Killed in action by hostile enemy Communist forces on April 7, 1968, in Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.
Vietnam Memorial, Washington, D.C. - Panel- 48E Line-43
Sgt. E-5, Army Regular, 1st Air Cavalry Division Airmobile
Robert Leslie Samuelson
Vietnam tour start date Oct. 5, 1967. Casualty on April 7, 1968 due to multiple fragmentation wounds received in action by enemy hostile forces in Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.
Medal Awards: Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Cross of Valor, Vietnamese Service Medal, Vietnamese Campaign Medal, Cross of Gallantry, Conspicuous Service Star Medal, Expert Rifleman's Badge
Robert Leslie Samuelson was born July 24, 1945, to Jerald and Irene (Crump) Samuelson at Brooks Memorial Hospital in Dunkirk. The family included his brother Jerry and sisters Maurice (Sam), Kathy (Briggs), and Jule (Deszcz). They resided at 21 Pennsylvania Ave., Dunkirk.
While growing up, Samuelson enjoyed hunting and fishing where he enjoyed being outdoors in the woods, or out on a lake dreaming of reeling in a trophy fish to mount on his wall someday. Each year, Samuelson counted the days for deer season to get here. He always wanted and prayed for snow to be on the ground on the first day of deer season. Along with being an outdoorsman and sportsman, his number one passion in life was being a part of the Flying Dutchman Drum and Bugle Corp. He practiced many hours which rewarded him as one of the better local brass drum players.
He spent much of his time with best friends Ross Russo and Roger and Paul Heyden. The group was always known for being fun lovers. When walking the halls at Dunkirk High School and seeing the foursome one had to be aware that some kind of good-hearted prank was in the works.
Samuelson was proud of his Dunkirk High School. It was his high school and he always defended it. No matter what the final football scores were or what the school basketball final standing was, he had one teacher he truly respected and looked up to. That teacher was George Tederous. Samuelson enjoyed being a student of Tederous so much that when he was home on leave he made a point to stop in a visit his favorite teacher. No one knew that would be the last time the two ever met.
When his leave was over, he didn't know that this was the last time he would see his home. His friends and neighbors didn't know this would be the last time he would ever see his family. Sgt. Robert Samuelson, with his westpac orders in his hand, headed to Buffalo Airport to take the first leg of his journey west to take him to his unit that was stationed in Vietnam.
To tell the story of a fellow brother veteran who was one of the 58,000-plus who paid the ultimate price for his country to me is the highest honor one can have.
In doing this story I couldn't follow the format I had used for my other local hero stories. The reason being Robert Samuelson was not given the same life many other men his age were given. On April 7, 1968, his life ended in Quang Tri Province in a country called Vietnam.
If one were to visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. or the Vietnam Moving Wall one would see these long black panels with 58,000-plus names of all those that were killed in Vietnam. But in order to understand the true meaning of this wall comes the story that went with its name. A story that was cut short by an A-K 47 round, a piece of shrapnel or some other means caused by the war.
Back on Oct. 5, 1967 Robert Leslie Samuelson took his very last step on United States soil, as he stepped on that military contracted continental airlines jet that flew him into harm's way from the country he loved so much. This was the last day he saw the country he loved so much, so much to die for.
Samuelson, like many Vietnam veterans who left for war, knew he was doing good. He helped the people of South Vietnam. He expected to finish his tour and come home to return to normal civilian life. After serving in Vietnam, life to most who had served was going to be easy.
On a sunny, early April morning in 1968 his mother heard the door bell ring. On her porch was standing an Army officer with a telegram in his hand. As he presented the telegram to her he regretted that her son Robert L. Samuelson was listed as missing in action in Vietnam, in a province called Quang Tri.
He advised her that the Army would keep the family up to date with any changes in her son's status and would contact the family as the army received new information. Telegrams listing Samuelson as missing then came daily for the next two weeks.
On April 24, 1968, a day when his mother was home all alone, the official report in which no parent wants to receive had come. She, with a tear in her eye while her hands were trembling, slowly tore the envelope open and saw the typed Western Union words stating on April 7, 1968 her son Robert Leslie Samuelson was killed in action by hostile forces while on patrol in Quang Tri province.
The telegram also stated her son received multiple fragmentation wounds. The telegram continued that her son's body had been identified and the remains of their son would be sent home.
One week after receiving word of their son's death, U.S. Army Major Robert C. Johnson escorted the body of Robert Leslie Samuelson back to his home in Dunkirk. A military funeral was held and Samuelson was laid to rest. On April 29, the Samuelson family received the following letter.
The White House
April, 29, 1968
Mr. and Mrs. Samuelson
Mrs. Johnson and I join in expressing our deepest sympathy to you in the loss of your son Sergeant Robert L. Samuelson. Americans throughout our great country are eternally indebted and humbly grateful to your son for his selfless courage in fighting to preserve the ideal of freedom for all men. You are in our prayers at this time of great sorrow.
Lyndon B. Johnson
Robert Leslie Samuelson grew up in a time when the rule was to finish high school, do your military obligation, get a job, get married, then raise a family. It was the way things were.
We were all sons or daughters whose parents proudly served our country during World War II. Most of us wanted to just follow the rules. For most of us the rules worked, we came back and did OK. For others it didn't happen that way.
While writing the local heroes stories in the past I would use a pre-written question sheet that would organize the information I gathered. This system worked great for my first 34 stories, but not with Robert Samuelson's story.
While writing this story I realized that he didn't have the same life most of the kids his age had. His young life was taken by war. His story gave him no wife, no children or grandchildren. He had no job to retire from and no favorite places to go on vacation.
He gave his life to this country and we will never know what he would have contributed to society. Would he have been a husband, father or somebody's grandpa? He was taken so young and we will never know what the Robert Samuelson story could have been. A doctor or a lawyer? Maybe a drum player in a big band?
Had that war not taken his life in 1968 he may be enjoying his retirement as a Dunkirk High School teacher, if he followed the path of that one teacher he admired so much. We will never know for sure what the story of Samuelson may have been, had he not been taken so young.
All we know for sure is that he is a hero - and our hero of the week.
- Submitted by John Fedyszyn of Fredonia