KIA Tribute - Robert Clements and James McCarthy

Robert Clements
James McCarthy

KIA 29 November 1969

I don't know that I've seen a good movie about the Vietnam War. Perhaps because I expect them to reflect what it was really like. Those of us who were there know that most of the time we were just marking time. Move here, move there, hurry up and wait. Heat, rain, sweat, bugs, mountains. Not exactly the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster.

To me a movie about the real Vietnam War would be about Bob and Jim.

They weren't heroes, at least not in the Hollywood sense of the word. I don't recall them taking out machine gun nests with nothing but bayonets in their teeth. But they were men of courage. They were men of duty. And they were friends.

They were friends. In a world gone mad with violence, in a world where many of us were afraid to make friends just to lose them the next day, they did what friends do. They joked and laughed about the army, and the army supplied then with plenty of things to laugh at. They read their mail together, ate their meals together, and watched each other's backs. If I try really hard I can see them digging a foxhole, grumbling about how deep it had to be, but digging anyway. Misery loves company.

The day that Bob and Jim died they were sitting together. Third squad, my squad, was on point that day. We stopped for lunch and I remember telling them to go out about ten to fifteen yards in front of us. Others provided the same security on the flanks and behind us. It was normal procedure. Jerry remembers it differently. He says that we all plunked down together, and that the LT came by and told us to spread out. Bob and Jim moved off a little way and sat down. While we ate, LT called for artillery or mortar fire well out beyond us. A defective round fell short. It ended Jim and Bob's tour of duty, but it didn't end their friendship.

Bob and Jim had known each other before the war, been friends in Seattle. They trained together at Ft. Lewis, Washington, became soldiers and infantrymen together, and were lucky enough to be posted to the 35th Infantry Regiment together. Bob arrived in Vietnam the same day that I did, June 12, 1969. I imagine that Jim did too.

Jerry recalls a conversation with Bob, in which Bob told him that Jim was going to teach him to snow ski when they got back to the "world". Jim was quite a "ski bum", as his brother Brian says.

In Vietnam it was through our friendships that we maintained our humanity, a corner of normalcy inside our heads. Jim and Bob had a link to home and the "normal" world in their friendship.

The tragedy of any friendship is that it may evaporate over the years. We drift apart. Bob and Jim died together, their friendship intact. They were truly friends to the end.

Personally, I believe that they are friends even now.

Dave Muxo
B 1/35th 69-70