A BAND OF BROTHERS
Army Specialist Four Paul W. Robinson
Died January 19, 1968 in South Vietnam
Paul William Robinson knew what it meant to be a band of brothers. He grew up as the third out of four boys born to Paul and Clara Robinson. The family lived together in Old Mill Village in Tupelo before ultimately moving out to the Brewer community. All four of the Robinson boys understood what it meant to serve their country, because each of them took their turn serving in either the Army, the Air Force, or the Army National Guard. Paul joined the Army in 1967 and in short order found himself in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, Paul discovered a new kind of brotherhood when he met a friend, Peter McKay from Michigan. The two had actually met during infantry training in Louisiana, but their bond was forged in the jungles of Vietnam. Even though they served in separate platoons, they stayed close spending a great deal of their “down time” talking about everything from how they grew up to what they were going to do when they got back home.
Paul and Peter’s first several months in Vietnam were relatively quiet. Paul sent a letter home to his brothers talking about the rigors of Army life. He also told about the time his company was made to dig up the shallow graves of North Vietnamese soldiers, searching their bodies for intelligence information. After 8 months of a 12-month tour of duty, they began to countdown their time together. In their minds, their time was getting short. Paul often signed his last few letters home with the phrase, “Getting short.”
On January 19, 1968, the North Vietnamese Army was moving en masse to initiate what would become known as the Tet Offensive. The company Paul and Peter were in was moved forward to meet them. While pausing for a short break, their entire company was ambushed by a full division of North Vietnamese soldiers. In short time, they were completely cutoff. Paul’s platoon was the point squad and was the first to face the swarm of NVA soldiers. They were easily outmanned, outgunned, and outmaneuvered.
Paul Robinson and his platoon did not go easily though. According to Army records, he took charge of his platoon and directed their fire, inflicting severe damage against a much larger enemy. The report says that Robinson went soldier to soldier, pointing out enemy targets and encouraging the men with him to keep up the fight. He also spotted a machine gun pinning down his men and destroyed it with a grenade. Paul Robinson was then struck by a grenade himself and died in the battle.
Peter’s platoon, caught in the midst of their own fierce fight, was spared only because a company of American soldiers showed up just in time. Peter McKay said he shed tears when he saw the Americans coming through the woods, saving his platoon. Of the 130 men in Paul and Peter’s company, only 30 remained standing at battle’s end. The rest were either dead or wounded. Unfortunately, the Americans who did come didn’t arrive in time to save Paul’s platoon, and deep down Peter knew it. In his memoir, he wrote:
Everyone around me was either wounded or killed. I heard what I thought were voices on our right flank. They weren’t American. They were Gooks saying, “GIs, you will die today.” Just as I thought I was done for, an American Company broke through the enemy lines and saved the remainder of us. I started to cry. The firefight was still hot and heavy but I knew we had a chance. After what seemed like endless fighting the NVAs started pulling back… The 30 soldiers left were in a state of shock. Everyone else was either dead or wounded. One of the first things I did was search for Paul. He wasn’t there. I cried. His squad was the point squad and they were the first to go down. I was praying that maybe he was only wounded, but I knew… I knew… I lost a lot of friends that day. Many names I have since forgotten but I’ll never forget Paul Robinson – that happy-go-lucky guy from Tupelo, Mississippi.
Paul Robinson’s family was initially told that he was missing in action. In that two months, his father held out hope that his son had somehow survived. Before Paul, Jr. had left for Vietnam, he worked together with his father doing construction. It was a dream that his father wasn’t ready to let go of yet. Clara Robinson was heartbroken, but deep down in her heart she felt that her son was in all likelihood gone.
The days dragged by as the Robinson family wrestled with the unknown. Two months after the Army reported him missing, a military messenger arrived at their home to inform them that Paul Robinson had in fact died in Vietnam. He had been awarded the Bronze Star for his courageous leadership in his final moments. According to Bobby, Windell, and Michael, it was a loss their parents never really recovered from.
Today, the three brothers say there is “a hole” in their group. A part of their “band of brothers” is missing. Peter McKay in Michigan feels the same way.
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