Vietnam vet shares story of a Hinsdale native, hero

Memorial Day: A tribute to those who gave everything in the line of duty. One such soldier was James W. Robinson Jr., born in 1940 in Hinsdale. He enlisted in the Marines in 1958, and gave his life in battle on April 11, 1966, in Vietnam.

I came about Sgt. Robinson’s story when I encountered a framed photo of him at the Hines VA hospital. It spelled out a detailed description of his valor in the face of a fierce firefight with a Viet Cong battalion.

Sgt. Robinson moved among the men of his fire team, instructing and inspiring them. Enemy snipers, located in trees, were inflicting heavy casualties. Robinson used a grenade launcher to eliminate the threat. When the medic in his team was himself hit while administering aid, Robinson charged through a withering hail of fire and dragged his comrades to safety, where he rendered aid and saved their lives. With the firefight still raging, he collected weapons and ammunition from the wounded to distribute to those still able-bodied.

He continued to defy the enemy’s fire and was himself wounded in the shoulder and leg. Despite his wounds, he rescued another of his wounded fighters. While patching his own wounds, he spotted an enemy machine gun nest that had inflicted many casualties on the American force. His rifle ammo expended, he seized two grenades. He was hit in the leg again, with a tracer round that set his uniform on fire. He staggered indomitably toward enemy fire. Shot twice in the chest, but marshaling his last bit of physical strength, he hurled the grenades, destroying the enemy position.

Robinson was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Who among those who serve in any war would be so self-sacrificial? Sgt. Robinson died, first and foremost, for the men in his unit. No doubt every skin color was represented in the members of his team. Sgt. Robinson was white. War may be inherently insane, but somehow, in its most dire moments of battle, it reveals a bonding. We all bleed the same color blood.

— Joe Harrington of Oak Park served in the 27th surgical hospital (M.A.S.H.) unit of the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He is currently an adjunct instructor in the communications arts department at Triton College.