During Operation Desert Shield, 1990 prior to the 1st Iraq War, I was given a white t-shirt displaying a picture of a ship, named the USNS John P. Bobo, which meant nothing to me at the time. Several years later while on active duty with the RI Army NG I was at Camp Riley, Wisconsin as part of a RI Army NG Biathlon team.
I went to breakfast one morning wearing the Lt. Bobo t-shirt. There were about 8 -10 people sitting at the table. As I am eating my breakfast a young Marine sat down across from me. All of a sudden he said loudly, “2Lt. John P. Bobo, I know him, and he is a Marine Corps hero from Vietnam. Do you know about him?” he asked.
I confessed I didn’t.
When the former Marine was in MC Boot Camp he had to to pick a Marine Corp Medal of Honor HERO, learn everything about that person and commit it to memory. Additionally, the Navy names US Navel Service ships after Navy and Marine Corp Medal of Honor heroes. At that moment everyone at the table got quiet. The young Marine then preceded to tell all of us at the table the history of 2Lt. John P. Bobo.
After breakfast I went back to the barracks and took that t-shirt off immediately. I have never worn that T-shirt since that day. I consider the Tee shirt to be as sacred as the Medal of Honor itself especially after I researched 2Lt. John P. Bobo.
John P. Bobo was born in Niagara Falls NY Feb.14, 1943. He graduated from Niagara University in June 1965. He enlisted in the USMC on May 28, 1965 and was commissioned a 2Lt. On Dec. 17, 1965. He completed Officers Candidate School at Marine Corp School Quantico, VA in May 1966. 2Lt. Bobo then was ordered to the Republic of Vietnam in June 1966. He was assigned as the 2nd Platoon Cdr., Company I, 3rd Batt., 9th Marine Reg., 3rd Marine Division.
On March 30, 1967 While serving in Co. I, 3rd. Batt., in the Quang Tri Province in South Vietnam His Rifle Co. had been ordered to set up a night ambush position. His Co I was attacked by a large number of North Vietnamese soldiers. During the battle an enemy mortar round severed Lt. Bobo’s right leg below the knee.
Lt. Bobo knowing he would not be able to make it to safety, he then ordered his men to retreat and stuck his right leg in the dirt while he stayed behind alone to fight the North Vietnamese. To cover his rifle company’s retreat, he proceeded to direct his rifle fire towards the North Vietnam soldiers. Where upon he was mortally wounded. His quick thinking and heroic actions that night saved the lives of ALL of his men. 2Lt. Bobo was barely 24 years old at the time he died.
For his actions that night he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson. His body was recovered, transported home and he is buried in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery with full military honors in Lewiston, New York.
Perhaps because WE were somewhat close in age, I was 23 in 1967. Over the years I have thought about 2Lt. John P. Bobo many times. I wrote to his family expressing my sympathy for their loss and explained how I came to learn of their son and his ship. I served 25 years in the US military and I am very proud of my military service. BUT I never served in any combat operations. I would do my once a month weekend drill, complete my 2 weeks annual training and call it a good year. There was no life long harmful baggage to go with it.
Prior to enrolling in the Providence Clemente Veteran’s Initiative in January 2021, I had no idea what it meant to be in the military and serve in hostile, combat situations, but thanks to our Zoom class discussions and doing the assigned readings with books like “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien where he describes not only the weapons of war but the psychological aspects of war. Another book “What Have We Done” by David Wood we learn about prolonged, repeated combat exposure and the term Moral Injury which is what we do and what we ought not do. Unfortunately these “Moral injuries” are not left on the battlefield, but are brought home, carried by the soldier and ultimately by his family.
Many thanks to the PCVI students in our class who have shared their combat experiences, in Vietnam, Iraq & Afghanistan, both the good & the bad. I would be remiss if I didn’t give high praise to the instructors, and staff who support and enable the Providence Clemente Veteran’s Initiative .