ROBERT W ELLIOTT - SGT
- DATE OF BIRTH:
- August 31, 1945
- DATE OF CASUALTY:
- August 09, 1970
- BRANCH OF SERVICE:
- South Vietnam
Robert W. Elliott was born on August 31, 1945. His home of record is Woodbury, NJ. He had one brother, John.
Elliott served in the US Marine Corps and attained the rank of Sergeant (SGT).
Elliott was killed in action on August 9, 1970. Elliott was survived by his mother, Agnes.
August 31, 1945-August 9, 1970
SGT, Marines Woodbury, NJ
Bobby and John "Butch" Elliott were raised by a working single mother on Chestnut Street in Woodbury, NJ, during the fifties and sixties. There was nothing spectacular about their lifestyles but the boys were well taken care of and loved very much. Both attended Saint Patrick's School in Woodbury before going on to Woodbury High. Butch graduated in 1963 and Bobby in 1965.
Their mother, Agnes Wilson, now living in Vineland, NJ, says, "Bobby was everybody's friend and our house was everybody's house. They were all good kids in the neighborhood. They all got along."
"It was just me and the two boys," she continues. "We had some hard times. Sometimes, we didn't know where the next loaf of bread was coming from but we made it through all right."
"We were just average kids," says John, now living in Thorofare, NJ. "We watched TV, cut the grass and did the dishes for Mom. Bobby liked to build models and we had a great set of trains up in the attic. We had a pretty small group of friends and didn't really do all that much. We used to hang out at Woolworth's and Kresge's when we were younger and then hot rod around with buddies once we got older. Who didn't?"
"Bobby loved to fish," Agnes adds. "He almost always had a fishing pole with him. He and Butch used to go to Clementon Lake and the Woodbury Creek to trap muskrats. He loved animals and was too involved with fishing and hunting and his other friends to have time for a girlfriend."
Bill Stoudt of Woodbury remembers the friendship he had with Bobby. "Those were days when we had no worries, no cares," he says. "We played ball, went fishing, and did whatever we felt like."
When graduation day came, Bobby had a problem with the attire necessary at the ceremony. Agnes smiles and recalls, "He said, 'Mom, I am not going to wear this dress. No way!' So, I told him he wasn't going to get his diploma if he didn't. He was firm about it right up until the time I had to go to my seat. But when they lined up, there he was with the gown on."
Butch had enlisted in the Army after his graduation in 1963. He remembers coming home on leave and impressing his younger brother. "Bobby would just stare at my uniform," he says. "He didn't say much but I could tell he was thinking, 'Wait until you see me in my uniform.'"
"Bobby wanted to see the world," he adds. "I guess the Marine recruiter snowed him pretty good. I know he wanted to get away for a while."
"I knew he had been up to the recruiter and talked to them a little bit but it was still a surprise to me when he enlisted," Agnes says.
On June 21, 1965, when the day came for Bobby to report to the recruiter for entrance into the Marine Corps, Agnes offered him a ride. She remembers the response. "He said, 'No, Mom. I'll walk, and I'm not going to look back.' And he didn't. He walked right across the schoolyard and that was it. I guess he was being brave, but it sure was hard on me."
"Once Bobby enlisted, we didn't see him much," Bill Stoudt recalls. "And when we did, he was a different person. I think the Marines gave him a sense of direction and he was forced to grow up quicker than most."
"He was easy to like," Butch adds. "All the kids liked him. He used to get pocket change by betting fifty cents that you could punch him in the forehead and not knock him out." He chuckles, then says, "Maybe that had something to do with him staying in the Marines."
Walter Mullen, of Vineland, is a World War II veteran of the Pacific, and Agnes' companion for more than thirty years. He remembers the boys coming home on leave. "I would take them down to the Legion hall to play pool," he says. "Bobby loved the Marines and would not have wanted to do anything else."
Bobby was sent to Vietnam after his boot camp and advanced infantry training. He served thirteen months there and came home with a different outlook on a very different world.
"In Vietnam, that's where he was happiest," his mother says. "When he was home, he was so discouraged when he saw all the people demonstrating. It was hard for him to take. He told me, 'I know what we're fighting for, Mom.'"
Walter adds, "They stationed him in Washington, DC, when the demonstrations were going on and he told them they better get him out of there because he was afraid of what he might do if they didn't."
"You could see a big difference when he came back after his first trip to Vietnam," Butch says. "It was nothing I could put my finger on; it just wasn't the same Bob. He was one tough son-of-a-gun, I know that; mentally and physically. I couldn't boss him around like I used to. He'd just get that look in his eyes."
"He told me a story about his unit being overrun," he adds. "He was positive he was going to be killed then. He said the enemy was charging down a hill and at them. They went right over his position and kept going. He said it was the first time he wet his pants. I couldn't believe he was admitting to me that happened. I tried to volunteer to go so that he wouldn't have to go back, but he wanted to and they wouldn't let me do it anyway."
After a short time in Japan, Bobby volunteered for a second assignment to Vietnam. He also applied for an experimental program conducted jointly by the Army and the Marine Corps. It involved training and use of dogs for sentry duty, explosive detection and as scouts. Sometimes the handlers were matched with, and trained with their dogs, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and then were sent as a team to Vietnam. Often, the handler chose his dog when he arrived in Vietnam. In both cases, the handlers treated the dogs as their own.
"Bobby enjoyed responsibility," Butch continues. "That's why he joined the K-9 Corps. He wanted to be a good Marine. He wanted to be a dog handler in Vietnam. He was doing what he wanted to do and was convinced we were doing the right thing."
The "war dogs" saved countless lives during the war. They were so good at what they did, the enemy had bounties on them. They often were the first targets in ambushes, but relentlessly sniffed for booby traps. It was a dangerous job for both man and dog.
Bobby and his dog, Sweet Thing, were assigned to the 2nd Platoon, USMC Mine and Booby Trap Company. The teams were sent with regular infantry units on patrols and other operations, then returned to their own headquarters to await another mission, often coming only hours after the last one.
Eldon Wesley of Newport News, Virginia, was also a dog handler in Vietnam, assigned to the same unit as Bobby. He spent some of his youth in Vineland and was living in Newfield, NJ, when he joined the Corps in 1968. He had trained with his "mostly shephard" dog, Lucky, for two months before being sent to Vietnam. After years of angry denial, endless guilt and recurring flashbacks, he is finally able to recall the most traumatic event of his life.
Lucky was not working for me. We had documented the fact that the dog was not proper material. He was too interested in other things than finding mines. The Army Vet technician, Lynn Post, agreed and helped me fill out the reports and I submitted them.
It was decided to send Bobby Elliott out on patrol with Lucky to confirm or refute Wesley's report. Eldon continues:
Elliott was only in the program about a month longer than me, he didn't know that much more than I did...and he didn't know the dog. Elliott had never worked with Lucky before and Lucky was not familiar with Elliott. They took the point. I followed and observed and the squad was behind.
As we were going along, Elliott was hit by a sniper. He stumbled around and went down. When he went down, he hit a mine and it blew. Lucky came back to me. I couldn't get to Elliott. He was screaming for me to take him out. He was not screaming for the medic or the doc. He wanted me to take him out. I couldn't get to him because we were pinned down. And I couldn't take him out. Couldn't do it for him. We finally got to him and had him medivaced out to Da Nang.
I went to see him in the hospital. Carinci was in the bed across from Elliott. On the third day, I went to see him and Carinci told me he had just died and they had taken him away. I was scared because I knew I was next. I mean, there was Carinci, then Elliott and now me.
If Lucky had detected the mine, the platoon may have been alerted before the initial fire was aimed at Bobby. Perhaps the sniper's bullet alone would have been fatal. The fact was that Bobby was out there with Eldon's dog. And Eldon witnessed the horrible result first hand, becoming a casualty in a war that, for him, has yet to end.
Eldon Wesley continues to build his life around those who care and understand. Although he still carries with him a measure of survivor's guilt, he is finally starting to come to terms with the reality that Bobby's death was in no way his fault.
Funeral services were held at Saint Patrick's R.C. Church in Woodbury on August 19, 1970. Reverend Griffey presided over the High Mass, after which Bobby Elliott was buried at Greenwood Memorial Park in Millville, NJ.
Bobby's family will always be proud of his service and dedication to our country and to the Marine Corps. But he left behind some unanswered questions.
If the recurring nightmares and flashbacks of Eldon Wesley are testaments to the costs of the Vietnam War, so are the sentiments of John Elliot, a brother and a veteran.
"Yes, Bobby was happy with what he was doing," he says. "He was going to make a career of the Marines. To me, that's the biggest thing. But he paid for it. His death was a waste. We did nothing. We lost the war and for what? The government and the money makers? That's all it was and I'm still very bitter...so many kids were killed."
It has been thirty years since Bobby's death and his mother admits she will never get over the loss of a son, but then Agnes Wilson adds, "Knowing how Bobby felt makes all the difference in the world. I decided that it was just something I was going to have to live with and keep on going. I would have to get stronger."
Asked how she would want Bobby to be remembered, she replies, "As a nice guy and a loving person who never had any harsh words about anybody. He was never out to hurt anyone."
Walter Mullen, with moistened eyes, silently agrees and then adds, "He really did believe in what we were doing."
Excerpt from They Were Ours: Gloucester County's Loss in Vietnam
by John Campbell
Used with permission of author
Sources: John Campbell and NJVVMF.
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