|Veteran Spotlight: Army Cpl. Robert Savino|
|By Wayne Soares, Special to iBerkshires|
04:43PM / Sunday, September 24, 2023
FALMOUTH, Mass. — Robert Savino served his country in the Army from 1966 to 1968, as a corporal and specialist (E-4).
Growing up in upper Manhattan in New York City, he attended and graduated from what was then All Hallows Institute, a private boy's prep school. He did his basic training at Fort Riley, Kan.
"We did a lot of jungle training. It was one of the first times in my life that I experienced diversification — Blacks, whites, Hispanics — but, in the end, we were all green in the same pot," he recalled.
Savino was shipped to Vietnam with the 9th Infantry Division in December 1966.
"We left Fort Riley by train and took everything with us but the salt and pepper shakers. We arrived in Oakland, Calif., and loaded our ship and headed across the South Pacific," he said. "We stopped in Okinawa then landed in Vung Tau. We got on landing
crafts and landed on the shore and got trucked up to Bearcat [an Army base in southern Vietnam], a base that looked as if it was carved out of the landscape."
He laughed, "I saw a little bit of action there."
Was he ever afraid? "Yes, the adrenaline flows. You're afraid but only afterwards when you realize what just happened," he said.
Corp. Savino described his first night at Bearcat.
"We had to set up a perimeter, we erected sandbags on the outposts, manned them so nobody penetrated. Set up wire, claymore mines. We had to sandbag the barracks we built to guard against mortar attacks," he continued. "My first patrol was very intense. I didn't know what to expect, I couldn't see anything.
"When we flew in helicopters, we didn't know if the LZ (Landing Zone) was hot or not. It was on-the-job training. You hope something doesn't happen but you have no control over it — just the draw of the cards."
How were the holidays?
"I spent mine onboard ship, first time I was away from my family. They made it as nice as they could," he remembered.
Savino shared a powerful memory. "We were near the Cambodian border and one night we got attacked," he recalled. "I was on the perimeter, a firefight ensued. It was pitch black — couldn't see anything— it was 15-20 minutes of constant fire.
"The next day we went on patrol and saw trails of blood where the VC had dragged their wounded and dead. It was my first taste of combat."
Savino said his mentor was Sgt. Udall, a Korean veteran.
"He really guided me the night we got into that firefight, he was a good man, I'll never forget him," he said. He also spoke out against the vicious stereotype that was given in Vietnam. "We did a lot of good things in Vietnam. We flew into villages and put a perimeter around to protect the doctors and nurses who treated the villagers. It was called MEDCAP (Medical Civil Action Program). We also toured orphanages in the Mekong Delta and helped the kids there. All the other garbage was VC propaganda."
One of the biggest things he was most proud of was the casualty rates.
"Our casualty rates were the lowest in the war. We trained and supported each other and knew what we were doing because of our training. Our sergeants and lieutenants ... our platoon leaders. They deserve some sunlight," he said with pride.
Corp. Savino also shared the importance of his visits to the VA.
"The vets there are just wonderful guys to talk with, helped me a lot," he said, adding "the guys at Khe Sanh, Hamburger Hill, they got it really bad. Young veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan told me that Vietnam vets paved the way ... I feel the pride now more than in the 1960s."
He was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge. Corp. Bob Savino, thank you for your service to our great country and welcome home.
Wayne Soares is the host of the popular new veterans cooking show, "The Mess Hall" that airs Saturdays on NBC's NECN at 9:30 a.m. He also entertains our troops around the globe and is the host and producer of the Vietnam veterans documentary "Silent Dignity – The Chapter That Never Ends." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.