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.
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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