Medal of Honor Ceremony
My son, Jim, was killed in Vietnam April 11, 1966. For his bravery in action he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The attached citation describes the tragic circumstances of his death. Two public schools, an Amry Reserve Training Center and an annual military award have been named in his honor. He was 25 years old when he died--tall, strong, handsome, personable--a perfect physical specimen. Six feet three; 205 pounds. Never had a cavity in his teeth. Never before had he raised his hand in anger.
What kind of a person was he? He was born August 30, 1940 in Hinsdale, Illinois. His early life was unremarkable. Middle-class serenity. As he approached his teens he was a little overweight; a little clumsy. A poor match for his more agile brother two years his junior. That bothered him. But he had a bullheaded sense of determination and when he was about twelve years old he launched a solitary campaign to achieve physical fitness. he suscribed to a body-building course which, to his family and friends, was ridiculous. An unscientific, turn-of-the-century routine described in ponderous language. But from the day he received his first lesson until the day he was killed, thirteen years later, he observed the rules laid down for him with a single-mindedness that was almost frightening. He ran a mile every day. He practiced deep breathing. He lifted weights. He took dancing lessons to improve his coordination. He ate health foods.
If all this makes him sound like some kind of nut, that isn't a true picture. He was a bright, pleasant boy with a keen, if somewhat earthy, sense of humor. Like most of us he was a paradox. His fantasies involved violent, heroic deeds, but in his day-to-day life he was both gentle and sympathetic. He loved solitude, animals and children. A sick dog or a bird with a broken wing were personal tragedies to him.
As a student he was average, but along about third grade he became a victim of the then-current wave of "progressive education". Phonics; the alphabet; rules of grammar were ignored. He was taught to read by recognizing the shape of words. He could pronounce "grandmother" but not "the" or "cat" or "run". It required hours, months and years of remedial effort to overcome the damage caused by that ill-fated venture into modern teaching.
But he did overcome it and developed a fine appreciation of literature. Adventure stories were his favorites. His heros were Hemingway, MacArthur, Robert Ruark and John James. His ambition was to become a writer. Some of his initial attempts were primative, influenced to some extent, no doubt, by his earlier clash with "the system". But he was beginning to develop a sense of literary organization. His copy began to take on a sense of power and rhythm. His vocabulary expanded daily, under the impetus of a deliberate training program. Whether he would have achieved a degree of skill necessary to qualify him as a writer we will never know.
For Jim, the terms, "high school" and "football" were synonymous. He played four years at tackle, both offense and defense. After his death, the athletic director at Morton High School, James Regan, said: " You don't forget a boy of this type. He weighed about 205, sometimes edging towards 210, and he could adjust to adversity quickly. He'd meet a 400-pounder if he had to" "Jimmy was honorable mention at tackle on the All-Suburban League team in 1958. The work of the 6-foot-2-inch defenseman never wavered." " He was always in condition, ready for a tough game," said Regan. " A real bug on physical fitness." " The boy had contributed a host of tackles, even in defeat, and he played it rugged....toward the center of the line.....upsetting many an opposition play."
In 1958, when Jim was 18, he joined the US marines, explaining that since the Marines were the finest fighting force in the world, he wanted to be part of it. In service he blossomed both physically and intellectually. Much of his term was spent in Okinawa, where he was exposed to and embraced some elements of Oriental philosophy. It was there also that he learned and mastered the art of Karate and won the Championship of the All-Japan Karate League. He was awarded the Black belt, grade 2 in 1962. While in the Marines he continued to play football and when he returned home after his enlistment expired, he was a magnificent physical specimen, as powerful, graceful and alert as a finely-tuned instrument.
A key to Jim's character and life must be found in the political and philosophical convictions which goverened his conduct. Where he aquired his ideas, I don't know. He was raised in a family which could be characterized as New Deal Liberal. Civil rights, collective bargaining and social progress were tenents of our belief. But Jim developed into a super-patriot; an ultra-conservative; somewhat to the right of Louis XVI. He believed that any American who didn't believe in total victory in the Vietnam Conflict was a traitor. With the idealism of the very young, he pictured this war in sharp clear lines of black and white. It was to him a struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. He believed that Americans are soft and selfish and smug; concerned with gadgets and Government handouts. He longed for a return to the personal responsibility, initiative and self reliance.
Jim's civilian life following his Marine enlistment was a mixture of success and failure. He operated a school for defense in Arlington, Virginia, and enjoyed every minute of it, but the business world left him cold and confused. He often said," I wouldn't be president of a bank for anything in the world."
As the United States involvement in Vietnam accelerated, Jim grew impatient to take part. He re-enlisted, this time in the Army, but instead of the Far East, the military in its wisdom shipped him to Panama. On an average of twice a month he requested a transfer and finally, in 1965, he was assigned to Company C, Second battalion, 16th Infantry regiment in Saigon, engaged, primarily, in search and destroy missions.
A faithful correspondent, he wrote every week. He never complained. The fatigue, insects, dirt, uncertainty, danger---and frequent deadly boredom---were minor annoyance.
On April 12, 1966, my secretary in my Washington, D.C. office announced a visitor; a Chaplain in the United States Army. His painful duty was to inform me that Jim had been killed.
So that is a brief description of my son, Sergeant James W. Robinson, Jr. It is totallt inadequate. Unspoken are the hours of companionship, the shared adventures, the way he held his head ( the same way I do), the gestures, the heavy way of walking ( just like me), the warm affection, the bright smile, the heated political arguments, the hangovers after an all-night spree.
He was my dear friend. I miss him. I loved him very much--James W. Robinson, Sr.
Special People--The Robinson's