By PFC Jerome Bishop, 1st COSCOM PAO
LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq (Spring 2005) -More han 3,400 Medals of Honor have been awarded to date, and rarely are those recipients alive to receive the honor. One of those rare individuals and the youngest living Medal of Honor recipient, LTC Gordon R. Roberts, still serves on active duty as the commander of the Troop Support Battalion, 1st Corps Support Command.
In 1968, at 18 years old, Roberts enlisted in the US Army as an infantryman and left his hometown of Lebanon, OH, to serve in the war in Vietnam. After basic training, advanced individual training and airborne school at Fort Benning, GA, Roberts was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division in West Germany. The unit deployed following the Russian occupation of Prague in 1968, to replace soldiers deployed to the Czech border. Six months into his Germany assignment, Roberts was reassigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and was deployed to Vietnam.
Months later, Company D, one of Roberts' sister companies, was lured into an ambush centered in the middle of a U-shape formation of enemy bunkers. The company was unable to move and was receiving numerous casualties, he said. "The situation with my sister company seemed to be getting worse and worse. We got the order to air assault an unguarded ridgeline about a click, or one kilometer, away," Roberts said.
His platoon was dropped in to relieve Company D from the position in which they were trapped, he said. "I was on point at the time, the four guys behind me were hit," Roberts said. A gap in the line was created when those men were hit from a concealed bunker and Roberts tried to do the best he could to close it, he said. "There really wasn't an alternative to hitting that bunker," Roberts said.
Roberts assaulted the bunker himself, taking out a two-man team inside. After securing the first bunker, his position was engaged by enemy fire from a second bunker and he had to attack and disable the enemy soldiers in it. Then fire was received from two other bunkers and he had to assault both, killing the three-to four-man enemy teams inside. At that time, he joined with Company D until the rest of his platoon arrived, he said.
Following the engagement, which lasted around two or three hours, his platoon came to establish a perimeter to ensure a safe evacuation of the soldiers of Company D wounded in the ambush and the members of his platoon wounded in the following engagement, Roberts said. Crossing the line of duty that is required by a soldier in such a situation takes more than anyone could think, Roberts explained. "If the company didn't get the job done, you don't want to be in the low ground, especially with night coming. You're trained to do a job and that was the job at hand."
Roberts returned home in the spring of 1970 and was assigned to Fort Meade, MD, where he was on call to assist in the control of political riots occurring in Washington, DC, he said. In March 1971, Roberts received the news that for his actions in Vietnam he would be awarded the Medal of Honor. In less than a week, he was invited to the White House to be awarded personally by President Richard Nixon, Roberts said.
After the end of his first term of service in 1971, Roberts continued serving in the Army Reserve for three years but went inactive until the mid 1980's when he joined the National Guard. After his time in the guard, he came back on active duty as a commissioned officer in 1991 and serves as the commander of the TSB at LSA Anaconda. "I think I have the best job in Iraq. Usually as a battalion commander, you usually end up with a lot of paperwork, but we also get a chance to provide the soldiers of Anaconda with force protection," Roberts said. "Honestly, the best part of the job is the one where you get out with the soldier, and I get to hang out with them a lot."
Roberts said his feelings about his service haven't changed much since he originally enlisted in 1968. "At that time the country was at war, and there were no second thoughts about your job as a citizen to serve," Roberts said. "I don't think any sacrifice I've made compares to the sacrifice made by others. I don't look at it as a sacrifice and never have. I look at it as what my heart says I should do and I do it." With such a long career in the military, Roberts takes pride in serving as he did the day he left for training.
CSM June E. Seay, TSB command sergeant major, first met Roberts in April 2004 at Fort Gordon, GA. After meeting him, Seay went on to read more on Roberts and learned his whole story, she said. The following July, Seay became the newest command sergeant major of the TSB, where she was given the privilege to serve with Roberts, she said. "The soldiers have been able to benefit from his expertise and input into command and control," Seay said. "I can say I am honestly humbled to serve as his command sergeant major. He's one of the best soldiers I've ever served with."
Having seen Vietnam and Iraq, Roberts said that wars may change, but the feeling of leaving the homeland to a distant country for a greater mission is the same. "The one thing I remember was the first day I got to Vietnam; coming across the berm into Iraq wasn't much different. You have to hold tight on your fellow soldiers to get your job done, and we have an important job to do, to make sure the people of Iraq are fine," he said.