After entering the Army he distinguished himself by winning the Vietnamese
Gallantry Cross and the Army Commendation Medal with "V" device for
gallantry displayed during his first combat experiences in Vietnam.
Starting at a very early age, the Ivyman learned gymnastics at an
elementary school in Cleveland. "I liked tumbling but my real love was the
horizontal bars," he recalled.
At Cleveland he developed the muscles and confidence that would later make
him a sought-after circus performer.
"I really didnít have any thoughts about getting into circus
acts," said Specialist Toll, "until my family moved to St. Petersburg.
"Itís funny, but the high school I attended didnít have a gymnastic
program. The city had a youth center which was big on gym. It had the bars,
trampolines, and even a high wire."
"A friend of mine wanted to get into circus shows. He taught me a lot
about the high wire and other acts." the soldier continued.
The youth center in St. Petersburg is run by Bob Fisher, a former trapeze
artist. According to Specialist Toll, he used to have a trapeze act in the
1930s, known as "Fisherís Fearless Flyers." Mr. Fisher still had
many contacts in the circus business.
"The circus is like any other profession. The people who have a good
act like to keep it going even after theyíre too old to perform,"
Specialist Toll explained. "If their children canít carry on for them,
they try to find other young people who can take their place. Bob is always on
the lookout for promising young people. Thatís how I really got started in
performing. ĎThe Flying Armorsí were looking for another trapeze man. Bob
thought I had potential, so he had Regy Arnold (the owner of the act) watch my
stunts. He liked me, so I was hired."
All of this took place before the Ivyman had finished high school. He
performed on the trapeze during his summer vacations. Since circus acts usually
work only in the summer, the young performer could easily continue his classes.
The winters are spent in training, at Sarasota, Fla., for the next seasonís
By the time he had finished high school Specialist Toll had grown too big
for the trapeze. His own body weight and size had made him a risk on the bars.
"I had worked around the Wallendas before. They found out I was
available and asked Regy if they could hire me. Thatís how I got started with
them," said Specialist Toll. The Great Wallendas are the only high wire act
ever to successfully perform the seven-man pyramid.
He joined the Great Wallendas after a tragic fall that killed two and
injured all of the other performers. They were performing the pyramid without a
net at Ft. Worth, Tex., when one of the high wire walkers lost his balance and
fell, causing the others to topple off the thin cable.
"I trained all winter with the Great Wallendas. They were just
beginning to get in shape again after the fall. Our training was worse than
advanced infantry training (AlT). I made my first appearance on the wire in the
early part of 1966, when we opened our season in Cleveland," continued the
3rd Brigade soldier. "We traveled all over the states and Europe putting on
"My act included a three person pyramid, riding a bicycle across the
wire, dancing on the wire and a few other little tricks that are fairly hard to
do. I never appeared in the seven-man pyramid. I was working up to that when I
quit the act."
About four months after the former wire walker quit working with the Great
Wallendas, he was drafted.
In both basic and AlT he won the award for the highest physical training
(PT) score. "My gym work has definitely been an asset to me in the Army.
The PT test was simple compared to the training Iíd had with the Wallendas,"
the Ivymen explained.
Specialist Toll has also been an asset to his leaders in the Central
Highlands. He helped his platoon cross swift-flowing streams on two occasions
and later hung from a helicopter skid to snatch a fellow soldier from what could
have been a fatal situation.
Once, when his platoon was going on a routine night ambush it came upon a
stream that was too swift and deep to wade across.
"We had to move fast since it was getting dark," said Specialist
Toll. "We found a long thin pole and stretched it across the stream. I
walked across it taking a rope with me. After I got the rope across we were able
to make a hand walk for everyone else Ďto use."
On another occasion he walked a tight rope across a small river, carrying
delicate supplies that would have been ruined by the water.
The Ivymanís confidence in handling himself at great heights paid off
another time for one of his LRP buddies.
The team had been on a mission in a "hot" area and was being
extracted. They had heard enemy soldiers around them all day and feared the NVA
would open up when the extraction helicopter came down. Consequently, the
aircraft had to fly in and out as quickly as possible.
When the chopper made its pick-up run, one LRP, who had been providing
rear security, was unable to make it to the helicopter before it was already too
high to board. Specialist Toll climbed onto one of the skids and grabbed the LRP
with what he called a "trapeze hand lock." He then pulled the almost
abandoned soldier to the safety of the helicopter.
Chances are we could have picked him up on run, but I couldnít see
taking any more risks than necessary," commented the Ivyman.
Another combat experience he says he will never, forget occurred when he
was with the 3rd Brigadeís infantry battalion The company was involved in a
major fire fight on April 5 (1968) with elements of the 1st NVA Division, massed
in the mountains west of Kontum.
"The day after I got there my platoon was on point (the lead platoon
of the company).
After leaving the company firebase that morning the company made its way
through the dense foliage towards the objective.
"Then the NVA opened up, throwing everything they had at us."
the Ivyman recalled.
"The first four guys in front of me fell wounded. When the shooting
started, I hit the dirt and waited to see exactly what was happening. We fought
for a while and then got the word to fall back." Ď
When the company had managed to withdraw, it regrouped in a secure area.
First Lieutenant Benjamin Youmans of Atlanta, Ga., the platoon leader,
discovered that three men were missing from his platoon. The three had somehow,
gotten separated from the rest of the platoon, and were not able to fall back
Lieutenant Youmans asked for a volunteer to go back and help him rescue
the stranded men. Specialist Toll volunteered for, the hazardous mission.
"On our way back to them we were shot at many tunes, but we got to
By this time the three men, one of whom was wounded, had become tense.
"We calmed them down and patched up the wounded man.
Then we started back. .We were shot at again but we made it without
getting a scratch."
"I had never felt fear like that in any of my circus acts. I have a
great deal of respect for these guys who fight here day after day," the..
former trapeze flyer said.
After serving five months with "Charlie" Company, Specialist
Toll was reassigned to the 3rd Brigade LRP team. "Itís almost like a
trapeze act. Everyone knows, his function and we are very close friends."