Document Type

Oral History

Interviewee name

Robert L. Towle


John Springer

Interview date


Interview location

Lewiston, Maine





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NA4503 Robert L. “Bob” Towle, interviewed by John J. Springer in Lewiston, Maine on July 7, 1999. Towle talks about entering the military before finishing high school at the suggestion of a judge who offering one of two options; going into basic training, advanced training, then jump school to prove himself; serving 20 months in the 82 Airborne stateside before being sent to the 509th 82nd Airborne Germany, then to the 25th Infantry in Vietnam. Towle speaks at length about his training experiences; being rendered “a non-person” within 90 minutes of reporting for basic training; compares enlistment with a jail sentence; life in training being “at the whim” of whoever happened to be in charge; and recounts his memories of his basic military training and how his socioeconomic and background attitude shaped his experience. Towle speaks about his pride graduating from jump school and how that accomplishment earned him benefits and status that other soldiers didn’t receive, particularly related to the uniform and the biggest thrill of his life being the moment he received his wings. He recalls being sent to Washington, D.C. to do riot control following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. carrying unloaded M14 rifles while civilian police shot at will; being forced to shoot a man who allegedly came at him with a machete while attempting to loot a liquor store and the emotional turmoil he experienced in the aftermath; being in Germany when the population was anti U.S. military; the power wielded by the military police. Towle discusses his ongoing fear of the Military Criminal Investigation Division and the lack of a statute of limitations for things “that happened over there that you can’t talk about,” including “Zippo raids” and mock VC villages. Towle talks about his work driving a resupply truck and using sandbags to protect the occupants from [improvised explosive devices], the emotional change he experienced between the shooting in Washington, D.C. and shooting men during combat; reaching the point he refused to return to duty and receiving a medical discharge; the psychological impact of losing patriotic idealism, facing the reality of war, and actively blocking social attachment; the Viet Cong’s guerrilla tactics as psychological warfare; post-traumatic stress; a fireworks display triggering a flashback; going to Togus for treatment; the negative impact of “John Wayne Syndrome” on Vietnam Veterans; the psychological impact of hypervigilance; the lack of military support for returning Vietnam Veterans; returning stateside with no money or ticket home; waiting in airports for days trying to catch a military flight home, “That was my thank you for a job well done.” Text: 42 pp. transcript. Time: 02:18:19.


Part 1: mfc_na4503_01A
Part 2: mfc_na4503_01B
Part 3: mfc_na4503_02A


Military History | Oral History | United States History

Birth date

April 18, 1950


Auburn, Androscoggin County, Maine

Death date

August 26, 2007


Augusta, Kennebec County, Maine

Nation of origin

United States

Home state/Territory







Roofing and Siding Contractor

Civic groups

Androscoggin Red Cross; Vietnam Combat Veterans; Buckfield Rescue

Branch of service

U.S. Army

Service Unit

82nd Airborne Division; 2nd of the 509th Parachute Infantry; 25th Inf. Div.

Dates of service

October 10, 1967 – September 30, 1971, 1970-1971, Vietnam

Date of entry

October 10, 1967

Service entry


Location of Service

Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Dix, New Jersey; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Germany; Vietnam

Wars & Conflicts

Vietnam War

Entry Rank

E-1 Private

Highest Rank

E-4 Specialist


Richard Nixon; Lydon B. Johnson; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Lieutenant William Calley; Ho Chi Minh; John Wayne; Walter Cronkite; Dick Towle


Auburn, Maine; Germany; Fairville, North Carolina; Fort Benning, Georgia; Florida; Laos; Cambodia; Presidio, California; Fort Lewis, Washington; Washington, D.C.; Davis Mountain; Togus, Augusta, Maine; Kosovo; Falkland Islands


Vietnam War, 1961-1975; United States Army; Race relations; Military education; Dominance (Psychology); Race riots; My Lai Massacre, Vietnam, 1968; Zippo raids; Post-traumatic Stress

Collection name

Maine Vietnam Veterans Oral History

Collection number


Item number


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Robert L. “Bob” Towle, interviewed by John J. Springer, Part 3



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