Local man honored as a Vietnam hero
Of 400 U.S. troops who fought in Pleiku on Nov. 17, 1965, 155 were killed in the bloodiest one-day battle of the war.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
WINDHAM -- Robert L. Towles, recipient of a Bronze Star with "V" for valor for heroic actions in Vietnam on Nov. 17, 1965, was to be inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame today in Columbus.
Towles, of 9785 Wolfe Road, said he is humbled by the honor. "I think I'm accepting it more for the guys who didn't return."
Towles is a civilian employee who writes contracts for purchasing materials and supplies for the 910th Civil Engineering Squadron, 910th Airlift Wing, at the Air Force Reserve Station in Vienna. He has worked there 29 years.
In June, he was elected national executive officer of the Combat Infantryman's Association, with headquarters in Asheville, N.C. He is also a member of VFW Post 1090 and the DAV, both in Warren, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Towles was born in Warren, reared in Niles and graduated from Niles McKinley in 1963. He entered the Army that autumn.
Requirements: Membership in the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor is limited to Ohio military veterans, living or dead, who performed acts of valor during combat.
Towles served in the Army for three years, from 1963 to 1966. He was a specialist 4th class gunner on .50-caliber machine gun and 106mm recoilless rifle in Delta Company 2nd Battalion 7th Cavalry 1st Cavalry Division, the first helicopter assault unit in the Army.
On Nov. 17, 1965, during Operation Silver Bayonet of the Pleiku Campaign, his unit was moving overland from Landing Zone X-ray to LZ Albany to be picked up by helicopters, when it was ambushed by a large contingent of North Vietnam regulars.
"LZ Albany was the bloodiest one-day battle of the Vietnam War, from the American perspective. Of the 400 who walked into LZ Albany, 155 were killed and 128 were wounded. We destroyed each other," Towles said.
During the first moments of the battle, the American half-mile-long column was cut into isolated pieces. "If we didn't do something, we were going to die right there. We had to move," Towles said.
What he did: Despite being seriously wounded by shrapnel, he led a group of soldiers from an isolated position on the battlefield and linked up with the head of the column. According to his citation, he also volunteered to recover radios from dead Americans outside the perimeter.
"We needed the radios to get in communications with rear and obtain artillery and air support. The only place to get radios was outside the perimeter," he said.
"A lot of wounded guys fought on. If not, we probably all would have died," he said.
Towles was shipped back to the states after the battle and spent four months in Valley Forge Army Hospital, Valley Forge, Pa., recovering.
Ohio Military Hall of Fame inductees receive a medal which features a gold cross, symbolizing the four corners of the world, with an eagle at the top. The word valor is printed in black. The center is the state flag in the shape of Ohio, surrounded by a wreath, signifying the flow between those who served and those who didn't return.
Towles and his wife, Kathy, have two grown children who also live in Windham: Bob Jr. and Debbie Forsythe, and two grandsons, Zachary and Joshua.
Towles received a bachelor of arts degree in liberal arts from the University of the State of New York, Albany, and a master of arts and Ph.D. in history, both from Kent State University. He did his doctoral dissertation on the battle at LZ Albany.