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Bobby Blair, the Vietnam Veteran

by Mary Greendale
November 10, 2018

This year we honor the stories of Bobby Blair, the soldier in Vietnam.

Bobby Blair loves Holliston, farming, Veterans, helping people trapped in addiction, storytelling and everything Irish. He is a native of Holliston. When he saw a need for a food pantry, he helped to make that happen.

He’s a Vietnam Veteran and has organized many tributes to honor the people who serve. A former postal worker, he is now passionate about growing flowers, the Downtown Marigold Project and operating the Holliston Reporter. He’s quirky, he’s funny, he does not suffer fools gladly, and he hates process and long meetings. He also loves Diet Pepsi and brownies. Above all, he’s committed to serving his community. 

He’s told the stories of many Vets. Today we tell his.

Right after High School (Holliston class of 1968), Bobby started working at the Holliston Post Office when it was located in the building now occupied by Holliston Hardware. The Vietnam War played out on national television nightly on the evening news – that was long before the instant news of today. (map below)

In 1969, the Selective Service re-introduced a lottery to determine the order in which draftees would be inducted. ://www.sss.gov/About/History-And-Records/lotter1 

Bobby, his parents and siblings gathered around the TV the night of the drawing, the first since 1942, on December 1, 1969. Bobby’s number was 115. He lost and decided to sign-up rather than wait to be called. Two weeks after he left, the Draft Board knocked on his folks’ door.

At Fort Sill, the guys all had orders to go  to Germany not Vietnam. No surprise, Bobby was joking around that the three of them really didn’t want to go to Germany, no sir, they wanted to go to Vietnam. Blackledge, Blair and Bowen stood in a line alphabetically listening to orders and Bobby is still wisecracking until he hears that three guys were going to Nam - they were the three B’s. Why? Alphabetical - there were no A’s.

At the ripe old age of 20, he found himself in Nha Trang on guard duty in an old French compound with a big house and nearby Enlisted Men’s Club. He figured this wasn’t bad at all for a home base. Just across the street was the South China Sea, which was as warm as a bath unlike the water he waded in at Cape Cod just before leaving the states. He thought he was living the life… until he wasn’t. New orders sent him to An-Khe, which was no French compound.


Gun SNAFU
Drugs were rampant – “I don’t think they (those in charge) had any realization how many were doing drugs,” Bob says, and then one guy that was high on something shot another guy. The Colonel announced he was taking away everyone’s personal firearms –the M16 that each carried with him and was supposed to have at all times.

“They locked our guns in a central area and the Armorer had the key. After an attack at the nearby helicopter base, we had a practice red alert, couldn’t find the guy with the key and couldn’t get our guns.”

"We were B ----(expletive deleted)!!” The soldiers decided to do something. Ultimately, Bobby sent a letter to State Representative John Losch in Holliston and asked for help.

On this side of the world, State Representative John Losch who still resides on Washington Street, received the letter from Bobby telling him that his unit’s personal guns had been taken away and locked in a safe. The soldiers were concerned about their safety and ability to respond. They’d be defenseless if the guy with the key wasn’t around.

John didn’t know Bobby at that time. “Before I got involved, I wanted to know a bit about him, so I called my friend Dave Moore who was an officer with the Holliston Police.”"

Officer Moore (father of the future Chief John Moore) told Losch that he knew Bobby and added, “You should know up front that I’m his uncle.” Dave assured the State Rep. that anything Bobby said was, “undoubtedly legitimate.”

Once convinced, Losch called U. S. Senator Edward Brooke who agreed to meet with him at the State House. The two talked and, “Brooke obviously did something about it,” Losch told HollistonReporter.com, “because they all got their guns back.”

If you read both letters (included below), the Army said this practice of locking up the guns up was acceptable. In practice, it was typical for the larger military weapons to be locked in centralized cabinets or rooms. As for personal weapons, soldiers were told from day one that they must always have their personal M16 with them. Reading the Army communication today, it appears to be a sideways answer to the inquiry…it answers in general terms not the specifics and dodges the real question.

But back in An-Khe, one very angry Colonel was hot on Bobby’s tail. He called Blair into his office about, “A Teletype from Congress from some Senator,” the Colonel snarled at Bob, and tossed the paperwork for Blair’s Bronze Star in the wastebasket. And then in a threatening tone said…“Hope you make it home alive.”

Shortly thereafter, the Colonel was reassigned.

Heads-up
At that time, Bob was working as an Artillery Surveyor unit at Pleiku. If gun emplacements were needed (for the larger weapons), they were sent in a helicopter or convoy to survey for the 8” and 175’s, artillery pieces which were typically self-propelled.

Bobby recalled one day when they were flying really high. He was yelling to be heard above the racket inside the helicopter.
“What’s the pilot reading to us?” Bob yelled.
“He’s telling us we’re not in Vietnam anymore.”
“Well, where are we?”
“Cambodia.”
We’re not supposed to be in CAMBODIA!!” Bobby screamed back.
“So what are ya gonna do about it, kid?”

Montanguards
The indigenous people in the area, the Montanguards, were dark skinned, did not look Asian and were major allies in the highlands. One day when Bobby’s unit arrived early to Cambodia, the First Sergeant told Bobby to give the natives his C-rations.

“Why?” Bobby asked, but the officer barked at him to hurry up and do it. 

Later in the afternoon, the Montanguard chief came back carrying the biggest, black snake Blair had ever seen. Fortunately, it was dead. The chief wanted to present it to Bobby, but this wasn’t working for him.

“I hate snakes,” Bob yelled, backing away.
"Blair, take the snake – we don’t want to offend him!”
“Why me?” he asked the officer, still refusing to put his hands out.
“I don’t know – seems he thinks you’re the chief because you’re the tallest. Just take it.”

(color photo above fr. BB's photos - Montanguards walking home from hunting - at Special Forces outlet inside Cambodia. Photo of Montanguards training - Encyclopedia Britannica)

Holliston in Nam
After getting home, Bobby learned that he had left something of a trail in Vietnam. His brother Michael, an M.P., came across Bob’s rap sheet in a drawer – Michael was stationed at the same base Bob had been. Typical bro, Bobby warned, “If you tell Ma, I’ll kill ya.”

He communicated with Laura Hines, a nurse, but he never met her until just a few years ago when Laura was visiting from Seattle and attended the dedication of the new police station.

Donny Haynes a local boy that was a few years ahead of Bob in school was at the nearby helicopter base that was attacked and resulted in the red alert drill when the guys had no guns. 

APO
Bobby was lucky enough to never go on patrol. When the chance came, he applied to become the Battalion Mail Clerk. He flew to the coast where he was supposed to take a test, but when he told the man in charge that he worked for the U.S. Post Office, the guy told him he could skip the test and he got the job.

As Battalion Mail Clerk he “adopted” the company dog named APO – Army Post Office. Before he returned home, he made sure APO had a new owner – didn’t want him orphaned, because the locals would likely eat him.

Home
The Post Office downtown was equipped with huge metal bins – rather like big animal cages - with drop down doors. When Bobby got home and resumed work, it was a long time before he didn’t duck for cover when someone dropped the lid on a bin, which sounded too much like “in-coming.”

The Man with the Signs
If you have never seen the short documentary video that local filmmaker Max Eposito did about Bobby and the signs he posted annually honoring Veterans, please watch it here.

https://vimeo.com/43006564

Thanks, Bobby, and we're glad you made it home. You've served Holliston since then. We're lucky to have you.

 

 

(photo at Bong Son Binh Dinh Province, l-r, Pat Prock from Eau Clare, WI; Virgil Kitsemble, Dodgeville, WI; Blair)

 

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Comments (9)

Bobby Blair, you are an American treasure, and a special Holliston one, as well. So much of the spirit of this community can be traced to your passion and generosity, and to those you gather around you through your humor and enthusiasm. Thanks for being your unique, hilarious,and tirelessly dedicated self.

- Katie Connors | 11/13/18 7:35 AM

Mary: Great article about the real " Mayor" of Holliston. Bobby thank you Bill

- william mayer | 11/12/18 4:30 PM

You are such an asset to Holliston. There are not many men like you. Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do. And thank you for your service. Being my daughter's Godfather, and a great friend to my parents for so many years. Bless you.

- Debi (Rowe) Estabrook | 11/12/18 1:23 AM

Thank you Mary for a wonderful article and Thank you Bobby for your service to our country! And a thank you to all of our veterans.

- Kathy Shore | 11/11/18 7:58 PM

Great article Mrs. Greendale. Thank you for your service to both our country as well as the town of Holliston, Bobby. Nice to see a letter gets a response like that. Sadly, the town of Holliston and the state of Massachusetts have not been so well represented in politics since the spring of '71. I can still picture the Brooks and Losch signs in my parents front yard

- Scott Heavner | 11/11/18 7:25 PM

Thank you Bobby fir all you do. For your service, your caring for people and the town you love, for your flowers, the Signs on phone polls on memorial and veterans days and for the countless thousands of things you do for others. You are a true gift.

- Melissa Ford | 11/11/18 6:32 PM

Thank you Bobby for serving our country and our town??

- Patty Osten | 11/11/18 10:28 AM

Thank you for your service Bob. And thanks to all veterans across this great nation. God bless to you all.

- Paul Guyon | 11/11/18 9:50 AM

Amazing man and amazing story. But be advised that the letter to senator Brookes contains his full Social security number

- Dan | 11/11/18 8:46 AM

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