were up in the helicopter. Oh, okay. With the doors open. With the doors open 

[00:26:56] the doors on. Okay. It was cool. 

[00:26:58] Bob Gatty: All it wasn't ac I just don't wanna, listeners to think that you guys were going around with some kind of portable air conditioning units, in those helicopter.

[00:27:12] Robin Bartlett: So the, assault was typically a company assault. Yeah. And they would run it with eight helicopters. And if it was my platoon's turn, then I always rode in the first helicopter. I made sure that I had the maximum firepower in that helicopter with me, which included my machine gunner, Sometimes I'd bring two machine guns.

[00:27:34] My grenadier who carried a M79 grenade launcher, my squad leader, my medic, my RTO, and it would start with an artillery preparation of the landing zone for about five minutes. So 1 0 5 millimeter battery of artillery would fire on the landing zone. And they would finish their barrage with a white phosphorus round.

[00:28:00] And that was a signal to the Cobra helicopters that would be supporting our unit to go in. And these Cobra helicopters were, they've been replaced by Apaches today, but at the time it was just a, formidable weapon. It is a formidable weapon carrying rockets and mini gunfire, and they would spray the perimeter with With rockets and then they would remain on station to support the landing.

[00:28:29] We would fire before about five minutes out. We'd shoot short, burst out the window, out the go out the door to make sure that our weapons were operational and the first one and two helicopters in were the most dangerous. Typically the soldiers would ride the skids and jump because the N V A or VC loved to take out that U, usually the second helicopter and not the first.

[00:28:58] They'd let the first one land and get the man off. And then the second one they'd, try and take out with the R P G rocket propelled grenade. And if that happened, then the rest of the assault would be diverted. They wouldn't risk additional helicopters if they had a crash. And the men who survived the crash would be responsible for fighting it out until they could be relieved by additional troops. The cobras overhead were just indispensable. The, platoon leader could talk with them on the radio and direct their fire as long as they knew where you were on the ground. But if you were in deep jungle, there was, they were no of no help whatsoever because the smoke from your hand, your smoke grenades would just hang up in the jungle.

[00:29:48] In the jungle canopy. So artillery was the best solution. And often I would try to direct artillery by lying flat on the ground, calling for a round to land on a pre-planned and then listening to where it hit on the ground and directing fire based on where I heard it land, because you couldn't see more than about 10 to 15 meters in front of you.

[00:30:19] Okay, so you were directing artillery movements adjustments based on where you heard the rounds land. And I prayed that they weren't too close, but that was what a helicopter combat assault was like, especially if you were in that first lead bird. 

[00:30:40] Bob Gatty: When did you come face to face with the enemy for the first time?

[00:30:45] Robin Bartlett: That happened to me a couple of times. One time we were just literally walking down a trail, an open trail, and an enemy soldier was walking up the trail. And Point man heard him coming and he took position on the left. The cover man, which is the man, right behind the point man. He took a position on the right and they called me to the front cuz they could hear a soldier coming up the trail.

[00:31:13] And as I got close to the front here he was and he started to pull his weapon off his shoulder. And I just let loose with my M 16. Another time I learned. 

[00:31:28] Bob Gatty: So that took care of him. Huh? 

[00:31:30] Robin Bartlett: That took care of him? Yes. Yeah. 

[00:31:33] Bob Gatty: Now let me ask you, before you go to the other time, was that the first time you had actually shot and killed an enemy combatant 

[00:31:43] Robin Bartlett: That I saw, yes.

[00:31:46] Bob Gatty: And, what did that do to you mentally at that? 

[00:31:50] Robin Bartlett: Anything at that time? It had little or no effect on me. You okay. You just had to steal yourself against those kinds of situations. Sure. Whether it was your own man or enemy. Okay. You, just couldn't allow yourself to have much emotion about the situation.

[00:32:07] The adrenaline would pump up in your body. No question about it. 

[00:32:12] Bob Gatty: Okay. So tell me about the second time. 

[00:32:14] Robin Bartlett: The second time... in Ranger school, they taught you never, to be without your weapon, always have your weapon regardless of what you were doing. And I, violated that rule one morning cuz I had to go out.

[00:32:30] and go to pick, a crap, . And I walked down the hill away from the perimeter. I told my men, listen, I'm walking down there into the tree line. And I'm gonna take a crap. Okay. And I did okay. And I was doing the thing with the, with toilet paper, et cetera, stood up and I was buckling my pants. Yeah.

[00:32:53] and I saw an enemy soldier. Okay? He looked at me, I looked at him, he waved at me. Okay. And I turned around and ran like a stupid person back up the hill.

[00:33:05] So face to face. 

[00:33:08] Bob Gatty: And you acknowledge that now with no problem, right? 

[00:33:10] Robin Bartlett: I acknowledge it now. Yeah. It was pretty stupid.

[00:33:13] Bob Gatty: Was that before or after you got your pants fixed? 

[00:33:17] Robin Bartlett: That was before. 

[00:33:18] Bob Gatty: That was before . Okay. We don't need to go any further with that one.

[00:33:24] You have ... you've got all this experience from the war, from leadership positions that you had to take in during Vietnam and you came home. What did you do when you came home? 

[00:33:42] Robin Bartlett: I was still, I was a regular Army officer and I had a new assignment. Yeah. An officer fills out a form called a dream sheet.

[00:33:53] Okay. You look down where you would like to be assigned. Okay. And in Vietnam, I did not get orders. I was within 30 days of leaving. They call that D-roast. And so I talked my boss into a three day trip to Saigon so I could go to Mac V headquarters and find out what my orders were. And I finally found after two and a half days of enjoyment and good food and a little touring I went to Mac V headquarters and was ushered, ushered into a gymnasium with the basketball hoops pulled up and on the floor of the gymnasium where these low trays of FORTRAN cards that was the computers at in those days.

[00:34:36] FORTRAN programming.. and every card was soldier in Vietnam. were 58,000 cards on these low trays all arranged in alphabetical order. So I went down the line A to B, to BA to Bartlett, Peter Bartlett, John Bartlett. Robin pulled out the card and said, oh, you're going to Seattle, Washington? And I said, oh, I'm going to Fort Lewis.

[00:35:04] And he said, no. It says here, Fort Wainwright. and I said wait a minute. I, used to live in Seattle, Washington. There's no Fort Wainwright in Seattle or in Washington, so we had to look it up in a directory. Yeah. Fort Wainwright is located in Fairbanks, Alaska. I got orders to the West coast. My next duty station was Fairbanks, Alaska.

[00:35:32] So I, spent two years in Alaska. . It was a, good assignment. I enjoyed it. I'd like to hunt, like to fish. Cold as could be. It was quite a change from Vietnam.. . 

[00:35:45] Bob Gatty: Yeah, for sure. . 

[00:35:48] Robin Bartlett: And then I received orders to go to the career course and stopped at the Office of Personnel Operations in Washington, DC and I wanted to find out what my big picture was.

[00:36:03] And I met with a major who was supposed to be my advisor and he was an armor officer. Okay. With no combat experience, and I thought it was rather unusual to have a, major who was in the armor branch counseling an infantry officer, and he said we have a wonderful career plan for you, Captain Bartlett.

[00:36:28] By this time I was promoted to captain. we're going to send you to the career course, then we're gonna send you to the Monterey Language Institute. We're gonna speak, teach you how to speak Vietnamese and send you back to Vietnam for your second tour as a Vietnamese unit advisor. And I said that's not exactly what I had in mind.

[00:36:50] Bob Gatty: And yeah, Uhhuh . 

[00:36:51] Robin Bartlett: By the way, vietnamese unit advisors have a shorter lifespan than infantry platoon leaders. Oh jeez. And I said, listen, I've got two purple hearts already. I don't need anymore. Okay. And he said this is what we have you programmed for. Take the weekend and think it over. This is what you, what we have you programmed for.

[00:37:12] So I had a miserable weekend , called my father told him I'm gonna resign. This is it. I, will not be programmed. Okay? Came back Monday morning, met with the same officer, and I said, okay. , you go ahead. I'm gonna resign my commission right now. And he said, oh, catch 22. You have accepted orders transferring you from Alaska to Georgia to go to the career course.

[00:37:39] Therefore, you are obligated for an additional year of duty. And if you choose to resign, then we'll send you back to Vietnam right now. Oh.

[00:37:51] So I said, okay, go. Send me back to Vietnam. Right now. I figure I got 30 days of leave. They're gonna send me to the Language Institute. That's worth about two or three months. I will only have to serve eight months, seven months in Vietnam. I called his bluff and he goes and huddles with two other majors.

[00:38:14] He comes back and he says let's not be hasty. Here the Army has spent all this money to move you and your family from Alaska to Georgia, so we're gonna go ahead and send you down there. You can be an instructor or something and if you change your mind, we'll reprogram you. Clearly he had not looked at my records because I was a bachelor and everything I owned fit in my car.

[00:38:38] Okay? So the smartest thing I did for once in my life was to keep my mouth shut. Okay? and I went down to to Fort Benning, Georgia was assigned to the leadership department of the infantry school, which actually turned out to be a wonderful final assignment in, the time that I spent in the military.

[00:39:00] But in kind of answer to your question, I never had a, situation where I encountered protestors, people who spit on me. I had soldiers who did, men in my unit did, but it didn't happen to me because I was still in the military. Upon return from Vietnam. I was still in that community, and it wasn't until I came back in, until I moved into civilian life, when I began to really have experience with civilian community.

[00:39:40] And I went to work in the publishing field. Okay. And nobody cared. Nobody was interested. Nobody wanted to hear about it, and in fact, they didn't, they refused to hear about it. And so consequently, I just bottled it all up, didn't talk about it, and it, it affected me, dramatically affected my personality.

[00:40:08] I was still a bachelor at the time. And, it has affected my entire life since that time. Been long recovery period. To deal with P T S D and coming to grips with that experience. It's one year of my life it's rarely and I've talked to many veterans who say the same thing.

[00:40:32] There's rarely a day that goes by that you don't recall some aspect of that experience. It, affected us, especially if you were in the field. If you were, a combat soldier. And it, there's rarely a day that goes by that you don't recall some aspect of that experience. It's a lot like police, I think, and fire firefighters EMS people who encounter traumatic situations.

[00:41:04] You bury it. , but, and I, always thought of it as putting, those feelings and those emotions and those memories into a, titanium trunk in the back of my mind. And I kept them locked away for a long, time. But they did start to come out. Unfortunately they did start to seep out.

[00:41:29] Bob Gatty: What do you mean by that? 

[00:41:30] Robin Bartlett: They get some help. They had to get some help. 

[00:41:33] Bob Gatty: Yeah. What did you end up doing for your career then? 

[00:41:38] Robin Bartlett: Spent most of my time in the publishing field.

[00:41:41] Bob Gatty: Doing what? 

[00:41:42] Robin Bartlett: textbooks, selling marketing textbooks. I worked for Apprentice Hall Publishing Company. Okay. And also took a foray into non-profit work.

[00:41:51] I worked for the American Heart Association . and in fundraising primarily they call it development, but it was fundraising. the two things that I did. 

[00:42:04] Bob Gatty: And have a family now?

[00:42:06] Robin Bartlett: I do. I had raised three boys and they're all one, one is a very smart kid. He's got his PhD in history.

[00:42:18] And there comes a time in a father's life when you find out that your kid is smarter than you are . And yeah. Although I think I'm more street smart than he is. But and I, attribute my wife primarily to kicking me in the rear end to helping me deal with the emotions bringing out love and affection and empathy for people. And the, military has a lot of things going for it. Military training has a lot of things going for it. One of which is, but what one of which is not good is that it bottles you up. Yeah. It makes you tough. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:43:03] Bob Gatty: So what do the words, welcome home? mean to Vietnam vets? 

[00:43:11] Robin Bartlett: Yeah, that's a very, important thing that I love to talk about. I devoted a whole chapter in my book to those words. And it, acknowledges the fact that so many veterans came back from Vietnam and they were not welcomed. There were no parades.

[00:43:29] There was no acknowledgement of their service. In fact they were we, lost the war. Yeah. And those soldiers who returned, paid that price. My own situation was that I, developed a video on a essay that I wrote called The Trail, and I used a lot of the photography and combat art that I brought back with me from Vietnam in my latter assignment.

[00:44:02] and I couldn't attribute the photography or the art except to combat photographers and combat artists. Put this video together and put it up on my website and I, I gave a couple of presentations, showed the video, and I had the New Jersey representative for the VA say, gee I, recognize one of those piecesof art. I think I know who drew that. I'm gonna be in touch with him. I'll have him contact you. And I went oh, gee, have I used this without permission? So I'm driving to my college to my son back to college. And I get a cell phone call and, hi, this is I, can't recall his, first name, but his last name was Johnson.

[00:44:53] And he says, I understand you've used a piece of my art in your program. And I went oh, I said let me get off the highway here so I can talk with you. And I gave him the website where he could go and see the program cuz he had not seen it. So call, he calls back after about 10 minutes or 15 minutes.

[00:45:17] My wife's in the car and he said,

[00:45:20] I am so proud that you have used my my art in your program. You have really honored me. Thank you so very much for doing so. Wow. And at the end of that conversation, he said to me, welcome home. Ah, and after, 30 years, that was the first time that anybody ever said Welcome home to me. Wow. So that's why those words are so important to me.

[00:45:53] Bob Gatty: Wow. Okay. Now let's talk a little bit about this new video that you, just sent me a little while ago. Firefights and Courage, in which you describe an assault in its aftermath. I know we've discussed those types of experiences that you had, but I really like this video and I want to call attention to it.

[00:46:21] Talk to me about that a little bit. 

[00:46:23] Robin Bartlett: I'm obviously in the midst of promoting my book. Sure. Vietnam Combat. And I'm getting, I've gotten some really fine advanced reviews from military, civilian journalists, historians got a nice review from Jan Scruggs, who is the founder of the Vietnam Memorial.

[00:46:48] HR McMaster, who was National Security Advisor. Barry McCaffrey. MS. N B C News Analyst. And a host of others. And I wanna promote the book. And there's, so much promotion out there on social media these days that I, and so much of it, or a lot of it is video. Yeah. So I decided I was gonna do a video.

[00:47:09] Okay. And I had done some presentations, put a PowerPoint together. . And I have this wealth of photography and slides and, art that I brought back with me from Vietnam. Unpublished. And so I, put this video together. And I'm actually gonna do three of them. They're short, there's five minute video.

[00:47:36] And I decided the first one should be on firefights and. and talking and amplifying a blog that I wrote on that particular point. Okay. Which is also on my website 

[00:47:49] Bob Gatty: by the way. People can find your website where 

[00:47:52] Robin Bartlett: It's Okay. Robin bartlett Okay.

[00:48:03] Bob Gatty: Bartlett is b a r t l e t t correct? Correct. . 

[00:48:08] Robin Bartlett: All right. I'm gonna be doing one on helicopter combat assaults. That's what, that's one I'm working on right now. These are all gonna be up on YouTube channels. The first one is on YouTube channel. They just have to search for Firefights and Courage.

[00:48:22] ourage The only firefights and courage on, on that channel Right, now. Anyway. All right. And the second one will be on helicopter combat, assaults and firefight, and the third one will be on. how and why I wrote this book. That'll be more for general readers cuz I tried very hard to keep the military to de militarize my book and take the jargon out, or at least explain it as you went along.

[00:48:50] Bob Gatty: Okay. I wanted you to talk a little bit about your book Vietnam Combat Firefights in Writing History. What did you learn from writing that book, Robin? ? 

[00:49:03] Robin Bartlett: Well, It was a catharsis, clearly. A catharsis. It was one way that I decided to attack my own PTs. D and i felt that if I could write about it, if I could get it down on paper that, it would stop haunting me.

[00:49:20] And to some extent it has. Okay. Although in what I discovered in talking with a lot of veterans was that I had some experiences. that they had not had. Yeah. Some rather unusual experiences. And so each one of those experiences, each one of those stories has become a chapter in the book.

[00:49:41] Okay. So it 33 chapters and not all of them are combat experiences. There's some funny ones too. Okay. Humorous ones. Okay. But I came away from that experience. It took me 12 years to write it. Wow. And that's primarily because I was raising a family and I, made a lot of West Coast trips with my job.

[00:50:06] And so I'd write a work on a chapter flying over and coming back. Okay, got it. 

[00:50:13] Bob Gatty: Okay. Where can people find it. 

[00:50:18] Robin Bartlett: Of course it's in the bookstores now. It's on Barnes and Noble and Amazon and, in all the major bookstores . Or they can come to my website, and they could get an autograph copy with free shipping.

[00:50:35] Excellent. Okay. 

[00:50:37] Bob Gatty: All right, Robin, do we have anything else we need to talk about? 

[00:50:41] Robin Bartlett: No, you hit my hu my most important points especially with the welcome home. I, would encourage anyone and everyone who en encounters a Vietnam veteran, and we're starting to walk in the shoes now of the World War II Vets.

[00:50:57] So many of them are late nineties or in their hundreds. Vietnam vets are replacing them. Yeah. And we can be recognized cuz we have gray hair and we might be a little stooped and we're a lot of 'em love to wear their Vietnam hats though, so that's easy to recognize. Okay. And rather than say thank you for your service and we always appreciate, thank you for your service, nothing wrong with that.

[00:51:24] But if you really wanna stop 'em and bring tears to our eyes and lumps to our throats, you say welcome home. 

[00:51:32] Bob Gatty: All right. Okay. Robin Bartlett, I thank you very much for sharing this, all of this with us on Lean to the Left Podcast. I hope you guys enjoyed hearing from Robin. I sure did, and this is an extremely important time to take a pause and, think about this war and what it did to this country and what it did to these young people who had to go fight it. So thank you Robin very much. 

[00:52:06] Robin Bartlett: Thanks, Bob. It was a pleasure to lean to the left. 

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