Recently I had the great pleasure of meeting Robert A. Kaplan who, it just so happens, lives a few streets over from my home.
I’m struck at how many Veterans are living among us and without our Signal’s Veterans Page every Friday, who would know?
Thank you SCV Signal Newspaper for your focus on our Veterans.
Drafted into the U.S. Army
Robert Kaplan was born Jan. 7, 1947 in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where he grew up graduating from Perth Amboy High School June 19, 1964.
Following high school, Robert attended Trenton State University for two years which enabled him to possess a student deferment from being drafted into the military.
Nevertheless, his prized student deferment was placed on a back burner as draft boards across America cranked up drafting 500,000 young men in October 1966, including young Robert Kaplan.
Robert reported to his local selected service office on Oct. 11, 1966. His Canadian-born mother suggested that he depart for Canada, but Robert’s deep sense of patriotism would not permit him to do such a thing.
Olive Drab Wardrobe
After a short stay at his induction station that day, he was bussed to Fort Dix, New Jersey for his new olive drab wardrobe, multiple vaccinations, skinhead haircuts, and a healthy dose of harassment by young power hungry Non-Commissioned Officers.
Welcome to the United States Army!
“I couldn’t believe the tons of busses coming in from all over, especially from New York City which was hit hard by the draft at that time,” Robert said.
Ten days later, Robert was sent to Fort Carson, Colorado, for Basic Training in an artillery training unit.
“I totally lucked out not being assigned to an infantry unit,” he said.
Following Basic Training, Robert received a two week leave of absence to return for Christmas and then it was back to Fort Carson for Advanced Artillery Training, where he really absorbed learning the tactics and fine points of accurate cannon fire.
For infantry troopers engaged in combat, artillery support is crucial.
Robert figured his field artillery unit would soon be deployed to Vietnam so, in April 1967, he volunteered for jungle training upon being assigned to Military Police School at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
Afterwards it was back to Fort Carson assigned to the 5th M.P. Company where his duties included post security, stockade, town patrol, and tower security.
Robert was intent on going Airborne but his color blindness brought that idea to a screeching halt.
Welcome to Vietnam!
In January 1968 Robert received a two week leave of absence. Upon his return to duty he was deployed to the Republic of South Vietnam.
Robert’s mother again suggested that he move to Aunt Lilly’s in Canada, but he wouldn’t hear of it.
“The thing that really bugged me was flying into Saigon’s Tân Sơn Nhất Airport aboard a giant bright yellow Braniff airliner and just knowing we would get shot down,” Robert said.
Robert’s aircraft set down on Feb. 15, 1968, as the Tet Offensive raged up and down South Vietnam and before his plane stopped rolling he could hear Viet Cong mortar fire.
Immediately upon disembarking, everyone ran as fast as possible to nearby bunkers.
Welcome to Vietnam! Within an hour, Robert and his fellow soldiers were armed to the gills with M-16’s, ammunition, ammo belts, and full military combat gear. Robert was also issued a .45 pistol with three clips.
Big Bloody One
Once that attack settled down, Robert was convoyed to Lai Khe to join the 1st Infantry Division, known as The Big Red One, though Robert soon dubbed his new unit “The Big Bloody One.”
Within a day, Robert was working convoy security manning a Quad 50 Caliber Machine Gun, which he thought was totally cool.
During his tour of duty he worked security at three base camps, Lai Khe, Quon Loi and Di An (pronounced Zion), which included handling prisoners of war.
Robert really disliked his duty at Quon Loi because of the nauseating heavy red dust there. It was a constant battle keeping weapons clean and it seemed that he was constantly choking on it. Monsoon season made things even worse.
Possessing a gung ho attitude, there were times when Robert took point when he was assigned to assist his infantry brothers on search and destroy patrols.
He simply felt more competent and safe walking point as he trusted his own sense of observation and scrutiny; this job was dangerous as hell, but he was bound and determined to survive Vietnam.
During his tour of duty, he experienced numerous firefights and on one such mission, as an MP, Robert was along to handle any potential captured POW’s. Sure enough, they made contact with the enemy.
When engaging the Viet Cong, being that you were on their turf, it’s typical that they would open up first and that’s when most U.S. casualties occurred.
Once our superior fire power was unleashed, the Viet Cong usually went diddi mau (hightail out of there).
On this mission, Robert’s unit suffered several wounded in action (WIA) and they grabbed three wounded Viet Cong, however those VC succumbed to their injuries. It was just another day in a life in the Nam.
Rest & Recuperation
Late in Robert’s tour of duty his one week R & R finally came around which sent him to Sydney, Australia, however, just before boarding his flight out of Saigon another plane had just landed with a number of seriously wounded soldiers.
Robert didn’t hesitate to help man several stretchers and seeing one young soldier with his legs ripped to shreds was almost more than Robert could take. The vision of that young man is forever embedded in Robert’s mind.
President LBJ Quit
Robert’s time in Vietnam ended Oct. 5, 1968, however, long before departing Robert had considered re-upping to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS). He promptly backed off, however, after hearing about President Lyndon Johnson’s speech on March 31, 1968.
Robert, among a great many other soldiers and Veterans, was highly agitated with LBJ’s decisions to cease bombing North Vietnam and to negotiate for peace.
“At that point we knew this war was a lost cause,” Robert said.
U.S. losses then were approximately 20,000 brave souls, but, when the whole endeavor finally ended America had lost 58,318 mostly young men.
Kissed the Tarmac!
After Robert’s airplane landed in Oakland, California, he literally kissed the tarmac.
Robert was honorably discharged Oct. 5, 1968 and he received the Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, and National Defense Medal.
Soon he was off to New York’s JFK Airport where his family met him and it was party time.
Initially, Robert worked in the ice cream business but was soon off to Montclair State University where he worked his tail off completing 50 college units in one year to finish his education earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration.
The majority of Robert’s working life was in finance finishing up at our very own Bank of Santa Clarita where he retired April 21, 2017.
The joy of Robert’s life was marrying Karen Herman on Dec. 12, 1976, and having their wonderful daughter Rachel.
Robert is immensely proud of his military service and being a Vietnam Veteran. As rookie retiree, he’s still figuring out the next thing in his life – but, he knows for sure that he wants to volunteer at the Veterans Administration.