A Vet’s Story: Robert Mallin

This story comes to us from Robert E. Mallin, who served as a Captain in the Army Medical Corps during the Vietnam War. -ed.

Robert E. Mallin in Vietnam

My adventures in Vietnam began in 1966 when I got drafted to satisfy the need for doctors to support the big buildup of that year. Indeed, the class before me at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where doctors get their (very) basic training was only 17. My class in August 1966 was 250. My attitude can be summed up by thinking that if all my country wanted from me in order to live here was 2 years of my life that was a fair price. I felt it would be an honor to be part of the 200 plus years of the Army Medical Corps. I was standing in line with the docs at Valley Forge, Antitium, and Saipan- an illustrious group. My purpose was to keep the troopers healthy and alive as best I could. This completely eliminated political conditions from my thinking. I was impressed with the dedication and patriotism of my medical platoon—1/10th Cavalry. They were made of southern hillbillies and New York City juvenile delinquents, of all colors and ethnicity. We were a cohesive dedicated unit at a time when some were saying that America was being torn apart on racial and class lines.

Soldiers from Mallin's unit during some downtime.  

We lived in the Vietnam highlands around Pleiku City. The highlands were actually beautiful.  Being the first outsiders ever to get there, besides an occasional French tea planter, we could experience native cultures and customs in the raw. 

It was early in the war as far as the eventual disillusionment went. We were all fighting to keep America safe.  The Vietcong eventually started terrorizing the native villages, especially at night, and we mourned these peaceful people getting dragged into a war they, at first, knew little about. In 1966 the Tenth Cavalry, my unit...the old Buffalo Soldiers, had far superior fire power than the enemy. We were rarely engaged in combat on purpose.  Rather it was by accidentally running into the "VC and North Vietnamese regulars" that we fought.  At those times if it was often a matter of being shot at without seeing the enemy, who after a brief fire fight blended back into the country side. The times regular enemy units "stood up and fought" we creamed them. I still haven't gotten over the fact that people I never met hated and wanted to kill me. I only rarely have flash backs. I don't think I became "messed up," but for 45 years I didn’t talk about the war with my friends or family, if I watched Vietnam war movies, I did so alone. 

Christmas dinner

While I feared for my life every day, there was only one time I knew I was going to die, but obviously didn't. I saw my share of difficult things, I received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, made some good friends, and actually had some positive experiences. When I got home, I spent a year at a Virginia post and then when I got out I blended back into the medical training I was doing before I was drafted. My wife and I felt it was now safe to have kids and life went forward from there.