The Story of a Hero’s Hero
On Aug. 30 there will be a dedication ceremony for the renaming of Westmont Post Office (5707 S. Cass Ave.) to“James William Robinson Jr. Memorial Post Office Building” in honor of the Westmont resident who received the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military award, for extraordinary valor in combat during the Vietnam war. Sgt. Robinson was killed in action on April 11, 1966. This is his story.
By Hal Burke
In the fall of 2016, I
received a call from my close friend, former Westmont Fire Chief and U.S. Army
101st Airborne Vietnam Veteran Frank Trout. Frank wanted to share a story with
me about a young man originally from Westmont, who was killed in action in
Vietnam and awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallantry and heroism. In fact,
the young man was U.S. Army Sergeant James W. Robinson, Jr., the grandson of
William Robinson former five term Mayor of Westmont.
Frank learned about James supreme sacrifice after reading Fred Mundinger’s (former Superintendent of Maercker School District) article in Westmont Stories.
“He was a big, happy kid with a great laugh,” Mundinger fondly recalls. He was James’ cousin and shared childhood memories. He also noted that there were no memorials in Westmont honoring James’ heroism.
James William “Jimmy” Robinson was born on Aug. 30, 1940 and grew up in Westmont. In his youth, James attended North Acres School before his family moved to Lyons. Upon graduation from Morton West High School in 1959, James enlisted in the Marine Corps and was Honorably Discharged in 1962.
In 1963, James enlisted in the U.S. Army and spent time in Panama with his younger brother, Tom, who was already serving in the Army. James requested a transfer to serve in Vietnam and was sent there in 1965. On April 11, 1966 he was killed in action during a military maneuver known as “Operation Abilene.”
During the 2018 Veterans Day dedication at the Westmont Village Hall of a plaque honoring James, Phil Hall, a fellow soldier from the First Division 16th Infantry Regiment presented this eloquent eulogy, “The Gift.”
“In 1966 I was a soldier, an infantryman assigned to Charlie Company 2nd Battalion 16th Infantry Regiment 1st Infantry Division “The Big Red One.” I was in the start of my fourth month in Vietnam. I had experienced combat and death in my first three and was adjusting to living under the conditions of being a combat soldier but had not the slightest notion of what was to take place on April 11, 1966.
“On April 10 (Easter Sunday) we stopped our walk through the jungle in a clearing and set up a defensive perimeter. Sometime later in the afternoon a chaplain flew in along with resupplies, he held Easter services. At the end of the service as we were walking back to our fox holes when three VC were spotted walking across the far end of the clearing. They had not noticed us even with all the movement they just kind of popped out of the jungle. Several soldiers grabbed their weapons and formed a firing line including me, Sgt. James Robinson, and a handful of others. Within a very few seconds all three VC were downed although one, even though wounded, was still able to escape. We went out to where the others lay, one dead one still alive (he died shortly). We were able to get information from him that he was from the VC battalion we were searching for, the D 800 battalion reinforced. These were full time soldiers well trained and well equipped. It was likely we would meet them the next day April 11, 1966.
“On the morning of April 11 we ate some “Cs” (meals in a can),took care of some personal needs, and prepared to move out. The day before 2nd platoon (my platoon) had been the lead platoon, 3rd platoon would be on point this day. We moved in three columns hacking our way through the jungle. When mid-day the point platoon ran into some trails, we stopped in place to assess the situation and we started taking fire. We had walked into a ‘kill sack’ surrounded and outnumbered like 5 to 1; an intense battle followed. We were being mortared, fired on with the deadly AK 47s and the VC had two Russian made 51 caliber machine guns. We were being cut to pieces taking heavy casualties.
“As the battle intensified Sgt. James Robinson could see the 51 caliber machine gun on his side of the perimeter doing so much damage. Robinson was out of ammo for his M-16 so he pulled the pins on two grenades and charged the machine gun and threw the grenades just before he was hit and killed. His grenades landed on his target destroying the gun and killing its crew. The battle raged for several hours more, with 1,143 rounds of artillery fired in support of Charlie Co. In the end Charlie Co. would suffer 80% casualties of the guys in the battle. The D 800 would cease to be; they were destroyed as a unit.
“The gift of life! While some of us would survive this day many didn’t, and some who survived this day didn’t survive Vietnam. Sgt. James Robinson’s actions without a doubt spared the lives of Charlie Co. men. Some of us got to return home to have families and a ‘Rest of Our Lives.’ Jimmy Robinson didn’t get a rest of his life! He didn’t get to have a wife, and have kids of his own! He didn’t get to hug his grandkids or go to their school sports. He gave that to us, his brothers! We who served with Robbie some 50 years ago have not forgotten Sgt. James Robinson and the gift he gave us at the cost of his own life.”
On Sept. 13, 1967, James Robinson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for actions above and beyond the call of duty during the April 11, 1966 Battle of Courtenay Plantation (Xa Cam My) in the Republic of Vietnam. “Robinson’s magnificent display of leadership and bravery saved several lives and inspired his soldiers to defeat the numerically superior enemy forces,” stated Commander Frank Trout of the Westmont American Legion Post 338. “Sergeant Robinson’s conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity, at the cost of his own life, are in keeping with the finest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect the great credit upon the 1st Infantry Division and the Armed Forces.”
Just 25 years after his early childhood in Westmont, Robinson was returned to Illinois to be buried in Clarendon Hills Cemetery in Darien with full military honors.
In July 2018, I proposed to U.S. Representative Peter Roskam that the Westmont Post Office be named in honor of James. On Dec. 21, 2018 Congress passed H.R. 6167 designating the Westmont Post Office as the “James William Robinson Jr. Memorial Post Office Building.”
On James’ birthday, Aug. 30, at 10am, the dedication will be held.
About Neighbors of Westmont's feature story contributor: Harold “Hal” Burke enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1961, shortly after graduating from high school. Following active duty, he continued his education and received his Bachelor Degree from DePaul University in 1972. Hal is a member of the Alexander Bradley Burns Post 80 American Legion, Downers Grove, editor of their monthly newsletter, and president of Victory & Valor Memories, LLC. Hal Burke is a resident of Westmont where he has resided for 24 years.
information on the August 30 dedication ceremony go to DuPageNeighbors.com.