USMC, VIETNAM, 1967-68
Robert Sabo was born in Toledo in 1944. When he graduated from Macomber High School at the age of eighteen, he already knew that one day soon he would join the Marines. He had always wanted to be the best and believed he could achieve that by becoming a marine.
At the young age of 20 he arrived at the Marine Corps Reception Center in San Diego. After completing ITR training at Camp Pendelton, Bob had done well enough that he was selected for Sea School and eventually was attached to an Admiral’s command on board a ship, at that time stationed in the China Sea.
He would eventually return to Camp Pendleton for intense infantry training. It was here he was attracted to the job as a Scout Dog handler. He was accepted and transferred to Camp Lejeune where he would meet his canine partner, Hans. After months of training this man and dog team were flown to Danang. Bob and Hans would develop a bond where the dog would not leave his side, slept with him and would appear to avidly listen as Bob would read letters from home aloud.
A scout dog team was one of the most dangerous jobs in the military. They were sent out in front of all other soldiers to sniff out weapons, booby traps and the dogs could sense the unseen VC at a distance of 500 yards or more. When the dog would alert, an airstrike or artillery would be called in to eliminate the threat. (The dogs were so successful the Viet Cong had established a 5000-dollar bounty on dog teams. It was always the goal of the VC to kill the dog first before focusing on the remaining soldiers in a firefight.)
Deployed to Camp Kaiser, northeast of Danang, Bob and Hans were assigned daily to lead squads, platoons and even company size “search and destroy” missions. Bob was very quiet and emotional as he shared the worst day in Vietnam.
“We were assigned to a company size S & D mission. After we had cleared on a particular village, me and the other dog handler assigned to this group, Tim Miller, we were ordered to advance and scout. Normally Tim and I alternated who took point and that day was my turn. For some reason, Tim was up early and ready. He volunteered to be point instead with his dog.”
“It was a Sunday; the sun was shining, and we were crossing a large flat field heading towards a tree line in the distance. There was no warning when an enemy machine gun opened fire on us. Tim was hit several times and went down. I was hit in the shoulder with a round that had passed through Tim. As we laid there, both sides opened fire with us caught in the middle in the open field. To survive the bullets flying inches above our heads I had to play dead. I could not crawl to Tim. I heard him breathe his last while we waited to be rescued.”
The squad was finally able to repel the enemy and got to Bob. They confirmed Tim had died and evacuated Bob to a hospital in Danang. The doctors decided it would be too dangerous to remove the bullet in his shoulder. He was sent back to Camp Kaiser for two months of light duty. It became obvious though the damage to his shoulder limited him and he was no longer physically able to be a dog handler.
Bob voice was breaking as he shared, “I was forced to leave Hans. He had been my constant companion, my buddy for two years. I placed him in his cage and walked heavyhearted away. I never saw him again.”
Bob still suffers emotionally and spiritually from the wounds of that fateful day. He was supposed to be point, not his close friend, Tim Miller. He feels continual guilt for Tim taking his place and being killed. “This man, my friend, gave his live for me.”
Leaving Hans behind, and later learning that most of the scout dogs were left in Vietnam when US troops left, has always troubled his heart.
Bob returned home to Toledo in 1969. He initially took a job at Champion Spark Plug. Still dedicated to the military and serving his country Bob signed up with the Ohio Army National Guard. He would later credit the intense training that he received in the National Guard for his success in his civilian careers. He would serve for another 32 years, mustering out of the Guard with the rank of Sergeant Major.
(Bob served two tours in Vietnam and as a member of the National Guard served a tour in Afghanistan at the age of fifty.)
In his civilian life, Bob would serve as a building inspector and oversee zoning in several communities until his retirement.
He has been married to Cindy for 48 years. They have three grown children, Michelle, Scott (lives in Arlington), and Christopher. Bob and Cindy have eight grandchildren.
Bob and Cindy are very active in the congregation of the Emmanuel Baptist Church where he is a Deacon. In retirement, he calls himself, “a homebody”, though occasionally he and Cindy travel to South Carolina.