It takes a special kind of person to run into gunfire instead of away from it and an even more extraordinary man to keep a cool head in the midst of chaos. Even then, there is a higher caliber of warrior who does all of the above while simultaneously leading others through the chaos- often at the cost of his own life.
Born over a year before the American entry into World War II, James W. Robinson Jr grew up in a little area outside Chicago. Graduating high school in 1958, Robinson first joined the US Marines, serving mostly in Okinawa until 1961.
After the Marines, Robinson spent some time in Virginia, working in the private sector until joining the US Army in 1964. While he was stationed in Panama for his first year, he relentlessly requested a transfer to Vietnam in 1965,
Assigned to the 2nd Battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment, Robinson fulfilled his desire to see combat. On April 11th, 1966, Sergeant Robinson’s Charlie Company was engaged in brutal combat with a Viet Cong Battalion- a brutal battle that would be later known as the Battle of Xa Cam My. Under heavy fire, he moved among his fire team, giving them direction and inspiration.
When the word came down that another element of the Company was under fire from snipers, Robinson went on the hunt. Spotting the VC snipers in the trees, he found the one who was inflicting the heaviest casualties and took him out with a grenade launcher.
In the midst of the fierce gun battle, one of Robinson’s medics went down providing aid to another American. Realizing the now two wounded men were at the mercy of the VC, he charged through the fire to retrieve the two men. Upon getting them to cover, he patched their wounds, saving their lives.
The battle grew in intensity, with casualties mounting higher and higher. Observing the situation, the exhausted Sergeant moved among the dead and wounded, redistributing their arms and ammunition among more able-bodied soldiers. In doing so, he helped his men repel a wave of enemy attacks.
When another soldier fell before his eyes, Robinson charged to rescue him, getting shot in the shoulder and leg in the process. Despite being in excruciating pain, he dragged the soldier to cover, saving his life.
As he patched his wounds, he caught sight of a machine gun that was tearing members of Charlie company to pieces. Out of ammunition, he prepped two grenades and charged toward the enemy gun nest. The VC machine gun hit him in the leg with a tracer, causing his uniform to spontaneously combust. Ripping his burning clothes from his body, he charged the enemy with grenades in hand. Shot in the chest two times, he used the last of his strength to hurl the grenades- destroying the machine gun before falling dead on the battlefield.
While they would fight bravely against the VC Battalion until the next day, Charlie Company would lose the battle of Xa Cam My, with 80% of the 134 men becoming casualties against a force of over 400 North Vietnamese.
For his selfless sacrifice in the care of his men, Sergeant James W. Robinson Jr was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was 25 years old.
It is unknown whether or not Sergeant Robinson knew how the battle would turn out that day or if he would survive. In the end, it probably doesn’t matter- Robinson took control of the chaos in the then-and-now, defying the enemy the ability to take the lives of many of his brothers in arms.
Through his selfless sacrifice, Robinson ensured that the men of Charlie Company who did survive were able to fall back and live to fight another day. When he primed those grenades, he took on a role that was larger than himself, doing what most men would never consider doing- and for that, he lives forever.
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