SULLIVAN, ROBERT JOSEPH
Name: Robert Joseph Sullivan
Rank/Branch: E7/US Army Special Forces
Unit: C & C Detachment
Date of Birth: 19 November 1936 (Fall River MA)
Home City of Record: East Alstead NH
Date of Loss: 12 July 1967
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 161901N 1070216E (YD177031)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: ground
Refno: 0763
Other Personnel In Incident: Samuel Almendariz (missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 June 1990 from one or more of
the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence
with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W.
NETWORK 2006.
REMARKS:
SYNOPSIS: During their war with the French, the North Vietnamese and Viet
Cong (then called Viet Minh) discovered that the ideal way to keep supplies
and troops moving between the two parts of the country was to move through
the neutral countries of Laos and Cambodia. During U.S. involvement in
Indochina, the United States was forbidden to conduct war there because of
the 1962 Geneva accords which protected the two countries' neutrality.
It became apparent, however, that clandestine operations had to be conducted
in Laos and Cambodia to prevent the enemy from having a free hand in troop
and equipment mobility. At first these operations were very secret, to the
extent that records were "altered" to show operations in South Vietnam, but
later in the war were conducted with relative openness.
SFC Almendariz and SFC Sullivan were on such a mission in Laos on 12 July,
1967. Their reconnaissance team, consisting of three Americans and 8
indigenous personnel, was operating just inside Laos in the extreme
southeast portion of Savannakhet Province when the team came under attack.
From 1100 hours until 1600 hours that day, the team was under heavy attack
and attempting to evade.
Only one of the Americans was rescued, and he reported that both Almendariz
and Sullivan had been mortally wounded.
On July 16, a search force went back to the area of contact, but were unable
to locate the bodies of either man. Almendariz and Sullivan were listed as
killed, body not recovered.
Almendariz and Sullivan are among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in
Laos. Although the Pathet Lao stated on several occasions that they held
"tens of tens" of prisoners, not one prisoner held in Laos was ever
released.
Since American involvement in Vietnam ended in 1975, over 10,000 reports
relating to Americans missing, prisoner, or otherwise unaccounted for in
Indochina have been received by the U.S. Government. Many officials, having
examined this largely classified information, have reluctantly concluded
that many Americans are still alive today, held captive by our long-ago
enemy. Although Almendariz and Sullivan, apparently, are not among them,
they could be accounted for. More importantly, anyone who is still alive
must be brought home.
-----------------
A Man is Not Dead Until He is Forgotten
The Story of Robert J. Sullivan
By Ray Davidson
"Do not stand by my grave and weep,
I am not there.
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there, I did not die"
Yet, die they did, falling like leaves in autumn.
An aged woman, her forehead touching a name, softly cries, "I am the mother
that birthed him. I am the one that nursed him."  A young wife, now aged by
both time and grief, says she gave him her love, his daughters and a son.  A
fianc‚ remembers that her pending marriage was killed in action, a body
never recovered. I shiver as a cold wind whispers through the trees
repeating the thoughts to me, "I am not there, I did not die "
My fingers run across panel 23E - line 63.  My eyes fill with tears and I
cannot distinguish between my reflection and that of the young Special
Forces solider looking out at me.  With a boonie hat and tigers he stares.
Surrounded by elephant grass, and he is not alone. Sam Almendraiz is looking
over his right shoulder and two young Nungs stand with them.  I whisper,
"Sully, I did not know thee.  But your loss has left a bit of shrapnel in my
heart."
Sullivan from East Alstead, New Hampshire was a member of the 5th Special
Forces Group assigned to  "MACV-SOG, Military Assistance Command Vietnam
Studies and Observation Group, a joint service high command unconventional
warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout
Southeast Asia."
In the early morning hours of July 10, 1967, Spike Team Georgia consisting
of Samuel Almendariz, Harry D. Brown, Robert J. Sullivan, and eight Nungs
(Vietnamese of ethnic Chinese decent) where in a Slicks (Huey helicopter
with seats removed) skimming over the triple canopy between South Vietnam
and Laos.  Stretched in front of them were oceans of vibrant color.  So
absolutely beautiful and so hard to fathom the death and destruction that
had transpired in such an awesomely beautiful landscape.  Crossing over the
ridge and moving further west they encountered mature bamboo with
intermittent trees. Sullivan was watching the landscape for anything that
didn't fit, people, equipment, campfires, etc.  Reaching their destination,
Golf 6, they disembarked the Slicks in a small meadow of tall elephant grass
east of the ridge that hid Route 922.  They moved eastward, crossing a
stream, pausing to fill their canteens and take a lunch break, proceeded
uphill, past the bamboo and scrub, into relatively open forest.  Almendariz
radioed an "all clear" about 1830 hours (6:30 PM).  This would give them a
view of this main section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail leading out of Laos and
into the heavily fortified Ashau Valley.
Thereafter the team maintained radio silence due to the number and proximity
of the enemy forces.  The next day, 11 July, the team was moving to another
location when they came across some telephone wire.  Almendariz directed
that the wire be cut and the team followed the strand of wire to the crest
of a nearby hill.  The hill was covered in thick vegetation, so the team
decided to spend the night and move out the next morning. 1
Brown states that about mid morning of the 12th a platoon size enemy force
attacked the Spike team with automatic weapons and grenades. "Two indigenous
team members were KIA [killed] instantly and I was wounded by grenade
fragments."  Brown provided covering fire while a Nung lobbed a M79 grenade
round.  Breaking contact the team moved down the ridge and into a small
streambed, then up another ridge. Brown continues, "We got out of the
streambed and continued up the ridge approximately 50 meters, here SFC
Amendariz stopped the patrol and told the team we would stay here until we
established contact with the forward air controller [FAC]."  They had no
success in contacting the FAC.  Brown then noticed what appeared to be a
tracker or perhaps a point man moving stealthily through the brush only 10
meters from his position.  As he took aim on the tracker, the tracker
spotted him and crouched in a small ditch.  During the time Brown had the
enemy in his sights, Almendariz twice told him to hold his fire.  The enemy
force flanked the Spike Team and, again, opened fire with automatic weapons
and fragmentation grenades. Brown continues, "During this attack SFC
Almendraiz and SFC Sullivan were both wounded.  I realized I was the only
person firing and looked around and the six indigenous had run off and left
the three of us Americans."  Continuing he states, "I immediately took stock
of our situation and informed both Almendraiz and Sullivan the indigenous
had fled and clamed them down, as both were in mortal pain and screaming.  I
got both of them to returning the enemy's fire and we ran them off
momentarily."  During this lull in fighting Brown bandaged Sullivan's thigh
wounds but could not do much for Almendariz's groin and spinal column
wounds.
The enemy attacked again and again and the three Americans held them off.
Brown finally made contact, calling in both air support and evacuation
helicopters.  The enemy attached again and shot the hand set off of the
radio.  Brown tried to reestablish radio contact with some small hand held
URC-10 radios with no results. Again the enemy attacked and a burst of
automatic weapons fire hit Almendariz in the face, instantly killing him.
"Again the attack was repelled and I attempt [sic] to stop SFC Sullivan's
bleeding and while doing so I was shot in the upper arm approximately 8
times.  The same burst that hit me killed SFC Sullivan."  Brown weapon then
jammed and he grabbed Sullivan's CAR-15.  This weapon was shot out of
Brown's hands rendering it useless.  He then picked up Almendariz's weapon
that was crusted with blood and attempted to use it.  He did finally succeed
in killing the tracker that he had first seen and then what appeared to be a
North Vietnamese stood up as Almendariz's weapon failed and Brown shot him
with his pistol. "I took out my pistol and shot the man in khaki and believe
I killed him. As all I could see was the bottom of his feet and hear him
crash through the brush."  Wounded again in this last exchange Brown started
crawling toward the sound of a helicopter, making it only as far as a bomb
crater. 2
Responding to the radio call for help was a H-34 helicopter.  CSM Billy
Waugh, perhaps the greatest warrior to ever wear a Green Beret, continues
with the story.  "On 12 Jul 67, we (Khe Sanh Launch Site) received an
emergency UHF transmission from Hillsboro (the Airborne Command Post for the
US Air Force working North Vietnam), reporting that the Spike Team from
Prairie Fire had called Hillsboro on the emergency guard frequency,
reporting being scattered by an enemy force, with several WIA [wounded in
action] and two US KIA.
MSG Skip Minnicks, and I, flew from Khe Sanh airstrip to the target area in
a rescue ship H-34, and on arrival in the vicinity of North 16 degs 16' and
East 106 degs 57' 40" noticed green tracers (NVA) being directed on a bomb
crater area, where one US was crouched down with a signal panel and mirror.
On hearing the H-34 rescue helicopter, the person in the bomb crater
signaled with a ground / air panel.
On attempting to land the H-34 was riddled with green tracers.  The H-34
dropped lower, but lost sight of the bomb-crater with the U.S. and spotted a
nearby bomb crater with several indigenous Spike Team members within.  The
H-34 was able to extract five of the indigenous Team members, returning
these wounded Team Members to Khe Sanh. The H-34 landed at Khe Sanh
Airstrip, off-loading the indigo [sic], then headed back to the target area
with Nugyen Van Hoang flying, and MSG Minnicks in the passenger compartment.
The H-34 was able to pull SFC Harry Brown into the chopper, but was again
shot out of the area by NVA automatic weapons.  SFC Brown was off-loaded.
Darkness set in the night of 12 Jul.  During the hours of darkness, an O-1E
(Covey aircraft) with a SOG back-seater remained in the area, and on FM and
UHF standby.  Hillsboro, also remained on UHF standby for any signal from
the ground.  No signal was forthcoming.
A Bright light Team was inserted on 13 / 14 July 67, but found no sign of
SFC Almendariz or SFC Sullivan.  Bright Light searches continued for a week,
in the target area - however, no joy for friendlies was forthcoming."3
Tim Kirk, a member of the Bright-light Search and Rescue team remembers, " .
. . there were bunkers all along the highway [Route 922] coming in. We
landed on the ridge adjacent to the original contact position. We came under
fire immediately, which greatly eliminated our ability to move.  A
reconnaissance element from the Hatchet Force moved to the immediate area of
contact, while the rest provided cover fire, but was unable to find
anything. The entire time we were on the ground, we were receiving sporadic
fire. I vividly remember how disappointing it was not to find anything. We
wanted so badly to get them out of there."4
I reach out to touch the shadow embedded in the black granite; Sullivan
seems to whisper:  Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there, I did
not die
I am the wind that whispers through the tall Appalachian cedar wood and
I am that same wind as it pushes the white caps across Lake Winnipesauke.
I am the mist that floats above Granny Top Mountain and in each drop of dew
on the blades of Kentucky Blue Grass.
I am the Freedom that you live and in the hearts that you share.
Do not stand at this wall and weep, I did not die.
I am not forgotten.

1.      Statement by MSG Peyton J. Smith, FOB 1, upon debriefing the Nungs.
2.      Statement by SFC Harry D. Brown
3.      Personal correspondence from Billy Waugh
4.      Personal correspondence from Tim Kirk
Author's note:  To discover the life of a true warrior and great American I
suggest you read, "Hunting the Jackal" by Billy Waugh
================================
Article published Nov 11, 2006
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Courtesy photo
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