ROBERT L YORK - PFC
- maple shade
- DATE OF BIRTH:
- December 23, 1947
- DATE OF CASUALTY:
- February 07, 1968
- BRANCH OF SERVICE:
- South Vietnam
Robert Leo York was born on December 23, 1947. His home of record is Maple Shade, NJ.
Robert graduated from Merchantville High School in 1965. He loved all sports.
Robert served in the US Army where he attained the rank of Private First Class (PFC).
York was killed in action in Vietnam on February 7, 1968. He was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Sharpshooter Badge with Rifle Bar, the Good Conduct medal, the Marksman’s Badge with machine gun bar, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Republic of Vietnam Citation, the Military Merit Medal and the Gallantry Cross with Palm. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Cherry Hill, NJ.
Bob was born to Lawrence and Alma York on December 23, 1947. Like so many of those young boys born in the years immediately following the close of the Second World War, he was destined to one day find himself fighting and dying in a land he probably never even discussed in his grade school geography class.
Born in Philadelphia, Bob and his family joined the post war exodus from the cramped little row houses of the city to the single family bungalows of South Jersey; on lands that had, not too many years earlier, been farmed on a regular basis. The family moved to Maple Shade, a small community 20 minutes from downtown Philadelphia that still, to this day, elicits the feeling that you’ve just walked on to the sets of the movie American Graffiti or the TV show Happy Days.
It was in Maple Shade that Bob attended elementary school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It was the typical Catholic grade school of the baby boom years; an average of 50 plus kids to a class and one uncontested commander, a St. Joseph’s nun.
Bob subsequently went on to Merchantville High School since Maple Shade did not have a high school of its own. Ironically, there were more Maple Shade kids in Merchantville High School than kids from Merchantville! It was here that Bob graduated high school in June of 1965.
In the days before soccer moms and traveling teams, Bob grew up in a town where “organized” sports were not needed for a kid to play a game. In a neighborhood where each house on the street seemed to be overflowing with kids, you just had to look out at an abutting backyard to see who was hitting a baseball, shooting baskets or tossing a football. Pick up games at such places as Aces Field along the railroad tracks went on daily. More formal sports centered around Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s CYO programs as did Bob’s participation in the church sponsored Boy Scout Troop 41. It is hard to believe today, but none of this required mom or dad driving the kids anywhere. Rather, you jumped on your bike and rode to the field, the park or, on opening day, Strawbridge Lake in nearby Moorestown for a day of fishing.
While not excelling at any particular sport, Bob was happy to be involved with a wide range of activities including ice hockey, and this long before the Flyers came to town! Our family remembers well an experiment when Bob, then 14, built his own rink in the backyard out of two by fours, plastic sheeting and buckets of water from mom’s kitchen. And it worked! Well, it froze, anyway!
As Bob got older, he transferred his interest from sports to the things that always interest a young man. In pursuit of girls, Bob became a fairly good dancer, actually winning a tiepin at a local Jerry Blavatt record hop. Remember, this was a time when young men actually wore a jacket and tie when going out socially! Dancing, hanging out at Margaret’s, the local pin ball parlor, and cruising Main Street were all part of the teenage life for Bob and his buddies in Maple Shade.
As he grew older, working a part-time job was just a natural extension of growth for the sons of the blue collar. From paper route to busboy at Harvest House, Bob always worked for his pocket money (actually, cigarette money…and he thought mom and dad didn’t know!). It was at Harvest House that Bob met who was to become his fiancée, Pam. An “older” woman, she being 19 to his 17, Bob worked hard to woo her from her then steady boyfriend.
1967 is often fondly remembered in 1960’s specials as “The Summer of Love”. We remember it as the summer when Bob and his brothers, Larry and Tom, all were invited to participate in the Army’s special summer camp program. Within a few months time, Bob and countless other young men were transformed from the life they had known in small town New Jersey to strange and foreign surroundings well beyond anything they ever imagined. By December 1967, Bob was in Vietnam and his brother, Larry, was in Korea.
Christmas 1967 was a half-hearted celebration. The motions were gone through mainly for the benefit of the younger siblings: Ray and Alma. The thought was, wait until next year! What a great Christmas 1968 was going to be. Bob celebrated his 20th birthday in Vietnam two days before Christmas, 1967.
The evening news and the front pages of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin all covered the hell that was breaking loose in Vietnam in late January and early February of 1968. The Tet Offensive had begun, or as it was more commonly known, simply Tet. Bob landed in Vietnam just in time for the worst fighting of the year. His tape recordings and letters home tell of being bone tired from the constant patrols.
The two soldiers showed up at our front door one bitterly cold Saturday night in early February around 9:30 PM. Bob was missing in action. Dad held out hope that he was on a special assignment and had only gotten separated from his unit. We all knew this charade was done for our benefit, but were glad to have some hope to buy into. The truth came some three agonizing weeks later when our worst fears had been confirmed. A land mine had exploded near or under the half-track that Bob had been assigned to and he was killed.
March 9, 1968, was a cloudy and raw day in Cherry Hill’s Cavalry Cemetery. It was here that the escorted body of our son and our brother was laid to rest with full military honors. If you’ve never heard taps played at a soldier’s funeral…you’re very lucky. You can never hear them again without a lump coming into your throat. And the twenty-one-gun salute will make you jump on each shot, even though you know the bang is coming.
Comfort, what little there was, came from the fact that at a time when there was so much dissension in the country, Bob did what he believed was his duty. He had no desire to fight, couldn’t have cared less about the “geopolitical consequences of communist expansion in Southeast Asia” and probably wasn’t even really sure of where Vietnam was on the map. But he did believe that he had an obligation and it was his duty to see it through.
Like a sequel to Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation, Bob was born to Larry; the WWII Navy veteran and Alma; the Frankford Arsenal Defense worker. He grew up in small town America, in Maple Shade, a town that did and still does go all out for its Memorial Days and Fourths of July. It is from such stock that men like Bob come.
Written by Raymond York, Brother
July 5, 2005
York’s Bronze Star citation reads:
For distinguishing himself by outstanding meritorious service in connection with ground operations against a hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam during the period 14 December 1967 to 7 February 1968.
Through his untiring efforts and professional ability, he consistently obtained outstanding results. He was quick to grasp the implications of new problems with which he was faced as a result of the ever-changing situations inherent in a counterinsurgency operation and to find ways and means to solve those problems. The energetic application of his extensive knowledge has materially contributed to the efforts of the United States mission to the Republic of Vietnam to assist that country in ridding itself of the communist threat to its freedom.
His initiative, zeal, sound judgment and devotion to duty have been in the highest tradition of the United States Army and reflect great credit on him and on the his military service.
Sources: Raymond York (brother) and NJVVMF.
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