I Thought Everyone Should Know

The Following Is An Account

Of What Happened On 5 March 1969

At Firebase Argonne In Vietnam



Robert H. Jenkins, Jr.

Congressional Medal of Honor Receipient

Robert H. Jenkins, Jr. was one of a 12-man Reconnaissance Team whose mission was to land on an old abandoned artillery position named Fire Support Base Argonne, determine if the enemy was using it, and if not, hold it for the arrival of hundreds of Marines coming soon to reoccupy and use it again. FSB Argonne was located in the northwest corner of the Republic of South Vietnam, less than 5 miles south of North Viet Nam and less than one mile east of the country of Laos, and was a cleared area the size of a football field centered on the bare, exposed peak of a large mountain identified by the military as Hill 1308.

Understand. Sending a Recon Team into a fixed, highly visible known position in an enemy held area isn’t how Recon was normally to be used. A Recon Team’s main safety was in being small enough to stay hidden both night and day while they infiltrated up and watched the enemy, which is why they normally never went out with more than 8 Members. Even though a Recon Team is too small a unit to normally be so exposed and therefore is in real danger of being overrun by more numerous enemy forces, in this case it was considered so important to know what the enemy had on that hilltop, that the Recon Battalion had been asked to get a Team out there. In two previous attempts to land a Team, the enemy had shot at the helicopters and they turned away, as the place was determined too dangerous to land. Now they asked for a Team to volunteer to try again.

Because they would be all alone and sitting in full view of the enemy on a barren hilltop for possibly days, the Team Leader, Cpl. Steven M. Lowery, agreed to volunteer his Team but on the condition that he could take an M-60 machine gun, which Recon units normally never have, and a total of 12 Members, 4 more than usual. The Company Commander agreed. Robert was one of those 4 extra people and his job was to be the Machine Gunner, to fire the machine gun along with his best friend, Fred Ostrom, as his Assistant Gunner.

On the afternoon of the 3rd of March, 1969 the team was inserted into FSB Argonne with no trouble and they settled in for the night. Very early that night enemy forces all around the sides of the hill fired at the Team on the top, but as long as the Team Members stayed down, all the rounds passed over their heads and they were OK. That’s why they chose to be on the very top. The Team Leader called on the radio and got an Air Force airplane called “Puff, the Magic Dragon” to fly in circles over their hilltop all night and fire down on the enemy with their guns. It drove the enemy away and they were all safe.

All day on the 4th of March, each man built a fighting position by piling some old sandbags and wooden boxes filled with dirt in front to protect him from enemy incoming. These 10 Marines and 2 Navy Corpsmen formed a circle along the rim of a bowl shaped depression on the very top of that hill, with each man facing outboard along the rim in positions just like the numbers on the face of a clock, and all of their extra equipment and ammunition, food and water piled down in the center. That circle was about the same size as the eating area inside a McDonald’s restaurant. Fred and Robert built a two-man position because a machine gun is fired by a two-man team, not just one man.

Then, the next morning, on March 5th at 5 o’clock, 2 hours before sunrise and out of complete darkness lessened only by the pale light of a full moon, thirty or more North Vietnamese infantry suddenly attacked Argonne firing automatic weapons, and throwing hand grenades; their goal, the destruction of this 12-man Recon Team.

As soon as the attack started, Robert immediately woke up from where he had been sleeping, jumped in his position and began firing the machine gun, when he noticed Fred Ostrom still lying on the ground where he had been sleeping. Robert didn’t know it, but Fred had already been badly injured by shrapnel and blast from one of the first grenades thrown into the circle by the enemy. Then, even before Robert could move to help his injured friend, two more grenades landed near Fred, one on each side of his body.

Robert seeing this, and knowing even if he were lucky enough to be able to get rid of one grenade, the other would still explode next to Fred, made a snap decision in judgment and acted. He took quick running steps and threw himself atop Fred and hugged him, attempting to shield him from the explosions, but in choosing to lie on top of Fred, it turned out Robert was raised too high to be safely below the blast pattern, and so absorbed blast and fragments from both grenades himself. Robert’s choice saved Fred’s life, but in doing so, he received too much of the shrapnel from both grenades and died of his wounds.

But the protection of Robert’s body allowed Fred to survive and live to go home, to be Medically Discharged from the Marine Corps due to the serious extent of his wounds, later to become a husband, father and grandfather. Without Robert’s choice to risk his life, none of Fred’s family would ever have been born, nor would they have had the opportunity to live out their own lives. However, his family in Rochester, New York all finally did lose him when he passed away from complications from his old wounds in December 2006, just over 11 years ago, and more than 39 years after the events on FSB Argonne.

From the action that early morning on that mountaintop one man would be selected as a recipient of our Nation’s highest award for valor in combat, The Medal of Honor.

Private First Class Robert H. Jenkins, Jr.
  • The Congressional Meda of Honor
  • The Purple Heart for wounds
  •       (both posthumous)

    One man would receive our Nation’s second highest award for valor in combat, The Navy Cross

    Corporal Steven Lowery, the Team Leader
  • The Navy Cross
  • 2 Purple Heart Medals for wounds
  • Three men would receive our Nation’s third highest award for valor in combat, The Silver Star.

    Sergeant Darrel Eriksen,
  • Silver Star
  • Purple Heart Medal for wounds

  • Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Richard “Doc” Bradford,
  • Silver Star
  • Purple Heart Medal for wounds

  • Private First Class Peter F. DeWilde, Jr.
  • Silver Star and Purple
  • Heart Medal for wounds
  •       (both posthumous)

    Two men would receive our nation’s fourth highest award for valor in combat

    The Bronze Star with V device for Valor.

    Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Larry “Doc” Turner,
  • Bronze Star w/ V device

  • Lance Corporal Lawrence Harrod
  • Bronze Star w/ V device
  • Purple Heart Medal for wounds
  • Of the 12 men who fought on that mountaintop, three were Killed-in-Action there.

  • Private First Class Robert H. Jenkins, Jr.
  • Private First Class Peter F. DeWilde, Jr.
  • Second Lieutenant Daniel C. Ferguson
  • Of the 12 men who fought on that mountaintop, in addition to the 3 who died from their wounds, 7 others were injured by enemy fire, one of them, Fred Ostrom, 3 separate times, and another, Steve Lowery, twice. Only two individuals walked off that mountaintop unscathed, Larry “Doc” Turner and Private First Class Jerome J. Jackson, Jr. So 10 of the 12 would receive the Purple Heart Medal for wounds suffered during the 2-hour fight in the full moon-lit darkness before the sun finally rose and helicopters arrived to evacuate them all to safety and medical treatment. Because of those who survived to be evacuated from that mountaintop, we know Robert’s story.

    Leonard A Rapuano, unit historian Charlie Co 3rd Recon Association


    If you would like to read more about Robert please click this link to read a short biography.

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